The Universal Notebook: The technology of complaint

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In general, I try to vary these columns by writing about a personal matter one week (vacation in Cape Cod), a local issue (Brunswick schools) the next, followed by a focus on a statewide subject (death with dignity bill, deposit on nips) and finally a national column (usually whatever outrageous thing our unqualified, unfit and unstable un-president has been up to lately).

That national category has a huge backlog of topics to cover, but this morning, assuming he hasn’t launched a missile or declared martial law, I have a few more pressing concerns on my mind.

The older I get, the crankier I get, and the targets of many of my complaints (other than Republican politicians) are very often technologies that perplex, annoy and infuriate me, underscoring, as they do, my own inadequacies. Here are but a few of the many.

Were I a young man with a lifetime of energy and enthusiasm ahead of me, I might well dedicate myself to solving a social problem that would make the world a much safer place and make me a much richer man. Why is it, in this day and age of technological marvels, that automobiles cannot come equipped with headlights that illuminate the road without blinding oncoming drivers? I just can’t see why headlights work so poorly.

Actually, what I just can’t see is the road at night when other cars are approaching, especially when the roads are wet. Like a lot of older people, I have terrible glare recovery. I slow to a crawl on rainy nights when oncoming headlights make my retinas dance. Seems to me that there should be some way to make the roadway as bright as day without shining high beams in Beem’s face. The worst offenders are those expensive foreign jobbies with eerie yellow crime lights for headlights. Come on, lighting luminaries, come up with an automotive lighting system that is an advance over the flashlight.

Next, as I help organize my 50th high school reunion, I have come to wish that there were directories of cell phone numbers and email addresses. Remember when everyone who had a phone was in the phone book? These days, if you’ve lost track of someone, increasingly through retirement and relocation, if you can’t find them on Facebook, you just can’t find them.

I know, I know, we like the idea that no one knows our cell phone number unless we’ve given it to them, but that doesn’t seem to have stopped the epidemic of robocalls, phone scams and telemarketers. In the meantime, does anyone know were Alan Titcomb, Westbrook High School Class of 1967, might be?

Then there is my nostalgia for a television set that you simply turn on and off. Not sure what the problem is, something about encrypted signals I’m told, but Comcast has transformed the simple on-off task into a maddening art form of pointing the remote just right and then waiting 10 seconds while it cycles through a series of blinking lights. No one else in the family has mastered this dark art, so I am stuck holding the remote.

Heaven forbid anyone should want to watch Netflix. That requires a separate remote, even more remote than the first. And who knows what insidious apparatus is involved in accessing Hulu, Sling or Xeljanz. Oh, wait, Xeljanz isn’t a streaming service, it’s one of those preposterous pharmaceutical names (yet another complaint for yet another column).

The bane of my domestic existence, however, is a not a 21st century digital devil but a mid-20th century mechanical monster, the evil canister vacuum cleaner with mini power head for furniture and stairs. I cannot exaggerate how exasperating it is for me to vacuum. I only do it when I am home alone because invariably I end up cursing and yelling as the canister crashes into the baseboard, the cord gets tangled around my feet, the hose kinks, the attachments fall off and the plug pulls out of the wall.

I assure you I am not kidding when I say that I once went to a vacuum cleaner shop to take a quickie course in how to vacuum. Something about wrapping the hose around your back and stepping in one direction as you vacuuming. It’s a dirty dance I just cannot do at my age with my bad back, cranky knee and worse temperament.

With the continued existence of the American republic threatened by a family of filthy rich incompetents and their nefarious lackeys, you’d think I’d have more important business to discuss, but what may strike others as trivial is often what gets us through troubled times.

And these, dear friends, are just such times.

Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.