t a certain age, age becomes you. Like mourning becomes Electra. New inventions and refreshed conventions disdain all carping. You collect antiques without even wanting to, or they collect you.
Take my landline phone. Once a stalwart rectangular box with a magic wire attached, it’s now a relic visitors marvel at, all the more so if they see you still have a rotary version, which I do, circa Rome 1965 (no dolce vita included).
When the gasping subsides, some ask why, as in why not something smarter, sleeker and digitally about town (or apartment)? I reply the same way every time but for whatever reason the reply isn’t smart enough to hear out.
I keep my old machine because it’s the strong, silent type, particularly if you’re connected to the few other strong, silent types. Such a connection — the outside world cut out — can make for what was once known as intimate conversation, the kind that included audible sighs.
Ah, there it is, you’ll say: age becomes him.
Up to a point.
I admire smart little thin machines that squiggle around connecting the planets faces and voices while making pictures and assisting in the looking up of trivia. Neat tricks. What I admire less — dislike, in fact — is being made to converse with someone who’s called me from a bus, or with temporary or permanent ownership of a baby, or from a noisy street, or even from inside an airport terminal, as if voice contact now necessarily needed to carry atonal intrusions, a life soundtrack of sorts.
No thanks. Why should I listen to planes, trains and automobiles if my pleasure is to hear, and absorb, the pleasures of a human voice, and not that voice along with sundry impositions? The inclusion of background noise is, I know, a necessarily postmodern gesture, an example on “on-the-go-ness,” but it’s also distracting, annoying, and decidedly unsexy — and I like my conversations sexy, whether the subject is bad bosses, Donald Trump or why double-breasted jackets have gone out of style.
I treasure my arthritic landline because it generally protects me from those who might call me from the belly of the world’s untamed zoo. Smart calls to dumb phones can be expensive. Those who do call (gorillas braying in the background) often beg me to smartphone them back, to which I say, “no,” which if you’re not careful can lead to all matter of diplomatic crises. When an heiress persists, damning the cost and insisting on a conversation that includes zoo animals, I usually find an excuse to sign off, as in: “Can we talk when your son turns 18?”
That’s not to say I don’t appreciate the roaming and yakking post-moderns. A higher species, they’ve learned, remarkably, to tune out all but what it is they have to say, as if their voices mattered as much as whether the other side actually hears what’s being broadcast. On occasion, to celebrate something special (a 100th-birthday, say), I’ve actually remained on the smart line to absorb the loud world by proxy. I’ve taken in gate changes, infant yowling, car honking, and crowd chatter, as ever awaiting the four-word post-script: “Are you still there?” (I wonder if it even matters.)
I am, I say, but not for long. I need to get off at the next stop. I have to board my flight. Plus there’s a big parade up ahead. Including trombones. Just listen.