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Thursday, August 16, 2012

I Me Me iPhone

     When my friend took a picture of me at a party and offered to send it to my phone, I had to tell her my phone didn’t do pictures. Or much of anything else. Others at the party whipped out their phones and held them up. Look! Icons! GPS! Datebooks! Angry Birds! Flip it, scroll it, explore the mysteries of the universe! I didn’t bring my poor little Nokia out. It would have been humiliated.
     I used its microscopic bowling game a couple of times, but the eyestrain was too much. It helped me summon a tow truck once or twice, and allowed me to tell the folks at home when I was running late, but mostly it sat in the bottom of my purse, totting up calls from an Air Force recruiter who had apparently been given my number by mistake, or duplicity, for a potential recruit. It sat there so long, letting the upgrades pass it by, it reverted to a tin can on a string.
     The next day our youngest son, who has suffered two years of condescension and scorn at college over his steam-powered phone, reported that his sad little device was starting to shut off at inopportune moments, and the back wouldn’t stay on properly. Off to the Apple store we went. At first I thought I wouldn’t be allowed in, lacking tattoos, piercings and spiky colored hair, but I guess the son was cool enough for admission. And so was the old lady’s credit card. The salesman we wound up with was an old guy with a hearing aid, so I felt better. Actually, I could have used a hearing aid myself. Or maybe ear plugs. Golly, it was loud in there, with all the discussion of bits and bytes and megawhatsis buzzing about in a space with the acoustics of a bunker. We’d—make that “I’d”—already pretty much decided on the iPhone 4, seeing as how the 4s that’s already poised for phasing out costs twice as much. And I’m pretty sure I wasn’t cut out to be on the cutting edge of technological advancement. I’m too cheap. I mean, frugal.
     So we took home the futuristic-looking, clean, white boxes with the fabulous phones nestled inside, placed in the extra-nifty drawstring Apple bag next to the old phones, which were now paperweights. Or missiles, in case of need. Son began immediately to add apps and things. I took many tries to spell my sign-in name correctly. My fingers aren’t fat! They’re not! I had to ask the youngun for help a couple of times and try to keep my voice from quavering. Remembering the price tag kept me from flinging the phone across the room. 
     I finally got to the point of playing Words with Friends, the shameless rip-off of Scrabble that’s about my speed. I’m playing a game each with one son, one daughter, one son-in-law and one newspaper columnist. Major game-player friend hasn’t responded to the game I sent her, even though she’s the one who took my picture at the party. I am now wasting vast amounts of time on the iPhone and being looked at askance by one husband. Don’t let him fool you, though. He’s holding out for the iPhone 5.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Don't Fear the Blue Pencil

   My friend Susan asked me months ago whether I would like to read the manuscript of a novel written by a college friend who wanted reactions and comments. It was an action/adventure/mystery story set in Florida, and it came in a box. There's something old-fashioned and rather romantic about a four-inch stack of typing paper covered with double-spaced writing. Okay, it was printer paper, but it made me think of the clacking of an old Remington typewriter, over which the writer smokes and sweats. A few penciled notes showed where he had had a better idea after the however-many rewrites it had taken to make the story presentable.  A couple of other readers had been there before me and written a note or two.
     I sharpened my pencil, stretched my arms like Art Carney on The Honeymooners, and dug in. I usually warn people when they ask me to look at a piece of writing that I will be picky and strict. That’s the way I was taught in journalism school by the last of the crusty old newspapermen, who expected us to know exactly where the commas go and how to match a subject and verb. Scarcely a paper got past them without a flock of marks. When I did the copy-editing for a church newsletter, one writer would tell me “Here, work your magic.” She liked seeing her work improved, and she saw that the changes made it better. Others, though, were offended when I changed jargon to plain English or cut out the rows of exclamation points. It’s hard to be edited; it’s like surgery. But when the editor knows what he’s doing, the writing gets better.
     In Ken Pelham’s Brigands Key (That’s the book. Go read it. After you finish reading this, of course.) I found some ways to make the writing more effective. I found a plot element that needed fixing—a character dropped a significant little item, but a bit later somehow had it on her. Another character described the city of Osnabruck, Germany, as lying close to the French border. I double-checked it on a map, but I knew that Osnabruck was in northern Germany, far from France. In an exhibition of God’s sense of humor, He had placed Ken’s manuscript in the hands of someone—me—who had a great-grandfather who came from… Osnabruck. I’ve been there and met my cousins, descendants of the brother who stayed behind to run Hehmann’s Gasthaus while my great-grandfather sailed to a new life in New York.
     Anyway, Ken was smart and professional and made the changes. Then the book was published. He had a book-signing at the downtown Orlando library, and, afterward, Susan had a party for him. There I got to see my name in his acknowledgments, and he signed a book for me. I looked so happy, my friend Christine took phone photos. It was almost as thrilling as having a book published myself.