I noted the one year anniversary of my mother's death a couple weeks ago. This week would have been her 91st birthday. My dad would be 93. My imaginings of my parents' lives before I was born are in black and white. Airplanes and automobiles were newfangled contraptions when my parents were children. My father told my children about barnstormers or waiting in line at the Madrona Theater in Seattle to watch a talkie for the first time. Dad, after reminiscing for the boys, added, wistfully, “I wonder what you'll see.” The “after I'm dead” part was tacit. When I was six I found a giant appliance carton and painted dials and lights on it and precociously was a computer for Halloween. Later, at Grant High School only boys were in the Computer Science class and they made impressive pictures of Alfred E. Newman or Keep on Truckin' dot matrix printed on green and white fanfold paper.
I bought my mother her first computer which she used to play solitaire and to write e-mails to me. She pushed send and then called me to report that she'd sent me an e-mail and relate the information it contained. I was required frequently to “fix” the computer for her which usually meant plugging in the mouse or opening a window she'd closed inadvertently. My dad was suspicious when I purchased a $4000 Tandy for the office in 1988 and doggedly refused to learn to use a computer. He grew to appreciate the rapidity with which I could alphabetize lists and later the steep prices commanded for16mm films we sold on what he referred to as the“The Ebay.”
My children tease me about my stalwart allegiance to AOL and my slower than molasses, indecipherable texting. Spuds patiently teaches me the bare rudiments of my new I-phone and I know he's thinking about how wasted the sleek device is in my feeble hands. Himself is more than a little miffed when I take advantage of my cellphone upgrade eligibility and trade my Droid for what is my first Apple product, except for a used computer untouched by me but used at the office to operate Final Cut Pro. Himself is also apoplectic when I purchase a $20 dustpan that has a built in brush to clean the broom from the neat inventor's website Quirky.com. I silence him by pointing out his own lack of investment or participation in house cleaning. I have no retort for his remonstrance about the new phone because my rationale for buying it is purely covetousness of cool. Himself glowers at the sight of the new phone and notes derisively that the screen is smaller than a Droid's, but I permit him to hold it. Upon examination he discovers that there are many more Irish language (!) applications available for Apple products. I haven't even shown him the Shazaam gizmo that identifies music...in case I fall in love with a song being piped in at the Gelson's. For all of his grousing about my extravagance I suspect his Droid too will be put out to pasture in a few months when his own upgrade eligibly rolls around.
My friend Richard and I struggle to remember the name “Christopher Guest” although we can list his complete filmography. I finally consult my new friend Siri who came into my life when I activated my I-phone. She names the director instantly. She has some trouble later with “Pollo Loco” (had a coupon) and she admits that she can't find it but adds, “Layne, I'm terribly sorry.” I wonder if Siri will help me conceal signs of dementia longer than my mother was able to mask her own intellectual decline.
I have an hour to kill while Spuds rehearses and decide to visit the Big Lots on Vine which sometimes carries a tea that Himself likes. I drive through Hollywood for the first time in a while. I spent many childhood hours with my father walking the Boulevard. Dad would quiz me on the stars and we'd visit Pickwick Books and Burt Wheeler's Magic store. Now there are slick new buildings and businesses and whole blocks that are totally unfamiliar and I am at sea as to what was there before. The Big Lots is not where I remember it on Vine, near the Greyhound Station. The bus station closed years ago. I would sometimes go there with my dad to send off a film bound for Stockton or San Ysidro, and stowed in the luggage compartment of a big silver bus. Now the Big Lots appears gone as well and Siri confirms that the closest branch to my location is in Burbank. My Hollywood has been desecrated and I feel, irrationally, disrespected and unimportant.
I trod valley cul de sacs in my refrigerator box ENIAC and I guess I sensed what the future held. I have Siri now to guide me through Hollywood but so much of what is natural to my kids baffles me. The city will grow and change and there will be new inventions the likes of which I can't imagine. More and more I get a sense that things are passing me by. My parents too felt like they couldn't keep pace and now they are ashes and the world stumbles on without them. My children will be adults in a world I wouldn't recognize but through them and their children, my parents and I will always be a part of it.