My older brother, Big Jake, was always questing for knowledge.
One time, Jake ate the dictionary. We couldn’t get a word out of him for weeks.
Jake, who is now 76 years old, has spent his whole life trying to find himself. Usually, no one else was looking for him.
When we were kids, we lived eighty miles the other side of elsewhere, and thought that was a bad thing. We kids would rather have lived in town.
We’d have died for a telephone way out there. Now I hear people all around me talking on cell phones, and I wonder, what in the world were we thinking?
I was in the waiting room at an auto dealership the other morning, waiting for my car to be serviced. Everyone in the room shared as a loud man discussed the welfare of his entire extended family with his aunt in Duluth. I didn’t much care to hear about the aunt’s knee operation, but I would like to know if they’ve heard from Becky since she ran off.
Sixty years ago, Big Jake talked me into making tin can telephones, a common thing for boys to do at that time. We punched holes in the bottom of two cans and knotted a string into the bottom of each can.
Then we tried to convince ourselves that the length of string between the cans would transmit sound, even when we were out of earshot.
Jake was of a curious mind, and he tried to test that theory one afternoon. We borrowed all of Mom’s household string, and Jake kept telling me, “Farther back…. go farther back….”
We kept hollering at each other as I walked backwards, trying to figure out if the sound was traveling along the string, or through the air.
I was so absorbed in the research that I fell backwards off the Mogollon Rim. I didn’t fall all the way–a ledge about 700 feet down caught me. Still, I didn’t get home until after supper. Jake was mad because I left him to wind up all that string.
By the time we lived someplace where we could have a phone in the house, Jake had left home. When he was 12, he lied about his age and got a job as a cowboy on the Looking Cross Ranch.
He was pretty good with a rope, and you know that a cowboy will rope anything that moves–an elk, a bear, a mountain lion. Jake roped a forest fire one day, and it followed him back to the bunkhouse.
Naturally, Jake got fired. What I mean is, Jake lost his job.
It was years before we had a telephone at home. When our Uncle Bill died, Dad was called to the phone at Wingfield Mercantile in Camp Verde to find out about it.
We’d get a letter or postcard from Big Jake now and then.
He sold salves and BIbles door-to-door, and took a correspondence course in taxidermy. When Jake got old enough, he drove trucks. But he loaded up a moving van with the wrong household of furniture in Newark and delivered it to Oakland. The people hadn’t planned to move to California.
It did not surprise anyone when Jake joined the French Foreign Legion, or when the Legion asked him to leave Algeria at the earliest opportunity.
By that time, we had a telephone. To a child who was born with a cell phone in his hand–you can order babies that way, you know–it may be hard to imagine a time when telephones were black bakelite devices, attached firmly to the wall by a cord.
Some of them had round dials Others connected you to an operator when you picked up the receiver, and she’d ask, “Number, please.”
The relentless march of technology was slow at first– colored telephones, keypads instead of dials, mobile telephones wired into your car.
Then technology exploded. Ellie and I were in a fast food joint in Surprise the other night, and every person in the place was talking on a cellphone. That included the cooks, and four people sitting at one table, presumably talking to four other people elsewhere.
I thought a woman at Safeway was trying to strike up a conversation with me, or talking to herself. Then I saw that she had earphones beneath her hair, and she was trying to close a real estate deal.
I look in my rear-view mirror and see a soccer mom in her Daewoo Libido, a starter SUV, gesturing and talking on her cell phone while we hurtle through traffic. I hear intimate conversations from adjoining stalls in public restrooms.
My three-year-old cell phone is so embarrassingly obsolete that I leave it in the car. It may be the only telephone in America that received no recorded messages from political candidates these past few weeks.
My phone does not take photos, nor does it have a GPS system to tell me how to get someplace. Nor will it remind me why I was going there in the first place.
Big Jake has generally avoided technology, although he once trained to be a blimp pilot. He served as pastor of the Thunderbolt Church of Perpetual Admonition in Skunk Creek, until he had a scrape with the law and decided to leave the state.
Last I heard, he was in Alaska, trying to cross reindeer and moose. The idea is that reinmeese–reinmooses?– would produce more meat than reindeer, which are kind of small.
Excuse me, my tin can is ringing. That may be Jake now.