My Uncle Bill was unusual in a number of ways. The ways that pertain to this story are: he was quite poor. His meager savings went chiefly to alcohol. And he was old.
So when he showed up in Montana to attend my father’s funeral, there were a number of things about being in a small middle-class home he wasn’t accustomed to. And when he asked my mom if he could make a long-distance call from her phone, she smiled him into the kitchen, introduced him to the wall phone with the curly cord, and returned to the living room with the rest of us. None of us could make sense of the ensuing clinky noises coming from the kitchen and when we went in to investigate, there was Uncle Bill with a big pile of quarters trying to find someplace in the phone to stick them, and dropping them on the floor.
It’s just an extreme version of that old common experience of waiting in a long grocery line behind an old woman who springs into action only after the clerk rings up the total, and then she begins to root through her purse for her checkbook, while eyes roll all the way back in the line. Old people!
And now that I are one, it’s all just as embarrassing as my younger self might have guessed.
All righty then! Hand the clerk your credit card to run through the machine zzzip-clank. No? I run it myself? On that little box? How? Oh. The little slot along the side? I just slide it through there? Okay. Which way?
The side with the magnetic stripe goes this direction. No, the other direction. See, there’s a picture of it right there. Right there. There. Here, let me help you.
I begin to squint at the machine every time to make out the picture of the card with the stripe so I’ll be ready but for some reason it’s never as clear as you’d think. And then the slot disappears altogether. I hover at the side of the little machine and frown.
No, here, you just stick the card in the bottom and it will read the smart chip. At the bottom. No, the other way. Just shove it in. A little farther. Here, let me help you.
Then I get accustomed to that but there’s always a holdup. You have to push enter. The green button. Okay. Then sign. Sign? With what? You can use your finger. That doesn’t look anything like my signature though! That’s okay. It is? Okay. Thank you.
Then I get accustomed to that and I try to get in and out expeditiously but the machine isn’t responding. You have to put in your phone number. I do? Okay. And then hit enter. The green button. Oh! Ha ha! Of course. Whoops! Okay thank you, see you next week! Ma’am? Ma’am? Don’t forget your card. Whoops! Thanks! And also, it wants to know how you want your receipt. How do I want my receipt? Yes, paper or email? Or no receipt? Oh. No receipt, I guess. Bye!
As I make my exit the clerk laboriously twists around the machine and hits an appropriate button for me to end the transaction.
The next time nothing is working. Can’t even find the slot. Just tap it, the clerk says. I tap the machine with my finger. No, the card. Tap it with the card. Where? Just…the clerk reaches around the machine for my card and taps it and hands it back. Or you could just use your phone.
Oh honey. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t.
Did you know eye-rolling is audible if there are enough people in line? It sounds like the window shades rolling up in the old cartoons. Flap-flap-flap. Listen. I’m sorry. Nobody’s sorrier than I am that I am now that dumb old person. But it will happen to you. I have no idea what form it will take, but it will happen to you.
Shamwowa? Could you come out here? My thing has arrived but the stupid drone won’t drop it until I pay for it. How do I do that?
Oh, Grandma. We’ve been over this. You just think at it. You just think your full name really hard followed by your PUTZ number.
I did that.
This time don’t think about an elephant. It’s a security step. If you think about an elephant it won’t release. You’re doing it again. Here, let me.
Shamwowa glances into the sky and the package floats down. Grandma snatches it off the delivery port and huffs away, red-faced.
When the multiple duplicate charges generated by her flatulence show up on the invoice, she can always get Shamwowa to straighten it out.