It’s come to me this week that I have the makings of a Trumpista; I have a gift for believing that which is demonstrably untrue.
Six times I was assured by tech support that my email program was once again working and that it would not stop working again at any time in the foreseeable future. And six times I believed it.
After the fifth episode, I had achieved sufficient status to be allowed to escalate my problem to a higher-level technician. He had a British accent, though I couldn’t say for sure what kind. Notwithstanding my graduate study in applied linguistics, I’ve never been much good at distinguishing Irish from Scottish absent an occasional “wee” or “begorrah.” I’m sure he wasn’t cockney, though. Nor did he speak in the so-called cut-glass style that used to be required for on-air work at the BBC. It gave me something to think about after he took control of my computer and filled the screen with dancing symbols and marks unrecognizable by the normal human.
The dialect question was made more challenging by his voice being so small and weak, I could hardly hear him, despite having having set my hearing aids to receive telephonic messages directly in my ear through the magic of blue tooth, whatever that is. Doodling and nodding as if I understood, I speculated about this. Maybe when he was not embarrassed about giving bum technical help, his voice was like Tom Brokaw’s. Maybe his superiors erroneously thought him so capable of dealing with computer mysteries, they overlooked the difficulties his voice presented in his work as a telephone-answering person. Maybe the company I paid $200 plus tax to for a year of unsatisfactory telephone experiences is simply no good at assigning employees to various roles. At least the guy didn’t sound really funny like Jim Bob or Tiffany in Mumbai.
I like to see the face of whoever is pissing me off, so I fought my way through Austin traffic to the shop where I’d bought the service contract. Trouble was, after I got there my attitude went downright sunny. The clerk was a charming geek who addressed me as Dr. Willcott. I liked that.
I haven’t been addressed as Dr. Willcott much since I quit professoring about forty years ago. I trot it out when making dinner or airline reservations in hopes that I’ll be perceived as a rich replacer of heart valves or some other top-of-the-heap sort, but so far I’ve not been ushered past a line of hungry commoners or been offered a seat upgrade. What is this country coming to anyway?
I use my title with equal ineffectiveness when I see a new doctor. I present to him or her a typed sheet outlining my medical history and the drugs I’m taking. Prominent at the top of the sheet is “PAUL WILLCOTT, PH.D., J.D.” They never take the bait; not once has a doctor addressed me as “doctor.” I consider it a good day if I get “mister.”
Never mind all that. At the shop counter, something happened that was even more welcome than being afforded proper respect. As of this writing (twenty-four hours later), my email is still working. I lost my calendar, and I have to go to webmail to see my list of contacts, but I’ll take the partial victory and not whine about the incidental inconveniences.
At one point when I was waiting for a telephone techie to fail in his calling, I pulled a volume of E.B.White’ s Letters off the shelf by my desk. My mother wrote letters by hand up until the end of her life, by which time that had become a practice rarely used to make contact with other humans. Today, my niece Julie and my friend Dorothy send post cards. Like many people, I write letters for special purposes, such as condolence or thank you. And that’s about all the personal-letter activity I run into.
While the distant geek was toiling away, I thought about giving up electronic communication. It would be a little awkward, of course. “I’m going to France for a couple of months. You can reach me by mail at the American Express office in Bordeaux.” Does American Express offer that service anymore? Nowadays, for the first time in around four hundred years, there is probably not a single living person who writes enough personal letters – even inconsequential and uninteresting ones – to merit publishing them in book form.
On the shelf next to White was a file folder of stuff I’d printed or clipped from newspapers or magazines. This sort of collection was once known as a commonplace book. I wonder if the Victorians who used to keep them ever opened them up and attended to the contents. Maybe they were like the boxes of snapshots that are stored in attics, awaiting a spare moment or month for organization and notation before the names and dates are forgotten.
I did pull a couple of pieces from my commonplace book (file). A New York Times clipping made the point that to keep your mind sharp into old age – to become a superager, as the Times put it – you should work hard at something, mental or physical, regularly. Not just crossword puzzles either. Activities that are really challenging, such as high-intensity interval training or teaching yourself Arabic. Until I’d read that, I was unaware that my dealing periodically with tech support would make me the most mentally nimble person in my nursing home.
Another note in my file was a riff on Max Weber’s notion that modern times have been grievously injured by the loss of the capacity for enchantment, “the belief that mysterious or incalculable forces come into play.” Weber wouldn’t have been worried about this if he had foreseen conversations with tech support.
Nor did he see Donald Trump coming. That guy is a master of enchantment. Almost half of Americans believe his fairy tales, proving thereby that no matter what Weber had to say on the matter, enchantment can be carried too far.
As a doctor kindly pointed out to Ann one time when she was fretting about the connection between her emotional makeup and hypertension, “It is not easy to be human.”