My younger sister calls yesterday, and after the usual pleasantries I ask her where she is.
“You always ask me that,” she says. “Why?”
“Well. I’m not sure,” I say. “I see you’re calling from your cell and it helps me somehow to picture where you are when we’re talking. I ask just about everyone the same thing unless I see they’re on a land line. Then I can picture where they are.”
“But what’s the difference where I am?”
“Well, for example, you could be driving,” I say.
“I just want to know that those sirens I hear aren’t for you!”
Now that’s an inside the family story, so let me get into it.
One day, a few years ago, my sister is driving home from work, and talking to me on the phone at the same time, and this was sort of before all the hoopla about talking on the phone and driving and distraction – maybe hoopla is the wrong word – but you know what I mean, and both me and my sister are not exactly the most compliant citizens with authorities, and I hear over her cell the sound of sirens.\
“Oh shit,” she says. “Freakin’ cops are after me again.”
I tell her to turn off the damn cell.
But she doesn’t listen to me. Puts it somewhere on her body, without turning it off.
I can hear, somewhat muffled, that she has pulled over to the side of the highway and the cop is asking for her license and registration. And she’s saying in her most innocent voice: what’s the problem officer.
“Step out of the car, Miss.”
There’s some dialogue back and forth, and I hear her whispering to me through the cell phone: I’m in handcuffs behind the car.
And then: Miss, you cannot drive and hold your cell at the same time. It’s against the law. Here’s a ticket…
So she gets in the car and continues: I was on the FDR, in traffic. Moving 5 miles an hour. Don’t they have anything better to do?
And so, I always ask her where she is.
But I ask my friend Marty where he is when he calls. I know his routine. He gets up around 11 a.m. and goes to the nearby Dunkin’ (they changed their name) and usually calls from there after getting his coffee. He is almost always in the middle of an exchange with a beggar.
“Can you believe that?” he complains.
He is trying to reason with someone. “Hold on a sec, Dave. Are you there?”
And then to the beggar. “Do I really look like someone you can ask for $5?”
And then back to me: “What’s wrong with these people. Because I gave a guy a buck yesterday… do they really think I’m a tourist? Do I look like a tourist? Tell me the truth, Dave, have you ever seen anyone who looks less like a tourist?”
And he goes on in that vein for a while until I hear the door open and I know he’s on the street. At which point we are usually disconnected because something went wrong with the latest dongle he bought for his iPhone. I think he must buy a dongle a month from Apple and they’re not cheap.
It all gets me to thinking about phones. Phones and attention spans. Phones, attention spans, and a jump to Alzheimer’s. My grandmother had an old rotary phone, black, and on a small table in the living room in the projects where she lived. It was on a white lace doily. The receiver was heavy. When it rang, it was an event.
She was nearly a hundred years old at the time. Here hearing was still good. She walked from the kitchen into the living room and picked up the receiver. It wasn’t spam. It wasn’t a robot calling. It was her younger sister, Sadie calling from Philadelphia.
Shhh. She motioned. Long distance ! It’s aunt Sadie, she whispered to me.
Anything wrong? she asked.
A call was a big event. Especially a long distance call.
I don’t recall what it was about. And it doesn’t matter.
But here’s where I’m going with this. There were three old people living in that apartment. My grandmother, who as say lived into her hundreds, her husband who died in his 90s, and a boarder name Moe, who they rented a back room to, also in his 90s. And nobody we knew had Alzheimer’s.
I suppose it existed. I’m too lazy to google the history of it.
And of course, just about everyone at this palace for the aged has it to some degree.
But I can only see it all getting worse. Maybe the price of progress? Maybe I did too much Zen when I was younger.
But I can’t help thinking that all these constant interruptions are a) making things worse and b) modeled after the way computers work.
And by that I mean, computers are built around interruptions. The CPU is there to process Interrupts. Even the turning on and off of the machine is based on an INT (short for interrupt ).
Machines don’t worry about Alzheimer’s because the various instructions are arranged in stacks. Like poker chips. Each has a certain priority.
Not so, the brain.
And not so, my sister, on her cell, stuck in traffic, on the FDR. (I had to tie it all together somehow!)