family, technology

Unto the second generation.

In the dream that I’m unlikely to ever actually experience—because most of my dreams are, annoyingly, about being late for some sort of appointment while trying to get there on the wrong commuter train that then turns into a creepily-familiar railroad apartment in a shitty neighborhood—my father is alive again, and has just finished repairing someone’s wristwatch in his workroom. We’re in the apartment where I was born, in a Lower East Side neighborhood I haven’t been able to afford to live in for decades, should I have ever wished to.

He comes out of the tiny room through the French doors, wiping his hands, and I tell him a bit about the task I’ve given myself, while showing him the small home computer about to undergo an upgrade. I show him the tools I’m going to use. Most of them are far less delicate than the ones he requires a loupe to see the ends of, but I’m glad to have a hand-magnifier nearby anyway.

For the purposes of this dream, he knows what a computer is, despite having been born the year Ford’s Model T car debuted, and died (effectively) way before computers were anything more than an amusement from a silly movie or tv show. I tell him about how nervous I am at risking the functionality of something that costs several weeks’ salary (having of course chosen not to discuss the variability of a freelance career—because why would I need to get into that sort of conversation again, with yet another worrisome parent?), but he indicates encouragement, scrutinizing the gizmo through his Coke-bottle eyeglasses, and motions me to continue after moving a floor lamp closer to the dining table where I’ve laid out everything on a towel.

I have another computer, a laptop, set up to run the video that instructs me how to upgrade this one’s internal hard drive. He also accepts this anachronism, because having to go back to first principles to explain everything is someone else’s dream, not mine.

I start the video, stopping it often to run it back, to focus on a detail, and sweat bullets while replaying parts of it. The video, made by slightly corny but very professional midwestern nerds, is comprehensive. Scored with music my father likely has little patience for (it being something other than classical), but accepts the presence of. He asks occasional questions. Or he would, if I could still remember what his voice sounded like when I was five or six. I vaguely imagine a gravelly lyric baritone, heavily accented.

The work is, for me, complex. Nowhere near as complex as the movements of the Swiss watches he regularly manipulates with impossible patience, but still a great deal of detail to keep track of. I mark areas on my towel to place parts removed in groups, and carefully label them with masking tape and marker, remarking how far less reliable my memory is than his. He waves that self-deprecation off impatiently, because it’s my dream and he’s being supportive of my effort.

The components of the tiny device come apart, and I try to lay them out like the exploded-view engineering drawings I’ve seen. The target of the upgrade is replaced with something shinier, newer, and lighter. The video’s narrator is as patient as my thumb on the pause button can make him. The components of the tiny device go back together. I sweat bullets over the minuscule screws that strip too easily if too much force is applied.

The computer is closed up, and I attach it to a monitor, keyboard, and mouse for testing. It boots up in record time, and I use it to play a piece of music I know my father might appreciate. Maybe some Mahler.

I turn to him, for he is still there, watching intently. It might be a dream, but he hasn’t disappeared or turned into another commuter train. Or worse.

He’s smiling and nodding slowly. We exchange a high-five, because I know what awful things can happen when you hug someone in a dream.

We go into the kitchen to get a seltzer.


On other nice days.

Forty years ago, today would’ve been the sort of temperate, sunlit day that I might’ve spent with my buddy Mark, walking all over our borough until we’d seen all there was to see, solved a substantial number of world problems, and gotten myself thoroughly lost while mere miles away from home.

Or, we might have jumped on the subway into Manhattan, grabbed a reasonably-priced lunch at one of two Howard Johnson’s diners that still existed on Times Square, before venturing into the twisty escalators of the Loew’s Astor Plaza for an inevitably disappointing, pre-Star Wars genre movie.

On more ambitious days, handball at a local court. Probably the only sport in which I could claim some momentary competence, at least on days when I could get out of my own head and refuse to defer to almost any other human being’s presence.


Coming up next…

The next white-supremacist mass-murderer will have facial swastika tattoos, a Hitler mustache, and be caught wearing a Klan robe, jodphurs, jackboots, and carrying a noose.

CNN & Fox will each hire 12-year-old stand-ins to appear in re-enacted video footage while running “Killer’s Motives Still a Mystery” on the lower-third.


Happy Memorial Day.

Wars happen because politicians everywhere fail to do their jobs properly. We failed to choose better leaders.

Many young people enlist in the armed services because they have no other prospects. We failed to give them opportunities.

Too many veterans who did great service for the rest of us are living in despair after having been abandoned by leadership that brought them home broken and crippled. We failed to keep promises that were made to them.

Parades and statues aren’t enough.


May the Fourth be with you.

Kent State Student Reacting to Death of Slain Protester

45 years ago today, unarmed students who’d been protesting Nixon’s escalation of the Vietnam War were fired upon by the Ohio National Guard at Kent State University. Four students were killed, nine were injured. Two of the dead had been crossing the campus to their next classes, dozens of feet away.

The state’s governor had fearfully compared the protesters to Nazis, Communists, and the Klan, calling them “un-American,” “the worst type of people that we harbor in America,” and declared “we’re up against the strongest, well-trained, militant, revolutionary group that has ever assembled.”

Today’s Conservatives are far more skilled at blaming the victim for their cowardly, incompetent behavior.

May the Fourth be with you.


comedy, spew

Is it safe?

A swift recovery from today’s dentist visit to fill two cavities. To my surprise, it was the least-unpleasant such procedure I’ve ever undergone. By far.

I traditionally have a swift and specific reaction to the effects of novocaine: equal parts panic and nausea. But today was the first time I had my own music available on headphones for the duration.

After skipping through some plaintive Radiohead and introspective R.E.M., I realized what I really needed was the post-modernist accompaniment of a previous decade’s high melodrama. Cue Alexander Courage’s 1965 soundtrack for—what else?—Star Trek‘s second pilot episode.

wherenomanhasgone181It worked better than I’d hoped. Space-opera suspense functioned amazingly well to satirize the sight of a masked, lab-coated professional leaning in to mutilate, then repair a tiny portion of my deadened head. Thanks to the serendipitous timing of two practitioners separated by almost half a century (and possibly half a planet), I found I had to work hard to not bust out laughing at least twice during the procedure, and entirely forgot to feel either panic or nausea once the music pitched up into the danger, mystery, and terror of old-style action-adventure network television. Even the arch dialog associated with some of the musical cues worked to my advantage.

I try very hard to make other people laugh when circumstances permit. Today I found a way to do that for myself, the ability for which I’m grateful to every actor or comedian I’ve ever admired or tried to emulate.