From red-hot lead to Bluetooth


Back in the day — content warning to youth: old-guy ramblings to follow — we pounded away on L.C. Smith typewriters over the din of Linotypes and the occasional hot lead explosion in the smelting room on a humid day. The young pups laugh at me as I bash away on a computer keyboard and reminisce about setting headlines on a Ludlow in hot type.

Imagine their surprise when I forsake being the second-to-last man in the universe without a cellphone, the other being trusty old Jim Robinson. He’s holding out for free service that can sync with a walleye using Bluetooth and order it to bite with one gentle thumbstroke.

The kids were not around for the jump from lead to phototypesetting, which involved scissors and wax and knives and crooked lines and headlines that did not fit.

They did not watch Bishop Fulton J. Sheen on a Sylvania television with a glow ring in Bancroft — one of the few in Kossuth County in 1959 — with Grandma Bessie and the nuns on Saturday nights. Our sister Ann, now 65 going on 29, did that duty.

One of Dad’s best friends from Whittemore, Lloyd Roth, was graduated from Emmetsburg Junior College and went on to become a scientist who worked on the Manhattan Project. Years later, he brought us a computer that one of his friends from the University of Chicago designed. We plugged 500 wires into various holes and could get it to add 2+1. It could not “friend” anyone. It’s hard to imagine how we managed our social network of friends from the fifth grade at St. Mary’s.

Our stove had a pretty high-tech device on it called a timer. Dad would set the timer on any long-distance call. When it got to about 55 seconds he would hang up even if his children were in jail for protesting the Vietnam War. If you wanted to find the old man, you called his office, Robbie’s Mobil or the Elks Lodge. No GPS needed.

We graduated from paste-up to Macintosh computers, digital imaging and full-color photos. They say that the guy who invented the Linotype went bonkers while devising the machine with more moving parts than the Apollo that landed on the moon. It makes me wonder how those geeks are doing who invented Adobe Photoshop. I am still mystified by it. I could not spool 400-speed Kodak black-and-white film in the darkroom, much less understand how pixels collide to make a photo. If you remember those guys from college hauling drawers of punch cards with them to Quantitative Methods (computer) class you can appreciate my awe.

It’s all very useful.

We — by that I mean John and me — were not so sure why you needed a fax machine when you could walk the document from the courthouse to our office or send it by the US Postal Service overnight. Or email. Now you can find your car among the thousands at a free porkburger feed by punching your cellphone. The only way John can communicate with his adult children is by ­text­ing.

John broke down and got a cellphone about a year ago. Danged if he didn’t get hooked on it.

It takes pictures. It has a flashlight. It will talk to you if you can’t find a date. Put it on your foot and it will soften up planter’s warts. You can probably spray a bean field with one.

Kicking and screaming I came in, wanting a cellphone just for travel.

I took a picture with it. Saved souls with it. Sent emails and faxes and viruses with it. Bombed a Yemeni terrorist with it.

The tether is now implanted. It may be a sign of the Armageddon.

Bill collectors, my family and drunk drivers can find me. There is no escaping. You can move to the country to get away from it all but a cold-call investment salesman from a boiler room in New Jersey will find you out there meditating. There is nothing worse than the sound of metal crunching while you are driving or a ring tone — any ring tone — while watching the Storm Lake City Council meeting on Channel 3 for the third time. They call it the Freedom Plan. You are free to answer that.

These are days for fresh starts and new beginnings in the 21st Century. Brother Tom is sorta getting married next month at age 70 to a wonderful lady his age or better. He emailed the news. Younger generational tongues are wagging into their Androids over that one. They appear to me to be teenagers in love. I might attend the vows of commitment ceremony in Georgia, using Skype. They say it’s just like being there. Except when the smelting room blows up and the Cullens are into a full-fledged political donnybrook. You can always turn off Skype.

But the cellphone? It’s a marriage that cannot be laid asunder. I cannot figure out how to make it stop whatever it is doing. Maybe John can text his kids to send instructions.