Talking It Over – Coping with a New World

The contestants on Jeopardy the other night were stumped by questions relating to the culture of the 1950s, which I knew cold. On the other hand, one of them breezed through a category of modern pop music that left me out in the cold. I knew nothing.
At least in the 1970s when I taught junior high students, I knew their music, but even the 1970s are a distant past. This new brave world of the first decade of the 2000s is so crammed with an overwhelming present that few of us have time or energy to spend ruminating about the past or contemplating the future. We’re too busy trying to cope.
On a typical day in my life I wake up tired—and I’m retired! For you who work an eight-to- twelve-hour day just to provide the roof over your head and sustenance for your bodies, I understand your fatigue. Mine, you might say, is related to choices and age. I choose, naturally, to do the chores that keep my house reasonably clean and food on the table. I also choose to be helpful to my partner John as it becomes harder for him to help himself. I choose to be involved with my friends, active with PFLAG, and absorbed with my writing about community issues and promoting my book. As John and I get older, I also have to “choose” more health-related appointments and actions.
But the choices I make aren’t entirely what make me tired. What does me in are the chores I need to keep up with in our information society. Learning to cope with the machinery is one thing. We bought new phones that come with “phone books” that have to be filled by tapping letters on the keyboard. There are features on these babies that I probably will never learn because it takes reading a manual. Reading a manual isn’t so bad, except that I have to decipher the language. Instructions come with pictures as often as words. On the button labeled “Talk” is a very small, barely discernible picture of a telephone hand receiver. The symbol in the instructions is to press this symbol or the pound symbol if you are on another handset after someone presses hold and you want to talk as well. What?
God help you if you have a sudden desire to go to the bathroom. En route, and I quote from the manual, you have to keep in mind that “If a call is kept on hold more that 6 minutes, an alarm tone will start to sound and the ringer indicator will flash rapidly. After 4 additional minutes on hold, the call will be disconnected.” Why doesn’t that happen to the corporation when you hang on to customer service at AOL for half an hour?
Okay, so if I go step by step and pay attention to the minutia I’ll be able to understand and perform the functions in my telephone, but learning this one point has taken me twenty minutes! Wouldn’t it be easier just to grab the phone from John’s hands?
I get suckered into these situations because I pride myself on my intelligence and great ability to figure out how things work. John, so much older and wiser, just gives up without trying and hands me the problem. “How the hell do you open this package?” he says. Or “I can’t understand this ‘press this, press that’ business this phone recording is giving me.” Or “Tell me again how you put captions on the TV.”
Then there are the corporations that are supposed to serve you. Order a book from Amazon and fill in name, address, phone number, and credit card information. Do the bookkeeping for everything you buy nowadays. You can’t even speak to a customer service rep without giving out the vitals of your life, including your mother’s maiden name. A credit card company wrote me this week informing me that some merchant or merchants do not have my new credit card expiration date, and that they cannot tell me who. I am to research all my automatic payment authorizations and see who is out of date! Outrageous.
A clothing company has sent me ten catalogs in the last two weeks. The last catalog has an extra cover warning me that this may be the last catalog I get unless they hear from me soon. The not-too-subtle message, “Buy something.”
So, now it’s time to write a column and I know that June is Pride Week. There are important issues to comment on. Congress may be about to vote on a constitutional amendment to limit marriage to a man and a woman, and I’m too tired to do research so I can write an article to get you fired up about this most important issue.
But then, you’re probably too tired to read it.
Oh hell, let’s all just go out and play this Pride month. Release the stress and reclaim our energy, our humor, and our willingness to give it our all once again. Anybody know a Kay or a John I can hand my minutia problems to?
Kay is the tired old lady who asked a busy Costco customer to help load her groceries in the car. He did. She called him an angel, and he said, “That’s okay, honey.” Kay drank that sweet-tongued nectar and youth came surging back. Email her at kaymill@aol.com.

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