The Sword of Damocles


The Sword of Damocles, Hovering Dangerously

By Wendell Abern

Dear Readers,

It is quite possible I am about to become internationally famous.

I am giving strong consideration to registering in August at my nearby grammar school. Since I am now 87 years old, I am confident Guinness will cite me as the oldest person ever to attend first grade.

My problem is my previous forte: the English language.

In my early grades, eighty years ago, I excelled in reading and writing. Today, however, those skills have been trampled by a strange new language … which has evolved from a spectacular technological growth that has given birth to an entirely new vocabulary.

Every day, I find myself awash in strange new words like app and I-phone and webcam.

And that’s not even the worst part. Now, words I thought I knew have taken on new meanings!

Like server. A server is simply a waiter or a waitress. Or used to be. And cloud. A cloud is a beautiful fluffy white form in the sky. Not any more.

And  mouse. A mouse is a skittering tiny gray rodent, whose sudden appearance would trigger my mother’s leap into the kitchen sink.

I can’t keep up.

My pathetic ineptness crystallized last week when my dear friend Karen gave me a laptop computer.

A laptop! I’ve wanted a laptop for years! I can take a laptop to my condo association pool and play bridge while smoking my cigar! And eventually, I hope, I can dump my desktop computer and its 90 million cables.

As delighted as I was by the wonderful news of a laptop, my excitement became tempered immediately by the sword of Damocles hovering over my head:

A new technology.

I called my daughter (in Chicago), who had met Karen and Gary previously.

Wendell (bottom) Zooms with Gary and Karen Gonzalez, overcoming a major technology hurdle.

“Amy!”  I shouted. “Karen gave me a laptop! I’ve wanted a laptop for years!”

“Dad,” she said. “Calm down. I can hear you shivering.”

“You can’t hear someone shiver.”

“I know you. You’re facing some new technology, and you’re shivering. Now go fix yourself a salami sandwich.”

My daughter knows exactly how to calm me down.

The next day, Gary (Karen’s husband) brought the computer to my condo. We stayed about ten feet apart, both of us wearing masks, given the science fiction movie in which we are all now starring.

After he left, I tried opening up the computer. Could not. I called my son (Chicago suburb).

“Joel!” I said, “Karen just bought a new laptop and gave me the one she has now! An Apple laptop!  Except I can’t get it open.”

“Dad, calm down. I want you to sit down and take a deep breath.”

“Okay, okay, I’m sitting down. But I still can’t open the computer.”

“Dad,” he said, “Apple puts its logo on everything they make. Are you looking at a logo of an apple right now, with a bite taken out?”


“Is it possible you placed the computer upside down?”

I turned the computer over. Logo. An apple. With a bite taken out.

I hate it when my kids are right.

“Thank you,” I said. “Upside down never occurred to me.”

“Meaning you still haven’t improved since you put together the new bicycle you and mom had just given me.”

“And you’re never going to let me hear the end of it, are you? Joel, that was 50 years ago!”

“You put the bicycle seat on backwards!”

              “That wasn’t my fault! The directions were badly written!

              Joel took a deep sigh. “Dad, listen,” he said, “you’re letting some new technology rattle you. Just take one step at a time. Beginning with a pastrami sandwich.”

My kids know me well.

The next day, I determined I was going to do only one thing: get on the Internet. One step at a time, as Joel ordered.

Could not get on the Internet. No matter what I did, I could not get on the Internet.

Quickly, I made myself a grilled cheese and bacon sandwich. And thought of something I’d once told a friend who is almost as technologically challenged as I am: “The answer to any question on any subject in the world is inside your computer.”

I sauntered over to my desktop, Googled, and asked why my laptop would not permit me to get on the Internet. Turns out I had to provide my laptop with my desktop’s password. And there I was, on the Internet!

I called Brad, my computer maven.

“Why,” I asked him, “would my laptop care about my desktop’s password?”

“Has nothing to do with desktop/laptop,” he said. “You have the same server on both.”

Server! There’s that word again!

The next day, when I called Gary to brag that I’d figured out how to get on the Internet, he congratulated me and said, “By the way, look at all the icons on your desktop and you’ll notice I inserted a Zoom symbol.”

Aha! My son has been running Zoom meetings at work for years! I’ve heard about all the Zoom meetings going on.

“Do you know how to get into a Zoom meeting?” Gary asked.

“Of course,” I lied.

“Good. Let me know how it goes.”

As soon as our conversation ended, I called my son.

“How do I get into a Zoom meeting?” I asked.

“Dad, go make yourself a roast beef sandwich and stop shaking. “

“Karen and Gary think of everything,” I said, shakily. “Gary put a Zoom symbol on my desktop, and my men’s group is having a Zoom meeting tonight.”

“Okay, relax. Just hit the Zoom icon and a box will appear, asking you for the meeting’s number. Type it in, then hit the “Enter” prompt and you’re in.”

“How do I get a meeting number?”

“Call one of the guys in the group and ask.”

“Okay. I’ll try.”

“Good. Now stop shaking and go eat.”

I actually made it to the meeting.

Privately, I blame Karen and Gary for the fact I’ve gained three pounds since they gave me a laptop.

It has now been two weeks since I received that wonderful gift. And while I have not yet played bridge at the pool, I have attended four Zoom meetings and now consider myself a technological wizard.

Nevertheless, I still intend to enter first grade this fall. Feel free to boast that “you knew me when.”

Cantankerously Yours,

Wendell Abern