Stuck on Words

This evening, while gathering some paperwork to send out in the “regular” mail, I turned to my FHB and said “I’ll go make a photocopy of the documents”.  I heard myself and thought I should look at my feet and see if I am wearing sensible oxford shoes and ankle socks and perhaps a poodle skirt.  Sometimes I think I am stuck in a time warp because as much as I consider myself a woman of the 2017s, I revert back to terms that really date me, and not in an attractive way.  There are smells of the purple ink of the mimeograph machine that I can conjure up and imagine choking on chalk dust.  I still refer to Xerox machines and Mixmasters despite being able to send a copy wirelessly and  make some cakes in the Kitchen Aid mixer.  Sometimes I say to people, “I left a message on your answering machine” and I get strange looks.  They usually remark…”You mean a voicemail?” and I will smile, a sort of sheepish smile.

Many of us grew up in the world of telephone exchanges long before there were area codes.  We had two phone numbers in our apartment in Jackson Heights, Queens; one that started off Illinois 8 and the other was Havemeyer 6.  I was told that in the towns surrounding and including New Bedford, all you had to do was dial the last five numbers.  When is the last time you spoke to an operator?  Do they still exist?  Is anyone out there worrying about whether our phone calls go through?  Probably not.  It was comforting to speak to some random woman when you pushed the “O” and she genuinely wanted to help.  There’s no more long distance although there are certainly many long distances.  It’s just different.  Moments where I forget the terminology and lapse back into the venacular of 1962 or thereabouts, I wonder why those words are still so imbedded in my vocabulary, as thought it was my first language.  It felt like a connection to where I lived.  Our neighborhoods were identified by the exchanges.  Folks stayed in one place and your phone number was something that didn’t change and you remembered long after you moved away.


I have a gyro wheel in my office for students to play with while we are talking.  They are completely fascinated by the fact that I had that as a child and loved to move the wheel back and forth, no batteries, no wires and a rather simple lesson in movement and flow.  They are mesmerized by the motion and often ask if they still make them because it turns out “it is really cool, Miss”.  I could play with my Jack In the Box endlessly and time after time, I would jump like it was the first time.  Probably a bit weird, right?  My FHB and I will often talk about the words our parents said which sounded so wrong when they used them.  My father used to say that he felt “uptight” and I remember shuddering and thinking that I will never use that word again and he’d better not talk like that in front of my friends.  I was just horrified. I imagine that my children as they were growing up, had similar moments when I embarrassed them by saying something that they felt was their word or expression, and I had no right to use that in conversation.  I remember when one of my sons was travelling to South America while he was in college and he said that he would send me pictures of his travels but I had to establish something he called a Facebook account.  When I told him that I already had one (this was in 2008), he was adamant that I was doing it to spy on him.  What a concept…a parent monitoring their child’s activity or anyone else doing that to people you don’t even know based on information as part of an algorithm.  Whoever thought I would understand and use a word like algorithm with appropriate meaning.

I suppose that my current experience is akin to my grandmother’s wanting to see what the inside of an RV looked like or to fly in an airplane since she was born in 1887.  So, if a self driving car shows up, I’ll get in, put on my seat belt,  hang on,  and enjoy the ride.




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