The young man peered at me over his designer mask. “Do you have a cell phone?”
He stared. His brow wrinkled. “Uh . . . wait here.” He ducked back inside.
There was a sign on the door that warned:
“NO ENTRY. Call On Cell Phone.
Staff Will Meet You In Parking Lot.”
You’d think they were dealing crystal meth.
(In the interest of full disclosure, Gentle Reader: I do have a cell phone.
(But I don’t use it.
(It’s an old clamshell on a $13-a-month plan. It lives in my car, awaiting that moment when I may drive into a snow bank and need help getting out. But who, in the meantime, needs to know of its existence?)
The door opened and the young man re-emerged. “They’ll be with you in a minute.”
He edged by me and darted down the walk to where a better-trained customer stood, cell phone in hand, hoisting with the other hand a small cage which held a lop-eared rabbit.
Did I feel no guilt, you ask, gumming up the procedures of a nice veterinary clinic?
GUILT? Ha! You may as well ask a wolverine about origami.
Turns out, once they discover one’s masked presence standing at their door—even without a cell phone call—they will eventually bring out the allergy pills one pre-ordered for one’s itchy American Staffordshire terrier mix.
In the present COVID-19 public health emergency, who could have predicted the emergence of common sense?
Milo Bung shook his head when I told him the story. “You go to a lot of trouble to avoid using your cell phone.”
“It’s no trouble at all.”
My old classmate glared like a bright young assistant district attorney cross-examining a defendant. “What have you got against cell phones?”
“What has a cell phone ever done for me?”
Milo scratched his head. “How would I know?”
A new idea lit up his face. “What if you want to take a picture?”
“I would use my Nikon. But I’ve already made enough photographs for one lifetime.”
“Is that a fact,” said Milo. He looked askance. “You’ve given up photography altogether?”
“I remember the best moments of all my vacations. The images stored in my brain are better than mere photos. They have more je ne sais quoi.”
In any case, I thought but did not say, when my brain loses the memories, the pictures won’t help either.
Milo rapped his knuckles on the bar. “You’re a hard case, amigo.”
“Besides,” I astutely pointed out, “I like to deal with people in the flesh.”
“Isn’t that sort of old school?”
“That’s me all over.”
I was not always thus. It takes decades of study to become an old crank.
Gradually, if you’re a sentient being, you apprehend that in today’s world, the sense of community that underpins mental health has been eroded. In this desert of commonality and fellow-feeling, any face-to-face, or mask-to-mask, encounter, even with a stranger, can be salutary.
Years ago, a fellow yahoo on a Road Scholar trip—a man named Larry, by sheer coincidence—tried to browbeat me into needing a GPS navigating device.
“What!” he exclaimed. “You don’t have a *INSERT BRAND NAME HERE*? How can you not have one? You can get one for under a hundred dollars.”
“Or I could not get one,” I pointed out, “and keep my hundred dollars.”
“No, seriously. You can’t afford to be without it.”
“So far, I’m doing fine.”
“But it’s so cheap, you’ve got to have one.”
I could have explained that 99 percent of my trips are to places I know how to get to; that I can, and do, look up the other one percent in advance; and that if, despite that preparation, I should get lost, I can always stop and ask someone. But no logic would have convinced Larry that my lack of a *INSERT BRAND NAME HERE* was okay.
His real problem was that my zoom lens was longer than his. Given that circumstance, his only play was to beat me over the head with his GPS device.
I am no Luddite, I tell myself, but simply a man who values the personal touch.
Why should I ring up my own merchandise at Home Depot when a real pro is on duty one lane over? A person who, by the way, would like to keep her job.
Sure, I could knuckle under to the ruling paradigm, but I would feel like I was abandoning The Little Guy. If I have to stand in line a few extra minutes, so what? Where else do I have to be?
Our pet spa has the same “call up on the cell phone” routine that the vet’s office does. But rather than lose an eighty-dollar grooming job, they’ll eventually notice me and my shaggy spaniel as we wait in the parking lot.
Some inchoate power out there always wants me to do things in a new way. But, Lord help me, I like the old way.
They want me to vote early this year—either by mailing in my ballot or by handing it to a designated early-ballot collector sitting under a sign in a public park. All well and good.
Is the election going somewhere? Will the polls be closed?
My plan is to show up, masked, on election day, at the polling place where I am registered, holding my photographic ID in hand. I trust they’ll let me vote—even though they won’t be able to see that my face matches the photo on the ID—and they’ll count my vote.
So what’s the problem?
Tout le monde, Dear Reader, is NOT rushing off to some Brave New World so fast an old geezer can’t keep up—impressions to the contrary notwithstanding.
You might mention that to Milo Bung when you see him.
Larry F. Sommers, Your New Favorite Writer
Author of Price of Passage—A Tale of Immigration and Liberation.
Price of Passage
Norwegian Farmers and Fugitive Slaves in Pre-Civil War Illinois
(History is not what you thought!)