10 Reasons a Land Line is Better than a Cell Phone

10. A land line has retro cool cachet. (I’m particularly fond of the working 1980 baby blue dial phone on the wall of my parents’ garage.) Plus, when your children roll their eyes at you, you’ll actually know why.

9. A land line gets you a listing in the local phone directory. (Don’t say “What’s that?” I might cry.)  If you prefer a cell phone because it lets you go incognito, you can save some money by just buying a pair of dark glasses.  Say, who exactly are you hiding from anyway?

8. A land line lets you experience the excitement of seeing the message light flashing on your answering machine when you walk in the door.

7. A land line keeps it real. A land line does not make you think you’re more important than you are. Unless you’re a doctor or a drug dealer, it can wait til you get home.  (And don’t give me a load of bull about having to keep in touch with your kids at all times.  We disconnected Baby Boomers survived childhood and adolescence just fine without being kidnapped.)

6. You never have to remember to set your land line on “silent.” After all, a land line does not embarrass you by ringing while you’re in an important meeting at work. Or in church.  Or at a funeral.

5. A land line is purely functional. It is designed to do exactly one thing and it does it well. Your land line does not tempt you to fritter away precious hours of your life playing Farm Town, Words with Friends and Angry Birds.

4. In an emergency, you can call 911 from your land line and the dispatcher will know exactly where you are. If you try this with a cell phone when you are out and about, you’d better know the names of the nearest cross streets if you expect to get any help. And if your idea of stating your location is “I’m at Steph’s boyfriend’s house, I don’t know the address here, hellllpppp!”, you’d better hope that the dispatcher’s little radar thingy is good enough to locate you in the five minutes you have left in which to revive Steph’s boyfriend. (Expect a bill for that search and rescue helicopter that you hear whirring overhead.)

3. A land line does not cut out when you hit a “dead spot.” A land line never displays the message “Call Failed.”

2. A land line always has a dial tone and never displays the message “no service” when you are desperately in need of making a call.

And the #1 reason that a land line is better than a cell phone:

1. A land line never has to be charged. On the other hand, when your cell phone runs out of juice, it makes a lovely paperweight.

Help! My Parents are Stuck in 1995!


We made another weekend run down to the Central Valley because my mother needed me to help her with some paperwork related to her stockholdings.  Buying and selling stocks has been a hobby of hers since back in her working days.  My parents have now been retired for twenty years, leaving Mom with plenty of time to pursue her fascination with Wall Street.

Back in the 1980s and 1990s, my parents didn’t own a computer and didn’t subscribe to a newspaper (unless you include running out for bagels on Sunday morning and hauling home a doorstop-sized New York Times).  My mother listened to the stock reports on the radio and, every so often, would have my father drive her to the public library, where she’d pore over the latest Wall Street Journal.

Nowadays, Mom turns on the TV at 5:00 pm every weekday (unless my parents are out to dinner at Red Lobster) to watch the stock reports on one of the five over-the-air stations that can be pulled in out on the rangeland.  My parents live in the country, don’t receive cable, and once tried to install a dish antenna on the roof of their house but quickly removed and returned it when they couldn’t get it to work properly.  They still don’t subscribe to a newspaper, but they do own a PC.  Dial-up connection, of course.  Remember those?  Ooooooweeeeeeaaaaahhhhshhhhhhhhhhhh… You’ve got mail!

Yep, my parents are stuck in 1995.

About half the time that I call my parents, I am unable to get through because Dad is online, looking at pictures of old cars and checking out the for sale ads (his own Model A Ford sits in the garage).  When I see him, he rails about the scourge of internet abbreviations and about how people don’t know how to spell anymore.  Meanwhile, Mom is listening to conservative talk radio in the kitchen.  When I see her, she bemoans the atrocious grammar of the broadcast personalities and those participating in the call-in shows alike.

My father, who is 81 years old and had never used a computer until he was retired for several years, knows how to Google search terms, send and receive email, contact me via IM (exceedingly rare) and place bids on eBay.  Each afternoon (after his daily TV dose of theater and opera goes off the air at 1:00), he logs onto AOL and checks my mother’s stocks.  Back east on Wall Street, the market has just closed for the day.  He scribbles the prices and progress of each of her stockholdings (XYZ 128.16 +1/8) on a sheet of paper, after which he hunts down my mother (likely tending her roses out front or watering a fruit tree out back) and provides her with the results.  Mom then transposes this information into neat columns in her stock notebook.  I am impressed with the detail (“See?  This is the PE ratio.  I am watching this one reeeeaaaalllly closely.”), which looks for all the world like a Stone Age version of an Excel spreadsheet.  I am tempted to make a bad Fred Flintstone joke here, but you know, poor Mom.

My mother assures me that she knows how to look up her stocks online without any assistance, thank you, but that she lets my father do it because he’s online anyway and, goodness knows, he sure doesn’t do anything else around here.  She then proceeds to gripe about how he goes to bed early, sleeps until 10 every day, and then takes two hours to get ready and have his cereal with blueberries, which he finishes just in time for his theater and opera show.  Meanwhile, she tells me, she herself couldn’t possibly sleep past 7:30 or 8, at which time she gets up and does all the work around the house with no help at all from peacefully snoring Dad.  I did not exactly ingratiate myself to her when I offered that I plan to do exactly the same when I retire and that I, too, do nothing around the house.  My wife enthusiastically vouched for the veracity of my assertion.  Like father, like son, hey?

My mother has an armload of college degrees and has always been a smart cookie.  Her investments are about as conservative as her politics, but she does make money.  Not a lot, mind you, but the quarterly dividend checks roll in and when the stock goes up just the right amount, she’ll make a stop at her discount brokerage house on the way to Food Maxx and place an order to sell that sucker.  Capital gains tax?  Just a part of the game, son, just a part of the game.

“What’s your strategy?” they ask Mom at the brokerage, marveling at her many small victories.  “I have no strategy!” she snaps back.  The trick, she assures me, is patience.  Like a cat, you stay real quiet and wait for just the right moment and then… Pounce!

Let’s just say that I am seriously impressed with Mom.  What I find particularly amazing about my mother’s investments is that most people spend money on their hobbies, but she makes money from hers.  Whether you’re into golf or sewing or travel or collecting things (or, in my own case, attending Scrabble tournaments), it’s always a money pit.  It would be wonderful if one day I, too, manage to find a formula for doing something I enjoy and have the checks roll into my mailbox every three months or so.

Nah, ain’t happening.  I’d rather sleep until ten like Dad.

Dial-up modem notwithstanding, my parents do have cell phones.  They each have their little TracPhone, which Dad likes to hang on his belt when he goes out, while Mom keeps hers tucked in her purse.  My sisters and I find those two cell numbers mighty convenient for times when Dad is online again and we just have to tell Mom something right now.  All three of us know that if the house phone is busy, you call Dad’s cell, which may be plugged in to charge somewhere, so if there’s no answer you proceed to calling Mom’s cell.  My father even knows how to navigate his little black and white screen to key in his contacts.  It took my parents years to advance to this stage, so I suppose I should be grateful that they’re not still stuck on a plain black wall phone and no “answering machine.”  Really, Mom, you know it’s called voicemail, right?  My wife reminds me that rolling one’s eyes is impolite, mister.

Of course, my parents still don’t text.  Even their funky TracPhones have that capability, but my parents are just not interested.  Texting leaves Mom cold.  If she can’t see my face, at least she wants to hear my voice.  I guess I should be flattered, but oy, Mom, it’s a pain in my tokhes when I need to tell you one little thing and can’t without getting on the phone with you for an hour.  I don’t always have an hour, Mom.  What?  You don’t have an hour for your old mother?  Not when I’m at work, Mom!  Not when I’m at the supermarket, Mom!  Not when I’m barreling down the 99 and I know I’m about to hit that dead spot between Nicolaus and Natomas.  The upshot is that you lose out on a lot of stuff that might bring a smile to your face and make your day.  To date, my arguments have been unsuccessful.

Mom and Dad have now become accustomed to the way it is when my wife and I are visiting.  Most of the time, we have our iPhones out.  It’s not like we’re texting all the time or anything, but we keep one eye on email and my wife is aware when someone posts a comment on her Facebook status.

My phone buzzes.  “What was that?” Mom asks.  I have a new follower on my blog, I tell her.  Ohhh, she says sweetly, do you still do that?  Barely, I tell her.  These days, I only have time to post on Sundays.  But do you still have a lot of followers?  I don’t feel like explaining that followers don’t just go away; you have to be really boring for them to take the time to go into their WordPress Dashboards and unfollow you.  It’s okay, Mom, I wish I could say.  I’m so glad that you don’t really understand about this stuff and that you don’t read my blog because I write about you quite a lot and some of the things that have come out of my fingers would make the hair stand up on your graying head.

My father’s eyes dart back and forth between my wife’s purple phone and my orange one.  And he sighs.  Maybe we’ll have to come into the 21st century eventually, he offers.  “I really, really wish you would!” I reply.  It’s not that expensive anymore, I tell him.  The prices have come way down from when Apple first came out with this.  Dad is very good about keeping his TracPhone charged, but should I tell him about wifi and 4G?  He is impressed when Mom asks me for the address and phone number of one of my cousin’s ex-wives and it takes me about 30 seconds to locate the information on my phone.  “It’s really quite useful,” I say of my iPhone.  I want to tell Mom that she can tap an icon and see the latest prices of her stocks, but I bite my lip and refrain.

If my parents are to take the plunge off the deep end, I know it will have to be Dad first.  I wonder whether we should just get it over with and buy them a pair of iPhones with protective covers in some cutesy his ‘n hers colors.  Wouldn’t it be great if I could text Dad “good morning” every day?

I know, Dad, not before 10 a.m.

Zynga Zinger (חלומות בעברית)


I have been experiencing the strangest dreams lately, and last night’s was a doozy.

My wife recently introduced me to a new Zynga game on the iPhone.  As if my addiction to Words With Friends weren’t bad enough.

This one is called “What’s the Phrase?”  She and I usually have half a dozen games of WTP? going on at any given time.

When I slide on my iPhone, the game notifications scroll all the way down my screen.  Some of these Wheel of Fortune style puzzles boggle the mind.  When the blank squares show up on my phone, my first thought about WTP? is usually WTF?

I’m already suffering from “mouse hand” and the beginnings of a repetitive stress injury from spending entirely too much time behind this glowing laptop screen.  Because one good turn deserves another, I’ve gone ahead and exacerbated the situation by becoming addicted to a game that requires me to flick my wrist repeatedly to “spin.”

First, the player gets to observe his or her opponent’s last series of moves played back.  You gotta love Zynga’s sense of Schadenfreude as expressed in its status updates.  “Yes!  Your opponent Busted!”  (Not to mention the mascot’s long teal tongue sticking out each time you win a round.)

This stupid game has so saturated my soul that now I’m dreaming about it.

I didn’t buy a vowel (all that this game is missing is Vanna White), nor did I spend some coins on a Bomb from my Power-Ups.

No, indeed.  That would make too much sense.

Instead, in my dream I was trying to solve one of these dastardly puzzles entirely in Hebrew.

Somehow, I was able to sense that the answer to the puzzle was something like “The children would like a ball and a doll under the Christmas tree.”  Only I couldn’t remember the Hebrew words for half these things.

So I was left spinning and spinning, striking out with the big red X each time I chose a khaf, zayin or shin.

Dang it!  Okay, Aron, get your act together here.  You can do this.

I know “children” are niños.  No, wait, that’s Spanish.  Dammit!  Oh, yeah, y’ladim.  Got it.

Ball is kadur.  See?  Now we’re getting somewhere.  I have no clue how to say “doll” in Hebrew.  May have to buy an aleph or an ayin  for that one.

“Tree” is etz.  But what the heck is the Hebrew word for “Christmas?”  Is there even a word for “Christmas” in the Hebrew language?  We celebrate Hanukkah!

I think takhat is the word for “beneath” or “under.”  If I can hit that golden 1,000 square on the wheel, I can pick a tav and get two for the price of one.

Okay, here we go.  Almost have this puppy solved.  Flick that wrist!  Fwip, fwip, fwip, fwiiiipppp…  No, no, stop, stop, STOP!!

Ewwww…. Busted.


SnapChat Moments


So I’m trying to figure out this SnapChat thing.

We downloaded it onto my iPhone on Thursday night after two of my nieces made a casual reference to the app and I demanded to know what I was missing out on.

I had never heard of SnapChat, but you know how it is, technologically challenged Uncle Guac is usually the last one to get jiggy with whatever the kids are into.

Well, today I was perusing The New York Times online and, whadyaknow, there’s an article about how Facebook is no longer the hot stuff it once was and how teenagers seem to be moving off in new directions.  Heading to places like Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, videos on Vine and, you guessed it, SnapChat.

The Times article suggested that Facebook is no longer the crucial social media tool it was just a few years ago, at least partly because it has become so mainstream.  Teens tend to be drawn to apps that are more edgy and have not yet been commandeered by prying parents and their Aunt Rosie.  Another Times article points out that teens, a key social media market, tend to be “fickle” and flock to the latest and the greatest.  Facebook is old hat and (who knows?) could eventually go the way of MySpace.

Just as Zuckerberg created Facebook in a Harvard dorm room, SnapChat came into being as Evan Spiegel’s project in an undergraduate mechanical engineering class at Stanford.  SnapChat gained traction at high schools in Los Angeles, where it became something of a modern-day equivalent of passing notes behind the teacher’s back.  Except you didn’t have to be in the same classroom and you could show off your goofiest face while you were at it.

I am reading that Google offered to acquire SnapChat for the princely sum of three billion dollars and that the Snap turned them down.

Which brings me back to figuring out how to use an app that I had never heard of two days ago.  I have to do this, you know.  I never even had a cell phone until I realized that the only way I’d ever have any hope of keeping up with my far-flung nephews and nieces would be to learn how to text message.

So last night I jumped right in with both feet, hoping my dear ones would not make too much fun of my missteps.  I forgot to check the date on a loaf of French bread I had bought at the supermarket; when I tore off the first chunk, I found that it was stale.  Aha!  A SnapChat moment!  I took a photo of myself looking positively disgusted.  My poor wife was trying not to laugh at me as I turned the phone around and tried not to get my hand in the picture while my index finger estimated the location of the shutter on the other side.  Um, apparently there’s a little camera icon with swivel arrows at the top of the screen that reverses the lens to allow selfies.  Oops.  Suddenly, I feel this small. #uncleisadork

The problem with my disgusted face portrait was that I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to add a message to the photo.  I had gotten the Snap part down, but the Chat part continued to elude me.  I pressed whatever buttons I could find to no avail.  So I figured maybe I could write a message on the photo with my finger, just like painting back in kindergarten.  And it worked!  Tracing each letter of “eating stale bread,” my shaky writing even looked like it had been the work of a kindergartener.  But I got the thing sent to one nephew and two nieces, and to me, that was what counted.

A minute later, all three sent back goofy-face photos of their own to indicate that stale bread is indeed pretty gross.  I couldn’t figure out how to save or retrieve their photos, and I could only view them for a few seconds.  If I held my finger down, the “countdown” would start, the photo would appear, and then, bloop!  Disappeared into the stratosphere.

Not long after, my nephew sent me a smiling SnapChat photo of himself behind the wheel.  “Driving home from FoodMaxx.”  Cool!  “See?” I told my wife.  “We’d have no idea what he was doing if not for this thing.”

I know what you’re thinking.  Why do I need to know that my nephew is on the way home from the grocery store?  I suppose I don’t really need to know.  But it’s nice to know that he’s actually buying groceries and has food in his house, which is not something you can automatically count on with this guy.

I snap a smiling photo of my own.  “What’s for dinner?”  Wait a minute, I don’t want to do the finger painting thing again.  How do my nephew and nieces get all this perfect white type overlaid on their photos?  I ask my wife for advice.  “Google it,” she suggests.

Sure enough, Google has all the answers.  Apparently, you have do swipe your finger downward, as if pulling down a keyboard to type.  Not at all intuitive.  But hey, it worked!  Well, sort of.  I have to abbreviate and make my message very short.  Not the easiest thing with my verbose tendencies, but it only takes so many characters.  This is worse than Twitter!

Another photo.  He’s making Hamburger Helper.  I respond with a photo of my popcorn.  He sends back a smiling face of approval.  I assume a pensive pose in the manner of Rodin’s “The Thinker” and express a very truncated wish that I had a good movie to go with my popcorn.

And then this morning, my nephew is at work and SnapChats me his bemused face in regard to the fact that there is some type of anime event going on in the breakroom.  Later, my niece sends a photo of her sandwich and fries at a local restaurant.  I reciprocate with a photo of the batch of guacamole I just finished making.  And so it goes.

On Thursday, when I first downloaded this app, my 17 year old niece grabbed my phone and created a SnapChat handle for me.  I have been dubbed “unclecool59.”  You have no idea of the extent to which I am blushing to even type this.  At least now I could show you if I wanted to.  But first I’d have to access My Friends and add a couple hundred of you.

You wanna?

NaBloPoMo November 2013

Freedom of the Press, and of the Tunes

I suppose it’s a part of growing up. There are some things my parents did that drove me crazy when I was a child but make perfect sense to me now. And as may be inevitable for a man squarely in the grip of middle age, I realize that I have become my father.

Here’s an example of what I mean: Anytime I’d be in the car with my father (and I was always thrilled with the opportunity to ride up front with him), he’d tune the radio to either news radio or to easy listening music. I could handle that, but what really bugged me was the way he’d either flip stations or turn off the radio whenever a commercial came on. He’d refer to the results of the latter alternative as his favorite song, “The Sound of Silence.” (I hadn’t yet discovered Simon and Garfunkel.) He made it clear that he wasn’t going to have the idiocy of Madison Avenue forced upon him. Occasionally, he’d leave the radio on just so he could mimic the ridiculous ads (“rub it in, in, IN!”), which he’d usually follow up with a stream of swear words that I’d try my hardest to ignore.

Well, I don’t do the swear words thing, but I’ve now reached the age where I find myself changing the station or turning off the radio as soon as I start to hear a commercial. In my little town, this is no small statement. I refuse to listen to the Spanish stations or the Christian stations, which leaves me with exactly two choices. There is a powerful country music station over in Arizona and there is our little hometown radio station that plays an eclectic variety of music. I find our local station charming. I never know what to expect and I am often delighted. Turning on the radio, I may be transported back to another era by one of my favorite doo-wops, followed by something from Kenny Chesney or Carrie Underwood, then a classic from the Stones and a tune by Lady Gaga or Nicki Minaj.

With entertainment like that, it seems the least I could do would be to support the station by listening to the commercials that pay their bills and then patronizing those businessess. Sorry, Charlie. Nothing doing. I may have been bopping and drumming to the song that just ended, but when a commercial comes on, I am gone. Out of there. Splitsville.

Too often, both our local station and the Arizona country people are playing advertisements at the same time. Like my father, I’ve come to accept and even enjoy “the sound of silence.”

Back in my college days, I used to argue about this with a friend of mine. He’d insist that radio stations are businesses, and that like any business, their sole purpose for existing is to make money. Bah humbug, I’d say. The purpose of radio is to entertain me. If a station ceases to do so, either because of its music selection or because an idiot commercial has come on, it’s adios, amigo. That’s not fair, my friend would respond. I’m receiving a service for free, while the radio station has to pay its bills. Not my problem, I’d tell him. No one is forcing the radio station to entertain me for free. The public has every right to take advantage of its largesse. If someone has dropped a quarter on the ground, why shouldn’t I pick it up?

When my wife and I purchased our current car, we found that it “came with” a six-month subscription to Sirius XM radio. Thus, we discovered the world of radio by paid subscription.

The technology fascinated me. Just to think that Sirius XM could send a signal specifically to our car antenna, a signal from a satellite orbiting the earth that we could pick up but the car in front of us and the car behind us could not. Amazing!

The best thing about paid subscription radio, of course, is no commercials. Well, sort of. I’d happily sha-la-la and whoa-woah along with Sixties on 6 and Seventies on 7 in commercial-free heaven, but when we switched to the comedy channel, we found the routines constantly interrupted for commercials. Not just any commercials, mind you. Commercials for . . . ah, um, er, products of an “intimate nature.” And we were paying for this!

Well, for the first six months it was free with our new car. But after that we were paying for it. Yes, we shelled out the bucks and renewed our subscription several times. This, of course, is exactly what Sirius XM hoped we would do. Get ‘em hooked, then send ‘em the bill.

After about a year of this, we figured out that it just wasn’t worth it, particularly with the idiot commercials that interrupted our favorite stations. We could get that for free on over-the-air stations.

That’s when we started keeping CDs in the car us. We’d slip them into the disc player to entertain us on our frequent trips between northern and southern California. Of course, the CDs weren’t free, but at least we only had to pay for them once rather than being billed every six months for a subscription. And no idiot commercials!

The downside of the CD solution is that you end up playing the same music over and over. Not only that, but we realized that we tended to buy a CD for one or two favorite songs, while the rest of the album really didn’t interest us.

iPhone to the rescue! We already had iPods, and when we purchased iPhones, we had our music right on our cell phones. With the aid of a little adapter cord, we were able to plug in, set the music on Shuffle and go rockin’ on down the highway. I’d be singing along at the top of my lungs (off-key, of course) and before I knew it we’d be past Bakersfield.

This was better than CDs. We had exactly the music we wanted to hear. No idiot commercials and no B-side boring stuff. Of course, this didn’t come free. Every time we thought of another song we wanted, we’d just go online and buy it. We found that most songs were 99 cents or $1.29 to download. Very reasonable, particularly when you build your music collection a little at a time.

I love reading newspapers almost as much as I enjoy listening to music, and I don’t think I should have to pay for either one, at least when I am not picking and choosing my content. Back in my New York days, on Sunday mornings we’d go out to buy fresh bagels and pick up The New York Times. The Sunday Times was truly a marvel. It was thick and heavy, with many sections. I’d head straight for the “magazine” section and the book review. Then I’d settle back with Section 2, the famed Arts and Leisure section, where I’d ogle the full-page announcements of Broadway shows with a mixture of awe and delight. Of course, the Times wasn’t free, and its price increased as the years went by. But it was a once-a-week indulgence, and we could skip a week or two anytime we felt like it. It’s not like we had a subscription.

My parents didn’t even subscribe to the local paper. Both they and I knew that it would largely go unread and back issues would inevitably be stacked up in heaps to be carted out to the curb on recycling day.

But that was back in the Stone Age before the internet came along. Soon, I found myself being able to read The New York Times online for free anytime I liked, weekday or Sunday. This was wonderful, particularly after I moved to California, and then to a remote area of the desert where I couldn’t go to the corner and pick up the Times with my bagels and cream cheese.

Like all good things, this one didn’t last. It didn’t take long before the Times realized there was money to be made out there in the wilds of cyberspace. Inevitably, the Times began charging for its service. But you know me. I’m not going to pay for it if I don’t have to.

This is how I worked it out: First, I downloaded The New York Times on my iPhone. As I am constantly reminded by the insipid pop-ups, “Top News is Free. Subscribe for full access.” I don’t think so!

First phase accomplished: I get to read about a dozen top news stories on my phone for free every morning. Of course, the Times attempts to tantalize me into paying by dangling what I’m missing in front of my nose. I can click the “Sections” icon and view the headlines and the first sentences of all the great articles I’m missing in Opinion, Books, Travel, Arts, Dining, and on and on.

And so on to the second phase: Grab a scratch paper and make note of the titles of the articles I am really interested in reading but don’t have access to. Then I log into www.nyt.com on my laptop, find the articles I’m looking for, and read to my heart’s content.

Well, not exactly. Surely you don’t think the venerable Times will make you pay on the iPhone but give it up for free on Windows? Of course not. I am able to read ten articles per month for free on my laptop. After that, I am blocked by the ubiquitous message to subscribe in order to continue reading.

Fortunately for me, my wife doesn’t object when I log onto her account on her laptop and get to read another ten articles in the Times.

To paraphrase Billy Joel, “he’ll take what he’s given as long as it’s free.”