What Sun-Faded Signs Don’t Say

They stood together, angled to enclose me like a pair of blonde parentheses. “We feel like we know how great you’re doing because we see you on Facebook,” said one.
“I look at all your pictures,” said the other.
I wanted to tell them the verb people use for that is “creeping,” as in, “I creep on all your pictures.” I didn’t. I wanted to tell the other one that what people see on Facebook is only the good stuff. Facebook is for graduations, job promotions, new babies, softball tournaments. Facebook is not for rehab, dropping out of school, cancer scares, incompetent bosses. It’s like a roster of all the delicious desserts you’ve gotten to eat, and none of the disappointing frozen dinners.
By way of being honest with old friends, I said, “My constant presence on social media is a reflection of my loneliness and isolation.”
This elicited light laughter. It wasn’t unsympathetic laughter. It was appreciative, and only a little uncomfortable.

My husband and I had come a long way, back from New York, for the wedding of a mutual friend. Since we moved from Seattle, our friend had bought a farm, moved her business there, and rescued a bunch of animals. Now she was getting married, having planned a big wedding, marrying her best friend of a number of years. It was a circus-themed affair, and because of who it was, we weren’t scared away by a circus-themed wedding. Maybe somewhat hesitant, but we were going anyway.
Getting to Vashon Island had included a ferry ride from West Seattle. Our morning had been gobbled up settling a monetary crisis for another friend, but we had thought we had enough time to park, walk on the ferry and be met by the shuttle bus. The Washington State Ferry system is a glorious relic of the days when government was big and had an important role in getting people and goods from place to place. People voted for that, and paid for it with their taxes. The white and green-trimmed ferries are huge, with several decks for cars and trucks and other decks for passengers. There is never enough parking at the smaller, neighborhood ferry terminals, but we followed the lead of other cars parked on the street. Though the neat, small clapboard houses near Fauntleroy Dock look just like the rest of West Seattle, the streets are painted with special striping, and the street signs erupt with multiple placards of all sizes and colors, facing the street in erratic angles. The signs we could see and read described the many times that parking was not allowed, during the week, overnight, but we felt we’d found legal parking for the day.

After a short wait in the small terminal, we bought two $5.20 tickets and walked on. We climbed the stairs to the front of the ferry to spend our short crossing as we knew we had always loved to: in the wind and sun.  It was so much as it had always been, engines thrumming, waves slapping, gulls circling that we had not so much a sense of nostalgia but one of stasis, that Seattle was unchanged and unchanging.
The gloss on our feeling of expertise dulled when we walked off the ferry and saw no shuttles anywhere. We wandered around for a bit, and the Bacon Provider called for a cab. Vashon Island isn’t really the kind of a place with cabs per se. There was just a guy you could call, his name was on the Internet, and he’d send someone to get you. Our driver refused to charge us the agreed-upon $25 fare, accepting only $15, but taking the $20 offered her anyway.
So we were late to the wedding, though we didn’t feel late, but we missed the ceremony in the mossy, wooded grove of giant Douglas firs where the beloved old dog was buried, and missed the entrance of the bride on horseback. So be it. We were greeted first by one old friend, and then another. People were happy to see us, asked after the kids. It was easy and pleasant.

The farm is wooded and lush, presided over by tall firs and carpeted in moss and ferns. There is a trim house and neat barn and the circus-themed decorations were joyous rather than jarring. There were too many people to catch up with and not enough time. I spoke to the pair of blondes, toured the property with another friend. Someone mentioned a small nugget of real gossip, but then explained to me, in a whisper, “Another time, over a beer.” It was as close as I came to a real conversation, and it ended as soon as it started.

After the trapeze act finished, the dancing began with a samba dancer wearing a tiny costume consisting of three green sequins working the room. Then, the whole barn crowd from our Seattle years reassembled outside for a group photo. After the photo, one of the blondes confronted me again, this time with the question, “So do you miss Seattle?”
Looking away I said, “Almost every day.”
“What do you miss the most?” she pressed.
I did not answer her.
Later, when we got off the ferry, our rental car was still there, but it had a parking ticket on it. Apparently one of the illegible, sun-faded signs said, “No Parking Weekends or Holidays.” The ticket was $47. We saw it and both laughed: cheap parking by New York City standards.

Why I Love Microsoft Paint

There was once a time when owning your own PC was kind of a big deal.  We had the earliest versions of the IBM PC and ran MS-DOS and had a monochrome monitor which was amber because the relentless trouble-shooter thought it was superior to green.  It sat on a metal desk that fit together with hand-tightened screws and had a section with an oblong cut-out for the continuous-feed paper to go into the dot-matrix printer from a box on the floor.  We bought a box of floppy disks for it, and you had to be careful with them because if they got bent they wouldn’t work.  The PC came with manuals that were held in little three-ring binders. I vaguely remember actually looking up things in the manuals, the way you might have looked in your car’s manual for information about what kind of tires you use or how much gas the tank actually holds.  Before there was the world wide web, there were local networks, like the one I used at the University of Utah, accessing it through our dial-up modem, but search engines were a few years away.
Instead of learning to write computer programs in BASIC, the generation just before me had to use punch-cards and main-frame computers. Instead of getting scientific calculators they had to learn to use a slide rule. We got the chunky TI-30s, with red LEDs. You could enter “07734” and say hi to the person behind you. I broke mine again and again, because they did not survive a fall from high school desk height.  I probably would not have made it through AP Calculus had we needed slide rules to compute logarithms. It was a pretty close call as it was.
I have been through many generations of TI calculators since then, and with every generation they make the appalling choice of changing all the menuing and key-strokes.  By the time I retired from teaching a few years ago (for the second time) I no longer taught students how to do things on their TI-86s; we would search the term together in real time on the SmartBoard, launch the giant calculator application, and punch it in.  I expect that Texas Instruments line of scientific calculators will go the way of the slide rule, having been absorbed functionally by laptops or tablets or smartphones. The savings in batteries will be significant. If any of my sons goes to business school, he will no doubt cover them in his strategy class, just as we learned of the sad decline of Kodak.
I remember the first version of Windows that we ran at home, and I remember playing Reversi on it. I also have vivid memories of drawing on the computer, using MS Paint.  Over the years, this little program has had only a few features added, so using it is like a trip back to the early days, with diskettes and DOS prompts.  It’s awkward and sometimes clicking the little paint bucket yields surprising results. It feels like drawing with crayons. All of my drawings with it are charmingly terrible.  Even a copy-and-pasted screen-shot done with Paint looks kind of crummy.  I do not think I have ever needed any help with it at all. With every new generation of Windows, Paint is still there, unchanged, untalented and unappreciated. By the time Microsoft sees fit to eliminate it for something better, it may be on a version of Windows I don’t buy, because I will have moved on to a Mac.