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.

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