Cantankerously Yours


By Wendell Abern

Dear Readers,

            Used to be, when I got flustered or upset, I cursed. Sometimes, I shouted. I was never shy about yelling loud, nasty words whenever I wanted to vilify someone.

            Then I turned eighty.

            Since then, I’ve been babbling. Often, incoherently.

            A plumber or electrician doesn’t show up when promised, I call the home office and babble angrily. Someone cuts me off while driving, I babble to myself.

            For the past couple of years, the most frequent victim of my babbling is Kevin. Kevin Gallagher.

            A bridge partner I’ve known since B.B.E. (Before the  Babbling Era) told me Kevin was the world’s greatest fixer/painter/plumber/all-around handyman. And she was right.

            I first called Kevin when two brothers, who were supposed to paint my office, never showed up.

            “Hello,” he answered.

            “HimynameisWendellandIgotyournamefromJoyceandIwantmyofficepaintedFrenchMarketgreenandtwoguysweresupposedtopaintmyofficeand …”

            “Whoa! Whoa! Slow down.”

            Poor Kevin. Took him two minutes to pacify me and another two minutes for me to clarify what I wanted.

            Worth it. He came the next day (when he said he would), painted my office in less than two hours and charged me half what the brothers would have.

            Since then, I have called him almost incessantly. A few times for household chores. But more frequently to help me deal with a world that has become surrealistic because of the technological revolution that seems to explode in new ways every week.

            You see, the truth is, I do not belong in the year 2017. I don’t even belong in this century. In order to go to sleep at night, I tell myself it’s still the year 1958.

            And accompanying the digital revolution is an entirely new sub-English vocabulary I don’t even know how to speak! I still think of a cloud as a white fluffy thing in the sky, and an “app” as an abbreviation for an appliance.

            All this new technology terrifies me because, like everyone else, I rely on it for just about everything. Especially for entertainment.

            I remember back when I borrowed a neighbor’s ten-year old son, who showed me how to load a tape into my TV set. Once I mastered that feat (which I considered Herculean), I would drive to Blockbuster, sort through the hundreds of movie tapes and come running home with two or three rentals of just-released movies, all excited because I knew how to operate my TV to watch them.

            When was that? A hundred years ago?

            Then someone came up with discs instead of tapes. Enter, Kevin. I called him last week.

            “KevinwhatisthisblueraythingeveryoneistalkingaboutandnowIhavetogetsomethingcalledaDVDplayerand …”

            “Whoa! Wait! Slow down.”

            Kevin came over, patiently explained why I now had three remotes.

            I signed up with Netflix. Started receiving movies in the mail. Loved it! I would turn on my TV set with one remote, turn on my DVD with another, then use my third remote to open the little drawer to receive and play my disc.

            I was happy, sometimes renting as many as 15 movies a month!

            Then someone invented another new thing. Streaming.

            My son and daughter (in separate long-distance calls from Chicago) insisted I had to cut back on cable and start streaming (whatever that was) by investing in a new thing called Corfu.

            “Not Corfu, dad,” my son said. “Corfu is an island, This is called Roku. Go to Best Buy or somewhere and get a Roku streaming stick.”

            “You’ll love it, dad,” my daughter said. “You’ll get Roku, cut back to basic cable, save a lot of money and get many more options on your TV set.”

            “Okay,” I told them both, lying convincingly, and mentally composing my next phone call to Kevin. Which occurred a few days later, when my DVD player failed me.  The little drawer wouldn’t come out. I couldn’t play either of the two movies that had just arrived.

            I started to perspire. I could actually hear my heart pounding! I took a blood pressure pill. I called Kevin.

      “KevinIwantedtowatchamovieandmydrawerwon’topenandmykidssayIneedsomethingcalledaPorkuorsomethingand… “

            “Whoa! Whoa! You mean Roku.”

            I started weeping.

            “It’s okay,” he said. “We’ll get through this. I promise.”

            Kevin came over the next morning.

            “Before you buy a Roku streaming stick, we’ll fix this.”

            He took apart my DVD player, reconstructed something or other, put it all back together and handed me the remote.

            “Try it,” he said.

            Nothing happened.

            “There’s a new thing,” he said. “It’s called an ‘off-on’ button. You just push it once.”

            I pushed the button. Nothing happened. Then he pushed it. It worked.

            “It’samachineit’samachinethat’swhythishappenedtheyallstopworkingwhenI’maroundandthat’swhyit …”

            “It’s okay,” he said, draping an arm around me. “It’s okay. I have to go see another client. Why don’t you go to Best Buy, get the Roku streaming stick and I’ll come back tomorrow.?”

            I went to Best Buy and stopped babbling long enough for the sales clerk to understand what I wanted. Kevin came the next afternoon. He installed the stick in the back of my TV, then used one of the remotes to find an “Input” channel.

            I told Kevin I wanted Netflix, Amazon, HBO and Showtime on my new Roku receiver and he fiddled with the remote and said, “What’s the password to your set?”

            “What?What?Password?Whatkindofpasswordwhydoes …”

            “Whoa. Whoa. Take it easy. Maybe there’s a default password on the back of your modem.”

            “IhatepasswordsIdon’tevenremember … “

            “It’s okay,” he said. “It’s okay. I found a number. Let’s try it.”

            It worked. Kevin is a genius. He made me sit down and take deep breaths.

            After another hour and three trips to the computer to fill out information on sites I didn’t even know existed, my Roku was all set up.

            Since then, I have been watching an old TV series now being streamed on Netlix. And now that I have sort of made it into the year 2017, I am relatively content.

            Until last night. My kids called me and told me to get an Amazon streaming stick, too.


Cantankerously Yours,

Wendell Abern