Long before either of us had passed the 50 mark, Steve had already narrowed down his precise fears on the subject of mortality: “I’m not afraid of getting old,” he once said. “But what terrifies me is that I might turn into Some Old Goof. And if that happens, it’ll be time for me to suck on my trusty .45.” While I don’t embrace quite as drastic a solution to unwanted Goofhood as Steve does, it’s an ongoing fear for me, as well. Though “goof” is more frequently used as a verb, we all know what the noun form of the word means, especially when preceded by “old.”
An Old Goof is a person who rants, very loudly and for as long as you’ll listen, about the unfairness of life as illustrated by constant, fresh tales of his own mistreatment in just the past 24 hours by forces beyond his control. (Can an Old Goof be a “her”? Maybe. But for some reason these particular qualities are most prevalent and obnoxious in males, at least in my experience. But that’s a subject for another day. Maybe another lifetime.)
So you can imagine my horror when I realized, just yesterday, that I had been transformed into Old Goofhood while complaining about ... the phone company.
In my defense (which, speaking of mortality, wouldn’t be a bad tombstone inscription), when I was younger at least there was only one phone company to rant about. Now there’s at least a kazillion, with seemingly more new ones every day. (Do phone companies go somewhere to breed? OK, probably an image best not thought about too much.)
And back in the post-9/11 hysteria, when some demagogues convinced us that the first step in fighting terrorists was to give up all our privacy, there was one phone company that took a courageous stand and refused to let the government tap its customers’ calls. I changed my cell service to that company, and swore to be a loyal customer as long as I lived.
This was when I lived on Red Mountain in Birmingham, and we could see broadcast and cellular towers out our back window. I’m not saying signal strength was always good, but occasionally we could pick up FM radio in the fillings of our teeth. When we moved back to Walker County, though, that brave cell company’s signal was slightly below the audio quality of tin cans with kite cord. I was back to a behemoth carrier, or nothing. Which worked sort of OK until I noticed a text message on my phone yesterday saying I’d been billed for some application I’d never heard of, and the charge would occur again in December. Then I vaguely recalled, a few weeks ago, seeing a folder on my cell phone’s screen that said “Games And Apps.” I had opened the folder and scrolled through it to see what was there, found nothing of interest, exited the folder and returned to my business.
But apparently the mere fact of seeing a list of programs “subscribed” me to some of them forever. And a day. I looked online for a Customer Service phone number in hopes of getting this injustice rectified, but the contact phone numbers were as cleverly hidden as the phantom agreement to these dinky applications I had sold my soul to. But, then came hope!
A video popped up onscreen, of an attractive young blonde lady in a tasteful sweater saying, “Can’t find what you’re looking for? We know it can be annoying!” Well, yes, hon. It sure can. “Here’s some help,” she said, and I got out my pencil to be ready.
Then, for the next five minutes, the video scrolls through the SAME SCREENS that I’ve just finished looking at. A big color pointer appears over each heading, one by one, and she reads them to me. READS them to me, as if the whole problem is my fault for not knowing how to read.
This was the juncture at which I turned into Some Old Goof (a SOG?), as instantly and totally as Superman donning his cape. I addressed the inanimate computer screen loudly and profanely for probably half a minute until I realized I had become one of those folks Steve had warned me about. On the plus side, nobody was in hearing distance but the young video lady in the costly sweater, so I figured no harm, no foul, and swore to mend my ways. I’ve now gone slightly more than 24 hours without repeating any such type of obnoxious behavior, and my fingers are crossed for coming years.
I’ve always heard patience is a virtue, and apparently the older our bodies get, the more virtuous patience becomes. And patience, with a sense of humor, is sometimes all we can fall back on.
In the big picture, it occurs to me that I was actually a lot more cranky and judgmental in my 30s and 40s than I am now. Although this probably has less to do with my spiritual development and more with the fact that ranting takes more energy than you’d think, and these days I don’t have any to spare.
With luck, if I’m still hanging around in a decade or two, a stranger will see me pass by and say to his companion, “Who’s that?” And the companion will reply, “Beats me. Some Old Nice Guy, I guess.”
What if, just maybe, life is a SONG? Works for me.
Dale Short is a native of Walker County. His columns, books, photos and radio features are available on his website carrolldaleshort.com. His weekly radio program “Music from Home” airs each Sunday at 6 pm on Oldies 101.5 and is archived afterward on his website.