What picture? Daddy sent you a picture message this morning? Must have gotten one of his friends in line there to take a picture of him. Yep, that was one of our beach chairs, which he brought to camp out at the AT&T Store at the Riverside Mall and wait for the new phone release. Missed work so he could sit in a mall parking lot in a chaise lounge with an umbrella.

Adam, can you see me? Hello? Hi, honey. Can you tell this is the new phone Daddy got me for my birthday? I can never get reception in the living room.

He must have sent you the picture message right before that old lady almost punched him. He didn’t tell you about that?

He was wishing me a happy birthday. Videocalled me at work while he was waiting, probably more out of boredom than anything else. Had to interrupt my conversation with my secretary to tell me how old I am.

Yep, we’re here sitting in the armchairs in the living room.  Daddy’s right here.  See him?  Say hi.

Herman, you’re the one who’s almost 61.  Who’ll be laughing then?

While Daddy was calling me, he turned the camera around so I could see the AT&T Store, as if I’d be glad to see it. I said to him, “If you get me another stupid, never-work, ungapatchka    phone … ” Well, what is this, the fiftieth time they’ve pulled this trick? And your doofus father falls for it every time. AT&T sent him an email yesterday: exclusive offer, upgrade today, get two new phones. Not for free. Of course not for free! That’s our big privilege:  we get to pay them more money! Upgrade today! That’s all “upgrade” means anymore. “Pay us more money for another piece-of-crap phone that’s worse than the last one.” They don’t even give us a good deal on it, but why should they? They email him telling him to buy a new phone and he buys it. Doesn’t take a genius to make money with that scheme. They change the color and the shape and call it new.

I lost track of the whole thing when they launched the 13j. I think everyone did except for Daddy. What was the big revolution with the 13j?

Exactly. That’s the big feature. Who on Earth needs a phone that can beat you at Jeopardy? The 13j, the 14q, then what?

They all sound the same to me. 14q, 15w, 16p.u., 17peek-a-boo, 18didgeridoo. What’s the one you have, Adam?

Right. Senses danger. Just like Lassie.

Well, I told your father I didn’t want anything fancy. I just wanted a simple phone. I said, “What ever happened to phones that just have internet, video, voice recognition, and GPS navigation?” That’s all I need. No thermal nightvision, no Jeopardy, no Lassie, and especially none of that crap they put into this new one they just came out with. Companionate love, or whatever they called it. What’s the new model, Herman? The 20L.

Your father knows me well enough not to buy me the 20L. The new model is for him. He gets a present for my birthday. I asked him if he wanted me to bake him a cake for my birthday, too. Ends up getting me the stripped-down version, the Retro, that they released just a few weeks ago. Retro for now, at least. The 20L will be retro by Tuesday.

Anyway, the altercation with the old lady.

He’s waiting in line for the store to open. And, you know, this is the best phone they’ve ever designed! That’s why there were five whole people lined up outside the AT&T Store. Only five losers dumb enough.
In fairness to him, the blue-haired old lady in the sequined white sweatshirt was the one who cut the line. Daddy says some little piece to her, “Do you really have to cut me —  there are only five people here.”

Always has to say something. The security guard had to restrain her before she punched him right out. Yep, lotta crazy people at the AT&T Store. Your father number one.

Adam, all I can say is, you’re lucky you got out of this household before you lost your mind, too. But enough about us. How is your trip? Have you been drinking enough water? What did you do today?

That sounds like fun. We took you to the Liberty Bell once when you were little, but you probably don’t remember. Ugh, my hair is a mess.

That’s good. We had just gotten back from dinner when you called. Yep, Daddy brought me out to a lovely birthday dinner at the fish restaurant. Captain Pike’s Fish Restaurant.

It was a fish restaurant. We had fish. I had the salmon, Daddy had the haddock.

Ok, be safe on the roads.



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Hi. Hello?

How are you? You’re in Chicago already?

That’s good. Ugh! The minute you call, Daddy needs more toilet paper. Texted me from the bathroom. Adam, I’m going to put the thing on mute for a second. COULD YOU GIVE ME ONE SECOND, HERMAN?! ADAM JUST CALLED! That wasn’t mute? Ugh. Pee-yoo. Just gotta go up the stairs. One second, sorry, Adam. We’re thinking of taking the carpet off the stairs. I think the hardwood might look nicer, don’t you? Just gotta go to the closet. Yeah, you hear him talking in there? That’s how he talks with his phone now. “I wuv woo.” “No, I wuv woo.” “No, I weally weally wuv woo!” It’s nauseating. Muting you again. HERMAN, I’M TRYING TO TALK TO YOUR SON! UGH. Which one is the mute button?

Not sure exactly how all that lovey-dovey started. I guess right out of the box, the 20L — her name’s Ilsa; all the phones have Scandinavian names — Ilsa started teasing him and making him laugh.


So Ilsa made a great first impression, then it went through the tutorial about all its technical specs. All very coy, very cute. I heard it whisper, “Check out my upgraded voice.”

Daddy said they improved its whispering capability. Good. Maybe that way I don’t have to hear what the dumb thing has to say.

I know. Ilsa would tell him all about its processor speed, then he’d tell it something he read on one of the tech blogs. Ilsa suggested tech blogs he’d never even heard of! It knows how to Google things discreetly and pass them off as knowledge. And it listens.

Oh yeah, goes into the bathroom with him and everything. I think it’s safe to say I will never have that level of devotion. Maybe the next model will wipe his precious little tushie.

Sometimes I even hear him complaining to it about Christine. We haven’t told you about Christine? She’s this woman at Daddy’s office who has made it very clear that she wants his job. He hates her.

But how are you? How’s Chicago? Are you excited for your new job? Daddy and I are excited! He just showed me an article about Calixter, how they’re the biggest tech startup since Google! When do you start again? When are you getting to San Francisco?

You look a little tired. What did you do today?

That’s too bad. Is it supposed to clear up any time soon? How is the driving?

I’m watching Bachelors On Ice in the living room, enjoying a glass of wine. The showerhead in our bathroom is leaking and the window in your old room won’t close, so we need someone to fix that stuff. But otherwise everything’s fine.

Ok. Talk to you later. Bye.


Ugh, the minute you call, I have to put you on mute because he can’t find the money. I DON’T KNOW, HERMAN, DIDN’T YOU LEAVE IT ON THE COUNTER? DID WE LOSE IT? HERE IT IS.

It’s the money Daddy got from selling his old phone today. You’ll never believe the guy he sold it to.

He always sells the old ones! You don’t remember? He sold the one before this one to Giorgio, the guy who owns that Mediterranean restaurant.

This time your father decided to look on the internet. Nutcase. Of course, he looks at me like I’m nuts. Uses the 20L to do the search, genius move, Ilsa starts having a fit. Who can blame it? It said, “You think you can just buy and sell phones like it’s nothing?” Daddy says, “I’m not selling you!” No difference. He was asking it to participate in its own execution.

Buyer gets to our house, name is Ed or Jed, or something. He’s standing in our front hall. And he’s got, oh, I don’t know how many tattoos. Maybe eight hundred? Beard, sunglasses, long, dirty hair, earrings, baggy clothing. You get the idea. He says he does home repair, so your father has to get into this whole conversation with him about whether he can fix up our showerhead.

Well, could be very cheap. We’d have to do a background check.

Offhand he told us he wrestled a cougar while he was rock climbing in Colorado. Had this low voice, like: “Eff this, eff that, eff this.” I don’t know if he swore quite that much but you get the idea. “Effin cougar, eff, eff, eff.”

Jed says, “So we have a deal?” Shakes our hands, and leaves. Not kidding.

Afterwards, Ilsa really lets your father have it.

I know. Why can’t the thing just accept its fate? Terrible reception and can’t accept its fate. Daddy says it’s because it’s much easier to love something that’s imperfect. Seems like an easy excuse for manufacturing a piece of crap.

I thought that, too. But it turns out that if you transfer the memory to a new device, that’s just a copy. “Ilsa” is stuck in the physical phone.

I don’t know. “Ilsa.” “Ilsa” can’t be transferred from phone to phone. The memory can … but not it.

Anyway, you’re all settled? The apartment’s ok?

Ugh. That’s annoying. But how are the people who work there?

Oh good. And do you like San Francisco?

Just busy with work. So many clients coming in, half my day is spent answering emails. Ok. Bye.


I’ve got news. Grampa Jack proposed to his girlfriend today.

We didn’t even know he had a girlfriend! He proposed at dinner.

Well, it’s a funny story. We go to pick him up at his house for dinner — it’s still got all the decorations Grandma used to put up. The welcome mat, the flowerpots, the seashells. But as we’re sitting on his couch, I notice a black tote bag that has the word “Sassy” printed in pink lettering all over it.

I know! Well, he doesn’t always read the writing on the things he buys. Remember the shirt he thought said “Enjoy Coca-Cola” that actually said “Enjoy vagina?”

Oh, it’s a clinical term, Adam! It was deceptive with the font, though.

That’s when he at least bought new clothing. Now Grampa refuses to buy new things. He says, “Don’t buy me any new pants. I don’t have enough time left to make it worth it.”

I buy him pants and he gets mad at me, refuses to wear them. He still needs new pants sometimes! You can’t arbitrarily decide you have enough pants for the rest of your life! Sometimes they rip! Walks around in these old, ratty jeans.

Anyway, we’re about to go out for dinner when he asks, “Is it ok if Deborah comes?” “Who’s Deborah?” Tells us he spotted a pretty woman screaming at the cashier at the Pottery Barn in the Riverside Mall. Thought the cashier overcharged her for the “Sassy” bag. Grampa asked her out. Now they’re engaged.

So before dinner, Deborah walks over while we’re sitting in the living room watching the Golf Channel. Grampa lets her in, I see blue hair and a sequined white sweatshirt. Deborah’s the woman who punched Daddy. Daddy almost threw up, but she seemed to have forgotten about the whole thing. Didn’t recognize your father at all.

Get in the car to go to dinner at this new restaurant. Ilsa gives us the turn-by-turn directions a little indignantly, because it’s still mad about the whole incident with Jed. As soon as Deborah sees the new phone, she asks Daddy where he got it. He lies and says he bought it at a different store on Parker Avenue. Then, Daddy goes into this whole long spiel trying to convince Grampa to let us buy the 20L for him, too. Your father doesn’t understand that not everyone is in a perpetual midlife crisis. What does Grampa need from a 20L?

Get to the restaurant, waiting to put our name in, a woman cuts in front of Daddy. He says, very indignantly, “Do you really need to cut me?” That jogs Deborah’s memory. You can only imagine the arguing, the screaming, oh, it was a disaster.

Anyway, after Deborah complains to the waiter about the food (her complaining gets Grampa a free steak), Grampa gets down on one knee and proposes. Maybe he’ll at least buy a new pair of pants for the wedding.

But how is work?

Just ok?

Well, you’ve only been there a month. It’ll get better. Or maybe it’s not your thing. You don’t have to like it. What’s it like there?

Sounds very stimulating.

Alright. Bye.


Hi, hi.

Oh, God, Adam. A bird flew into the house while Jed was fixing the window in your old room. He went to the bathroom for one minute and it flew into your room, down the stairs, around the living room and the dining room, and landed on the piano and then on one of my lamps. I was afraid it was going to poop on my couch. Jed identified it as a grackle. “Yep, that’s just your Common Grackle. Can tell by its graduated tail.”

Then, he caught it! He said, “Get me a net.” I found an old toy butterfly net in your closet. He took it, chased the bird back upstairs and got it in the net. He said, “This’ll be some good eating tonight.” He was kidding, thank God! He set it free outside.

I said, “How’d you know how to do that?”

He said, “Once you’ve wrestled a cougar, you can do anything.”

Swear words omitted. He asked me about my family. That was nice of him. I told him about you, bragged a little bit about how you’re working for Calixter. Just a little bit! I have to brag to someone! The people at the office are sick of it by now.

He told me about his family, how he gave Daddy’s old phone to his daughter. He’s raising her as a single parent. The mother was a white-water rafting instructor he met while he was living in Colorado, but she was a loon and she’s not allowed to contact them anymore. I know, very sad situation. Now he really wants to buy his daughter the 20L so that maybe she’ll have some companionship. I’m not sure a phone can replace a mother — don’t get any ideas. Anyway, he might be able to buy the 20L from us. I don’t know if you saw: they’re releasing the 20LM in a few days.

Right now Daddy’s away on a business trip to Cleveland. Christine’s there, too, and he says she’s really annoying him, asking stupid questions about the particulars of his job. Says his boss wants him to be more hands on about teaching Christine, even though he has no desire to teach her anything. This might be his last trip with them because he wants to leave before they force him out. They’re obnoxious, anyway.

Ever since the 20LM came out, the 20L is looking a little bit obsolete. Especially the remote charging feature — he used to use it to keep the phone in his pajama pocket as he slept. Now he keeps it on the far side of the nightstand, and the remote charger seems like a waste. Also, whenever he sends me a text, the autocorrect changes certain words to frowny faces. Ilsa whispers to me while Daddy’s sleeping. (The 20L has that upgraded whispering function, you know?)

Oh, all sorts of things. Let’s see if I can remember. Last night, Ilsa whispered, “Soon as someone younger and better comes along, he’s just about ready to drop me in the toilet!” I tried to calm it down, but it just kept going, about how it isn’t an accident that so many phones get dropped in toilets. What was I supposed to say? Much better to be married to him than to be his phone, I guess. Then Christine from work called him. These people and their work — what is so urgent that can’t wait ‘til the morning? She has to call at midnight?

Grampa’s good.

I talked to him a bit about Deborah. He said she’s “rough around the edges,” but I guess he likes that about her. Called her “feisty.” Also, he said, at his age, he couldn’t be too picky — running out of time. I told him he still has time. I asked him if he’d let Deborah buy him new pants. He said yes. I’m convinced for now.

Oh, and Jed was there when I got off the phone with Grampa. Jed said, “It’s natural for you to feel squeamish. But look at it this way: it’s a testament to the power and versatility of love.” Then he spat in the sink and clunked up the stairs in his work boots.


Ok, here he is! It’s Adam. Hi, Adam. We’re all having dinner in the dining room to celebrate the engagement! We thought we’d call you. Here’s Grampa. Dad, hold it so he can see you. You can see your face in the bottom-right square. Just start talking. Herman, he can’t see himself in the little square on the screen. Is there a way to make his face bigger on this piece-of-crap device?

Well, Adam’s very busy out there. Yes, he still has your phone number, Dad. Have you been watching the Red Sox, Adam? Grampa thinks they’re terrible. I do, too.

And this is Deborah. I know you haven’t met yet, but you’ll meet soon. Say hi, Deborah!

This is our friend, Jed. He helps us fix things up around the house! Jed, Adam, Adam, Jed.

Here’s Daddy.

Yep. Your father made the dinner. We’re having barbeque chicken. Yep, it was good, Herman. No, it wasn’t dry. We’re calling on Daddy’s phone. Can’t beat this video quality, right? Piece of crap. Oh, Herman, you’re getting a call. Another call from Christine? I’m hanging up. Not during dinner time. She can call back later.

Oh, let’s all take a picture. I’ll go upstairs to get a nicer camera! Want to remember this moment. Oh, let me show you the stairs, Adam. You see them? Jed took off the carpet. Don’t they look nice —

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I’m fine. Just had a little fall. Maybe the hardwood stairs weren’t such a good change. I bumped my head and hurt my hip.

I should be out of the hospital soon.

I was holding Daddy’s 20L when I fell. It sent out distress calls to all the phones in the area — all-points bulletin: I’m a klutz.

We think the phone survived the initial impact from being dropped down the stairs, but someone must have stepped on it as they were coming to help me. When Daddy found it later that night, it was completely broken.

Maybe it was Jed and his work boots. Did I tell you what Jed said at dinner, about how you can’t transfer the data from the 20L? He said, “The hardware is fragile and ephemeral. But the love is eternal.” Then he took a big bite out of a drumstick.

Realized this today: these phones store all the video conversations?!

Delete them please.

No, Adam, pictures are different. I’m serious. Please delete them. Spare me the indignity — my hair a disheveled mess for all eternity.

I’ll have to figure out a way to check to make sure you did it.

Daddy had a busy morning. Well, for one thing, he bought me flowers. See them over there on the table? But before that, he had another beach day at the AT&T Store so he could buy a whole batch of the new phones.

Didn’t miss work. He left the company. Now maybe Christine will stop bothering him.

AT&T finally gave us a discount for being frequent customers, offered us a buy-one-get-one -free sort of deal.

We gave one to Jed (to give to his daughter). Maybe we’ll give one to Deborah, too … Definitely plan on slipping one into the pocket of the new tuxedo pants Grampa’s going to get for his wedding. Yours is in the mail.

And I’m calling from my new one. Can you tell the difference? It’s named Torvald — they all have Scandinavian names.

Of course it’s a piece of crap. But I like it just fine.

Ok.  Talk to you soon.  Bye.