Past imperfect: Is Gene Weingarten old school or just old?

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By Gene Weingarten
Sunday, March 14, 2010

A few weeks ago, I bought a fancy new cellphone, the kind with one big touch screen on the front. The first time the phone rang, I looked around for the ice cream truck. Then, as I had done with my previous phones, I searched the new phone's database for a different ring tone, one that sounded like the actual ring of an actual telephone. To me, an actual telephone is the 1950s kind that squatted on the table like a turtle and was made of what appeared to be black bowling-ball rubber. No luck. Every single available ring tone on this new phone is either a snippet of unfamiliar bad music or an electronic imitation of a real ring that failed spectacularly, like an attempted imitation of Laurence Olivier by the Aflac duck. That's the ring I'm now using. It's just my latest cave-in to modernity, the most recent of a series of grudging accommodations I find myself making as public tastes keep leaving me further behind.

Not long ago, I finally moved from a PC laptop to a MacBook. I felt good about this because Macs seem to be the province of the young and hip, but, unfortunately, it means I no longer have a computer with a "delete forward" key. Sometime recently, probably when I was at the urologist, young people apparently stopped having to delete forward. I hate deleting backward because I always lose track of what I am doing and accidentally go too far and erase stuff I need. This happens because my brain, like my prostate, doesn't work so great anymore.

I finally got rid of my 19-year-old car; I auctioned it off for charity, which made me feel good. But it turns out that also means I will never again have an odometer of which I am proud. Now I am stuck with one of those wussy LCD things that completely eliminate the satisfying, slo-mo clunk of a seven-digit rollover, a thrill that I admit might not be universal but is a rite of passage for men of a certain age. (I do not mean to denigrate all you other, younger men out there just because you are happy with odometers that resemble a digital candy thermometer from Williams-Sonoma. After all, not all men are the same; some drink beer, while some prefer watermelon liqueur cordials.)

I consider myself an expert on newspaper comics; I can confidently deconstruct how a single panel of a 1939 Krazy Kat episode contained a sly foreshadowing of the anomie that would come to define the beat generation. But my own newspaper is now running a new strip, "Watch Your Head," that is hip and modern and filled with ironic detachment; therefore, I not only cannot understand the jokes, but I cannot tell for sure which characters are male and which are female. Hip people like this strip.

I just shared all of these anxieties with my editor, Tom the Butcher, who is an insufferable man for many reasons, not the least of which being that he is a few years younger than I am and reminds me of this whenever he can. He listened compassionately to all of this, did a few calculations, and said:

"A baby born today is further away from Vietnam, historically, than you were, on the day you were born, from World War I."

I hate him.


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