Saturday, August 6, 2016

Old And Stupid

I'd seen the man before. Eighty, maybe; he'd figured out where the card catalog had been banished, off in a corner behind the Circulation Desk, but now the card catalog was altogether missing, and he was in line at the desk, seething. The nice woman escorted him over to the table and set him up in front of a computer monitor, and walked him through the basics, kindly, with one hand on his shoulder, and when she finally left, he poked away for a few minutes, with every keystroke bringing up new and ever more irrelevant screens he was helpless to dismiss, until finally he stood up as straight as he could and walked out of the library for good, carrying a little chunk of my heart.

Nobody likes to feel old, or stupid. Not even old stupid people like it.

I preferred the card catalog myself, but somehow I was able to loop a lasso over the new technology when it first arrived, and even though most of the time I'm flapping in the wind behind the technology as it races ahead, I'm still holding on. It was infuriating at first. The computer screen seemed like a big bright sign flashing "you're dumb" over and over at me, but when I finally quit protesting and said "you're ugly" back at it, things got easier.

It's just that when you've lived a long time it seems like you should know more than other people. That's supposed to be the deal. And instead you know less.

Doesn't even have to be something as important as unlocking the key to the world's knowledge. I can't even unlock the key to my little portion of fossil fuel. Sometimes years go by without my having to pump my own gas, because it's illegal here. And when I do, I want signage. There's never signage. Do I put a card in? Or is this one of those places I have to go into the little chips 'n' pepperoni store and throw down a twenty before the pump even flickers on? I need a PIN, really? I need to see a guy in a little booth? What? Just put out a sign. I can follow instructions. How come everybody else knows what to do? And they do. So when their pump isn't working, they know to move to a different pump, and not just sit there festering and assuming they're the idiot. They've got confidence. They've got self-esteem.

They've got gas.

But food should be easy. We went into a restaurant the other day, and, finding no sign saying otherwise, we wandered to a table, sat, and waited. And waited. Oh? Nobody comes by? Okay. We go to the bar and there's a menu posted up high, and a bunch of stuff coming out of the kitchen. There are two bartenders. At some point we get aggressive enough to bark out a beer order, and then ask another customer how he got food. He pointed to a small knot of people bunched up at the bar. You order at the bar, he said. Right there? we said. Under the sign that says "Do Not Form A Line?" What do we do if there are people in front of us? Aspire to randomness?

"That's just supposed to be ironic," he said.

Jesus.

One sign in the whole damn establishment and it's supposed to be ironic. How am I expected to know that? My new friend shrugs and glances around at a restaurant jammed with young, happy, eating people who all knew that, who were effortlessly surfing layers of meaning.

"It's a little meta," he added helpfully.

I'd stay, but it's time to hitch up the buckboard and git on home. Pound grain. Slaughter the goose.

50 comments:

  1. OH SO TRUE!!! Yes, three exclamation marks and all caps.

    I must say, it helps to have grown-up children (or the equivalent in nieces/nephews or friends) who can interpret and explain these things, and keep all conversations current enough that you have a chance to absorb stuff slowly. Ya gotta keep an open mind, though. That can be a challenge.

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    1. Or grandchildren or the equivalent. I have two who aren't even teenagers and they know more than I do.
      Fortunately they are willing teachers.

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    2. We stock the rental house with them. One of them recently told me that the sign is NOT ironic. So maybe we just THINK they all know what's going on.

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    3. And maybe THEY just think they all know what's going on :)

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  2. And where is everybody? Is it a holiday and I didn't get the memo? It's well after lunch here!

    Oh. Everybody's out at the ironic restaurants and can't get served ...

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    1. No, you just happened on this at the right time. I mis-scheduled the post and it didn't fire off at three in the morning like it usually does. My good pal Mary Ann alerted me to it this morning. She's my backup. I don't get up early enough...

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    2. Thank goodness for Mary Ann :)

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  3. We went to Texas Outback or some such steak house for dinner last night.... took my son and his girlfriend. Never eaten there before (might not again)... sat down, the person stopped and asked us what we wanted to drink... the drinks came. We sat... and sat... I fidgeted... wondering when the heck the person would come back with the menus. Finally realized they were (all four of them) tucked away behind the salt and pepper which was tucked away behind the margarita menu... (which was huge). In retrospect, we should have just ordered a few margaritas and staggered out a few hours later. But I felt like the poor guy at the library... what's wrong with giving a person a few hints to help out anyway?

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    1. It's like being in a country when you don't speak the language. How do you say "check, please?" What's the protocol?

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    2. In this case I would put the blame on the server. They need to be pleasant AND helpful. Do NOT assume the customer has been there before. Lousy customer service.

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    3. I agree. The drinks waiter could have said "your drinks will be right out and the menus are right there behind the condiments".

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    4. Server? There was a server? OH that would be the person you meet once you figure out the code and your order comes out to you!

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  4. Have you tried buying anything with cash lately? How many clerks know how to count back change? The only reason they have a clue is because the screen they are looking at figured it out for them. There are so many people screwed every time there is a power failure. Not because of the darkness either.

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    1. Well, there is a sort of darkness that comes over them.

      We do feel smarter because of our mad change-making skills, but on the other hand, maybe that's like being able to make our own glue out of horses.

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    2. "Count back change"?? Oh goodness me...here on the East Coast, I haven't seen that for about 15 years. It started with the small shop owners, who had learned their shop keeping skills back in their native country. The clerk folds the bills lengthwise, and then dumps the change in the little gutter they've made, and then hands the whole precarious mess over to the customer. That practice has trickled up to every size business. And if I want to count my own change, I feel foolish because I have to dump the change out of the little gutter, count it with one hand (or eyeball it as it lays in my open palm), then pocket it and use both hands to count the bills.

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    3. To add to the angst, there is almost no amount of change that's worth counting anymore.

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    4. I guess that's the saddest part.

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    5. You didn't used to have to ask how many nickels made a candy bar. (Or, it didn't used to be twenty.)

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  5. Years ago, when libraries were about the only places that had computers(for the public) I needed to search for a particular rose nursery.Library Lady peered over her pince nez {I didn't think anyone still wore them!] and told me "number 3 is vacant."
    So I sat at #3 and clicked "enter"....and up came, in garish colours, "Pamela Anderson's 24 Hour Fuck Line." Oh.Sweet.Saints.I'd summoned the fuck word!
    I clicked "close" AND IT WOULDN'T!!! Terrified I'd be thrown in the slammer for surfing porn, I kept trying any key, all keys' to close the lurid screen.
    At the terminal next to me was a small boy. A Cub Scout, maybe.His fingers were flashing faster than a typing pool graduate. Ms Pince Nez had disappeared. I said to the kid, in an embarrassed whisper:"How do you turn this off?" I got the eye-roll and shoulder sag.He reached over, slid my cursor onto the "back" key, scrolled down and clicked "turn off."

    I took to wearing a wig and dark glasses whenever I went to the library.Just in case...

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  6. Would you mind if I channeled Hayley Mills here, and spoke up in her Pollyanna voice? When we have these one-step-behind-technology and other oldster experiences, there is some good that can come out of it. You see, we can choose to let these things keep us humble and grounded and open to change. I mean, what kind of credibility could I possibly have as a cranky old queen -- when I have to ask for help in pairing my phone with the rental car? Besides, it gives those millennials a sense of purpose in their shallow, materialistic lives.

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    1. Oh come on, Ed! You can pile more adjectives on the millennials if you really try! You know you want to.

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  7. I at the point where I pull out the I am an old lady card and I don't know about this new fangled ________ whatever... and I just get the closest young whippersnapper to help me me and I always get helped and I have no ego involvement and don't argue and nod and say thank you thank you and smile and they pat me on my head and I move along my way.... I am lazy that way....

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    1. Yeah. It helps to dump the pride. And that gets easier all the time, the less proud I am of myself.

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  8. Sigh. Only this week I have been having an attack of the inadequacies over my inablity to negotiate a system I need to use. Confessing my sins confirmed my old and stupid status. And I still can't use the stinking system.

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    1. And I don't know what "negotiating a system" is.

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  9. I too regret the abolition of card catalogues, and the furtive invasion of businesses that no longer accept cash --most recently, a medical supplier. My response is to assume my most imposing geriatric posture and astonish them with my ignorance.

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    1. Make them recite the first sixteen Presidents while you're at it.

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  10. I'm with you. There's been far too many times I've stood around feeling like the village idiot when everyone around me clearly understood everything.

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    1. I'm working on being winsome. I can handle being stupid if I'm kind of cute.

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  11. Oh the joys of being a digital immigrant, always needing interpreters. It helps to have some youngsters around who speak computer!

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    1. Squadrons of them. That's what we're accumulating, without even having to have someone we leave an inheritance to.

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  12. Too many typos forced me to delete the first attempt. Let me say we ought not to feel stupid or defeated at our age. Our btilliant generation set up,this current system quite happily ober #9 years ago. We wanted efficienty in all so,we could have more recreational time.
    However we failed to put into place proper systems of control and education at all level along the way. We let the youth run away with their brilliant Google , Facebook and the like because we didn't take time to assess anything. We let the stock market take control over how cash will flow from banks, insurance companies, developers, the utilities, the oils and gas and automobile sector and we allowed off shore manufacturing way back in the 50's with Japan.
    Thanks to space tech we now have planes and cars running on a coputer system and our telecommunication systen is merged with them. GPS has us all pinned down to our homes by our wifi etc.
    We are not stupid. Nor shou;d we feel out of touch. As a large senior group we do have the right to ask for free education to help us feel more part of that new hitech era we brought about.
    Just as therevare traillblazer senior walking groups we can create senior cafes for tech learning and exchanges and we can demand Apple and Microsoft to send seniors who get it to guide us, Who knows they likely could learn a thing or two from us. We are a very experienced bunch who just have a slight lag in new applications. Afterall they did fail to give us any educational bonus for helping create this new era.
    Self esteem we must hang onto. Feeling stupid is not right.
    We must feel proud and happy as we are becomimg the oldest smart group ever to live so long.

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    1. I have gobs of self-esteem. I don't know where I got it. It was probably a birthday gift from my mom and dad. But I still feel stupid--when appropriate! It's okay. Most of the kids I know are smart as the dickens. (What an old-timey expression.) I wish them all the best because we made all the toys and we're taking them with us, and leaving them nothing but drought and disease.

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  13. Murr, you or I must tell the tale of the Young (Restless) and Stupid too. Those who cannot count change or use a library but *can* navigate all the fine details of the Starbucks Rewards program. This passes for an educated generation. And we are all in deep poop.

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    1. I quit judging when a young friend of ours came over and we were talking about education (she grew up in Miss'ippi) and I flang out a blank sheet of paper and challenged her to draw the U.S. I did it too. Mine was pretty spotty. She had almost everything right, right down to the squiggles and panhandles and river junctions.

      Oh hell, she probably had a pet satellite beaming it into her pencil.

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  14. One of our survival techniques is to have plastic brains. Since I've been in my 30's I've had a mentor who is 18 years older and who keeps up with technology. Those of us who don't work to keep our brains plastic, not only can't survive, but can't grow new neural connections and thus get dummer earlier and finally get shut off from life. Thanks for a great blog to remind us to travel, try new foods, rearrange the furniture, take lessons to teach us new things and be open to all new people, food, and experiences.

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    1. Gosh, given my closing line, it's right generous of you to declare I was reminding you to do all those good things!

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  15. I do wonder what will happen when I am totally left behind, but until then I always pretend I know what I am doing.

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    1. You know what else we have going over the young among us? We--or at least I--am perfectly comfortable not knowing the answer to things. Things that you'd know if you kept a phone in your pocket. I leave mine at home most of the time and walk around in a state of blessed ignorance about things.

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  16. It's the job of the young to run circles around the old; to introduce us to our obsolesence; to redesign the stage set as they play their roles on this dear and threatened old stage. As long as there are some who are proud of their competence, enjoy showing off to oldsters and can be kind with it, I am reassured that there's hope for Life After Me. And the beat goes on. Thanks for keeping the humor going, too.

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    1. As always, my pleasure. I can't even imagine what is going to make our kids feel old and stupid. Oh dear: maybe a newfound ability to raise one's own food and keep warm in winter?

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  17. Yeah, we would've walked out of that restaurant grumbling, and then I would've come home and hammered out a nasty email to the company.

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    1. Naah. It was more like walking into a foreign country. Youngland. And you don't speak Youngish.

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  18. The old man in the library was just like my mom. She read a book a day, even surviving when they went from the Dewey Decimal to the Library of Congress system. But when they took away the card files and went to computers, she was toast. The arrow thing flew off the screen when she wagged the clicker thing, she said, and she couldn't get it to come back. Or it would peek at her from the bottom of the screen, which was useless. For a few years she would just march to the new books display, grab a handful, and leave.

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  19. I doubt if this place wanted new patrons, nor do they want to pay wait staff. I would have departed in a rush.

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    1. Jammed with people! Happy, well-fed, young people!

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  20. See, IF the restaurant was named "Irony", that would make sense. Otherwise it's just Vogon-level-bloody-minded-STUPID.

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