Loose ends: Cats, camp and Mom’s cell phone

by Brian Clarey

My mother is having a cell-phone issue. Several of them, actually, all originating from the fact that she does not — and will not — understand the practicality of possessing such a device.

For instance, my mother keeps her cell phone turned off unless she needs to make a call. I am sure there is a reason for this, possibly to preserve the battery charge, but I admit I don’t really know. The problem it presents, however, is evident to pretty much everyone except my mother: She is only using the phone for half of its ordained function. Cell phones receive calls, too.

More accurately, though, since she only uses the phone to make calls and not for texting, taking and sending pictures, using the internet, the timer, the customized ringtones… she doesn’t use any of that. And I am quite certain that she does not know how to change the wallpaper, or even know what the wallpaper is.

So my mother uses about 10 percent of her phone’s functions, which is about the percentage of our brains that most of us use, so at least there is some precedent.

Also, as I discovered while on the phone with her earlier this week, her phone does not hold a charge, which means it shuts down fairly often in the middle of conversations. The result is that the conveyance of a fairly simple message, like, “The kids are at camp,” can take several 45-second phone calls. Have I mentioned that my mother is a bit — just a bit — hard of hearing?

Still, she’s better off than my father who has shunned every piece of technology invented after 1985, except for hi-definition television, something that has significantly boosted the quality of his life.

Technology will always baffle the older folks, with few exceptions, I’ve found. I once caught my grandfather trying to change the channels on the television set with a calculator. He didn’t think it was as funny as I did.

There’s a similar generational friction going on in my house right now, possibly even as I write.

We have a cat situation, brought on by the introduction of a new feline, Marci, to the family pride. We’ve got two older cats — “senior” cats, as our veterinarian called them, just as one of them was about to undergo surgery — surgery! — for a kidney stone a couple years ago.

That was Henry, who shares with Marci a similarity in coloring:

They’re both tuxedo cats, their fur pattern emulating the look of a white bowtie and spats against a sleek, midnight-black base. You’d think that with both of them looking like they’re about to attend the opera in a Bugs Bunny cartoon, or maybe do magic tricks, they’d… you know… flock together.

They do not. Henry’s taken to spending most of his days outside since Marci came to live with us, lazing on the front porch or sniffing around the neighbor’s bushes. When he does venture inside, usually looking like he’s got some form of heat stroke, Marci is all over him.

She hides behind the couch and attacks him, paws splayed, as he turns the corner. She bites his hind feet, and tries to tackle him when he runs away. That’s how kittens play, but as I’ve said, Henry is no kitten — he’s like 85 in cat years — and even though he’ll occasionally still want to wrangle with a marble on the floor, he has no time in his day for an upstart like Marci nibbling at his whiskers, not when there is laundry to lay on, patches of sunlight to chase slowly across the floor.

Old people do less — that’s what I’m starting to realize as I cross the 40-year mark. Me, I travel less, I go to fewer gatherings, read less, play video games less frequently (and, I should add, with decreasing effectiveness) and I’ve pretty much given up on movies. The only things I do more of is yard work, office work and spend time with my kids, who weren’t even here 10 years ago.

They’re not here now, by the way — the boys, at least, have made for a week’s worth of camp in the hills and vales on the Alamance border, and it’s astonishing how empty a house can seem when two young boys are removed from the picture. It’s quiet, for one… quiet enough that I can hear the TV at half volume. There is food in the refrigerator, and none strewn across the floors. And I can get on the Xbox pretty much anytime I want, if I wanted to, which I don’t.

The little girl — alas, too young for sleep-away camp — can barely stand the silence. Last night I think she cried about her bedtime just because she thought somebody ought to make some noise. Without her siblings as a diversion, she spends her afternoons chasing the small cat, Marci, around the hardwood floors, the giggles and scrabbles — not to mention seriously scratched forearms — reminding us of the energetic folly of youth.

Between the little girl, just 5 years old, and the cat, who is easing into her kittenhood nicely, there exists almost no generational friction.