DEALING WITH DIGITAL

LORI OSIECKI ILLUSTRATION

My mother-in-law, Ms. Larda, got no use for the digital world.

We are at the Target store, with my daughter Gladiola, and Ms. Larda finds this fancy cross she wants for over her bedroom door – if it ain’t too expensive. Now, this is one of them stores that, instead of price tags, they got stickers with little digital lines. You got to carry whatever you want around until you find a post with a black price reader on it, and stick it under that to read the price in actual numbers.

 But they also got black trash cans mounted on posts. So, trying to help out, I take this cross over to a trash can and hold it there and hold it there, waiting to see the price, looking like I’m trying to undo some voodoo curse on the pole.

Then Gladiola comes along, looks embarrassed and mutters “Let me do that, Ma.” She waves her cell phone over those black lines and says “$29.97.”

“It’s a new app,” she says.

“Too much,” says Ms. Larda. But she ain’t talking about the $29.97. “Give me the old days, when I knew what I was doing.” Now we got her started.

“Digital, schmigital. Everything got different names now. You got to ‘boot up’ and ‘log out.’ Why not ‘on’ and ‘off?’” she says.

“What if they come out with digital plumbing, and we get new names for ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ and, God help us, ‘flush.’ Things ain’t going to be pretty.

“I got news for you. People have always had digits – five on each hand and five on each toe. It ain’t like these Internet geniuses just invented them,” she says.

My son-in-law, Slime – he’s a computer guru – already explained to her that digits in this case refers to the numbers zero and one. She says “Umm-hmm, that’s nice,” like she would tell a grandchild it’s nice when he says he’s going to run so fast he’ll fly like Superman.

But afterward, Ms. Larda waved her cell phone at me. “It has a lot more numbers than zero and one,” she says. “Try pressing just zero and one, and you never will get a hold of anybody. And here I thought that boy was smart.”

Well, at least she does use a cell phone. She turns it on when she wants to call somebody and then turns it right off again. And she won’t take pictures with it. “I don’t talk on my camera and I don’t take pictures on my cell phone,” she says; that’s that.

She broke down and bought a second-hand GPS last month, only so she would know how to flee from a hurricane now that Nash Roberts ain’t around to point the way no more. (Nash Roberts, in case you are younger than Methuselah, was the first TV weatherman in town, and all he needed was a map and a black marker to tell you when a hurricane was coming. He also bought a home above sea level, which we should maybe have taken as an omen.)

Anyway, Ms. Larda said this old GPS couldn’t find its hiney parts with both digits, so she threw it out and got a brand-new one, which she also hated (“too pushy”) so she got her money back. Then she bought a map and a black marker.

Also she don’t believe in answering machines. “If I don’t answer, they can call back,” she says.

Now that’s true if it’s a vinyl siding salesperson, or somebody who wants to discuss your credit card or Senator David Vitter. They won’t worry when she don’t answer. But I will.

Last week my phone rings when I’m on the throne, and when I finally arrange myself and answer, I get the hang-up click. The caller ID says Larda Gunch, so I call her back. No answer. Did she keel over dead in the 10 seconds I was punching in her number? I try her cell phone. No answer.

Ms. Larda lives in a shotgun double, and my brothers-in-law live on the other side. I call them, but they don’t answer. (Carting Ms. Larda off to the mortician?)

Before Katrina, I would’ve just stomped down the block to her house and beat on the door, but not no more. She still lives in Chalmette, but my old house is just an oily spot so I live in the French Quarter, in an apartment across the courtyard from my gentleman friend Lust’s bar, the Sloth Lounge. It ain’t a bad place to have washed up, and I’m grateful for it – except right now, this minute. Because besides needing to know if she’s alive, there’s the Knights of Labor Parade and Decadence this weekend, and Lust asked her to bring her famous stuffed eggs to put out on the bar as an enticement to the customers, since it’s hard to get his usual boiled shrimp this year, and we need to know when she’s coming.

I am getting ready to drive out to her house, when my brother-in-law Leech turns up. He got a note from Ms. Larda – written by hand. Back when she was a girl, she won Celibacy Academy’s Our Lady of Prompt Succor Medal for Excellence in Palmer Script. She still has it, and every now and then she brings it out and tells how this proves you can create with your very own hands a document just as good as a computer can make with a printer.

Anyway, the note, in her perfect handwriting, says to pardon the “primitive” communication but if I pick her up tomorrow at 9, she’ll be ready with the eggs; and don’t bother calling because all the phones on her block are dead – some digital transmitter problem – and her cell phone is out of juice. “Thank God my digital ballpoint pen still works,” she writes. I think that’s sarcasm.
 

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