I HAVE SEEN some of the future lately and I must admit it’s very appealing to me. My wife drives through Connecticut, a woman’s voice in the dashboard directing her along a twisting route through small towns laid out in the 18th century, a street plan designed to frustrate intruders, and my daughter in the back seat FaceTimes her roommate Saamiya who is in India, visiting relatives. My daughter is drawn to people, loves to be in a group, and the phone is her instrument of choice, and soon Marisa joins from London, and Erin in New Jersey, Hindu, Orthodox, and Jewish, joined in small talk. Remarkable to me, not to her.
“Can you feel how smooth the car runs?” my wife says. She took it to a garage for an oil change two days ago and the garage texted her videos of two very worn tires and an engine that needed retuning and she texted back her consent. The cost was steep but the advance info lessened the shock. I wish I’d been at the marketing meeting that came up with that idea.
We come to her family’s old summer house and turn on the AC and I attend to my email, fifty deletions, four replies, and then I post on Facebook a comment on the benefits of being a cancelee in this cancel culture (you find out who your true friends are) that is read and liked by 494 persons. I like this. Back in my day, I could’ve written a letter to the editor of the morning paper about public shaming and friendship, and maybe it would’ve appeared four days later, and maybe two friends would’ve said, “I saw your letter to the editor.” But now, having written three sentences, I find out in a few hours that 494 persons have friendly feelings toward me. A gentle rain on the roof.
How many friends does a person need? Thousands? No, 494 makes me happy. My wife sits on the porch reading an e-book borrowed from the library and then she comes in to show me, on her iPhone, video of the family of foxes cavorting in the woods a hundred feet away. The FaceTiming continues. My wife loves this porch because she sat here with her grandfather and grandmother when she was a little girl. She and her siblings were parceled out singly to the old folks, each kid feeling special in turn. She was cherished on this porch, by the old folks and now again by me. A fox trots across the lawn. Saamiya speaks from India. A general blessedness is in the air.
Other people can dread the future persuasively, and God bless them, but I imagine a world in which people feel drawn together by digital democracy and find a humane commonality, in which life is made simpler in small crucial ways, and meanwhile medicine continues to take great leaps. In two months I shall have a mitral valve replaced by an ace surgical team, most of them half my age, which, assuming success, which of course I do, opens the door to my reaching the age of 97, my mother’s ultimate age, or 101, my editor Roger Angell’s, which would let me see more of the future than I was counting on, a very happy thought.
I’ve been a writer since my mitral valve problem got me excused from football when I was 14 and instead of enduring humiliation at the hands of bigger boys, I wrote sports for the Anoka Herald and my aunt Eleanor read my stuff and said it was good. My parents believed that praising their children would encourage the sin of pride so they didn’t but my aunt took it as her auntly duty, and she was my most athletic aunt and most literate, and she was a force in my life. I’ve never gone to a shrink, I just sit down and write, and this is a gift, along with the blood thinner and the anti-seizure meds and the woman on the porch.
So I’ve canceled my 80th birthday party in August, to which I would’ve invited all 494 of you, because I don’t want COVID to get in the way of the valve replacement that can send me tap-tap-tapping into my nineties. I’m a happy man of simple tastes. If you offered me some super sex, I’d be happy with the soup.