Before she retired in October, my mother told me a story about this college summer intern who worked in her office. My mother’s workplace was antiquated, a “real” looking publishing house, like a relic from the 1940’s. In the back room, there was even a old style desk with a typewriter sitting on top, a reminder of days gone by. One day, the nineteen year old intern asked my mother to tell her about this mysterious machine. The girl knew that it was a typewriter, but she wasn’t sure how it worked, or how you inserted the paper.
“Is there a feeder on the bottom?” she asked.
When my mother told me that story, I laughed. What a dummy that girl was! Of course, in this wireless mobile world, I’m sure it was this young woman who was laughing at my mother.
“You mean — if you made a mistake you had to “white it out” with a cartridge?!”
The arrogance of the college kid.
The typewriter is not the only product to become obsolete. Once upon a time, before the invention of the electric can opener, there was a well-known kitchen appliance called the “manual” can opener. If you go to the Smithsonian, you can see a fine example of this early Americana.
Last night, in an attempt to eat a healthier dinner, I decided to make myself a tuna salad. I went into the fridge and took out an assortment of “good for you” items — lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions. Perfect. Now it was time to reach for the main ingredient — a shiny new can of Bumble Bee Tuna Albacore Fish, packed in water. I carried the can over to electric can opener, and saw this —
WTF? Where’s the can opening apparatus? It occurred to me that this was the first time since my mother had gone to Florida that I was attempting to open a can. I called my mother in Boca Raton.
“Where’s the top of the can opener?”
“The top of the can opener? Hello to you, too?”
“Hello, Mom. I’m trying to open a can of tuna fish.”
“A can of tuna fish? Is that your dinner?”
“I’m making a tuna salad.”
“That’s not much of a dinner. Why don’t you buy one of those ready-made chickens at the supermarket?”
“Because today I’m making a tuna fish salad.”
“You should have some soup with too. Did you buy any soup? I’m worried that you’re not eating enough there by yourself.”
“I’m eating fine.”
“You’re not eating in McDonald’s every day, are you?”
“No, I just go there for coffee.”
“Too much coffee is not good either.”
“Anyway, I want to open this can of tuna fish.”
“You should open a can of soup, too.”
“OK, I will. So, now, with the soup, the situation has intensified. I have two cans to open. But your can opener is missing the top.”
“I thought the can opener is just one piece? It has a top?”
“The attachment thing! With the magnet that latches on the metal.”
“Oh, yeah. I don’t know. It’s not there?”
I looked and looked, and couldn’t find the attachment.
“Use the manual can opener that’s in the drawer” she finally said.
I let my mother return to her mah jongg game with her friends, and found the manual can opener. This is it —
Can you believe that it took me fifteen minutes to open this can of tuna fish? It’s not like I have never used a manual can opener before, or that I am one of those guys that doesn’t know how to open up a can of food. Maybe I have owned an electric can opener for so long now, I forgot how to use the manual one! For the life of me, I could not decipher where the can went in relation to the opener. On the side? Under? To the right? To the left?
I felt like the intern at my mother’s office who didn’t know how to use a typewriter. I felt dumb. But then I thought about it, trying to put a positive spin on my experience. Perhaps this proves that I am younger in spirit, like I am in college again, with an attitude of condescension towards this primitive tool. Who needs to know how to use this thing? The future is now. No going back! I bet you that if I search on iTunes, I could have found an iphone app that could open up that can of tuna fish wirelessly!