Do you have the time?

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When my most intimate companion failed to respond as normal, I feared she had suffered a stroke like the cerebral hemorrhage that took Uncle Bob years ago. Uncle Bob was the smartest guy in South Paris, the Harvard Law valedictorian who, against all expectation, had made South Paris his home until he suddently dropped dead leading the Congregational Church’s Annual Meeting. He had shown no signs of stress during worship, directing the Choir from the organ bench as he had for 25 years. Church meetings are like that — they often raise a leader’s blood pressure — but this was different! All of a sudden he was gone.

Like Uncle Bob, she showed no signs of stress before retiring last night. She is the one who has done the most of anyone to encourage my writing and publishing — filing things away until I needed them, flagging a mis-spelled word or correcting faulty grammar. I’ve depended on her every day for the past six years. She is more than an assistant. Since the day we met, I’ve turned her on. This morning is different. Nothing turns her on.

I  gently carry her to the garage, cover her with a blanket, and drive to the Urgent Care at the Southdale Mall. They admit her for tests and suggest I return in an hour in an hour or so.

“Do you have the time?” I ask.

He gives me a strange look and checks his iPhone. “It’s 10:30. We’ll text you when we’re done. Where can I reach you? What’s your number?”

“I don’t have a number.”

“Okay, how about an email?”

“I don’t have a mobile phone. You know, there are no public clocks anywhere anymore. Everybody’s in a bubble.” 

He pauses and looks up. “Hmmm. You know . . .I hadn’t thought about that! Come to think of it, I guess you’re right. “Okay . . .well, just be back by 11:30.”

Anxious and alone with an hour to kill, I wander the corridor from shop to shop before going into Macy’s. It’s easy to distract yourself shopping, and Macy’s is just the place. You can find anything at Macy’s…except a clock. “Excuse me, do you have the time?” I ask the clerk in the men’s shoe department. It’s not a question he gets anymore. He glances at his iPhone, looks up, and, with a strange look, gives me the time: “10:45.”

With forty-five minutes to spare, I remember Macy’s famous Lakeside Grille and follow the confusing signs to catch a late breakfast or early lunch. I tell the waitperson I have an important appointment at 11:30 and ask for the time. “10:50,” he says. “I don’t have a phone. Would you be so kind as to give me a heads up when it’s 11:15?” He takes my order and agrees to notify me. I scarf down the Oktoberfest special of pork schnitzel, spaetzl, and green beans, wondering what time it is. The waitperson is nowhere to be seen. I ask another waitperson, “I’m sorry. Do you have the time?”

I rush back to Urgent Care, anxious about the test results. “Mr. Stewart,” says the neurologist, “I’m sorry. We ran all the tests and the news is not good, but it’s not beyond hope.” I breathe a sigh of relief, waiting for what comes next. “She’s still alive, but she needs immediate surgery. We have a neurologist standing by.” “What’s the cost,” I ask, knowing she has no insurance. “We can replace her keyboard for $485 so you can turn her on again, but she’s old. It’s only a matter of time before she goes. Or you can buy a new one for an additional six-hundred dollars or so. Your call.”

End of life decisions, like putting down my canine companion after fourteen years– are harder than others. For months after Maggie’s death, I swore I’d never get another dog. There’d never be another Maggie. I couldn’t bear the thought of holding another Maggie in my arms when her time would come.

“I’m a writer,” I say. “Like lots of other writers, I have ADHD and sometimes, like Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, I drink too much. I’m completely dependent on her for filing and saving my work. She keeps it all in her head. Besides she’s the only one I’ve ever turned on.”

“Not to worry, Mr. Stewart. If you leave her with us for 24 hours, we’ll be glad to download her memory to the new MacBook Air. We’ll treat her with great respect. We’ll take good care of things. We’ll be glad to recycle her free of charge. As Hemingway said, ‘Time is the last thing we have.'”

I leave her behind to be downloaded and recycled, grieving my loss, but consoled by the knowledge that, life Uncle Bob and Maggie, she will be in a safe place.

 — Gordon C. Stewart, author of NYT Worst Seller List Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness, dedicated to my late assistant, Chaska, MN, October 30, 2019.

iPhones and Baseball

It’s baseball season in the era of the iPhone.

There’s silence in the Minnesota Twins clubhouse, wrote StarTribune sports writer Jim Souhan last week while covering the Twins preparing for the new season during spring training.
The players sit quietly in front of their lockers before and after games glued to their iPhones. Right next to each other… on a TEAM. The clubhouse that once rocked with laughter, card games, and the loud voices of Twins leaders Kirby Puckett and Kent Hrbek on their way to a World Series is now like a morgue.

Teams that win have chemistry. You don’t build chemistry on iPhones. You don’t win a World Series playing with phantoms or staring into the pool for your own reflection – reading what the sports writers are saying about your individual performance. You win by bonding with the people around you. Men who play 162 games over a season find ways to keep the clubhouse loose. Boyish pranks like filling David Ortiz’s undershorts with ice so he wouldn’t notice that you had smeared his trousers with peanut butter. Stunts like reserve catcher Mike Redmond strutting naked through a tense clubhouse bellowing out a solo that cracks open the ice after a bad game. A baseball season is a long time, a long grind with losing streaks and winning streaks and long road trips where your only friends are your teammates.

Baseball teams that make it to the World Series are not quiet. They have some fun. They play. Not just on the field but on the buses, the planes, and in the restaurants and hotels where the team stays for a week or more far from home.

Twins fans can hope that when the new generation of Twins players sit by their lockers with their iPhones, they will come across Jim Souhan’s advice in this morning’s StarTRibune.

“Show us something this year.
“Heck, show us anything.
“Show us some fire, some grit; some passion, some promise.
“Show us that three years of unprofessional play was a detour, not a destination.

“Show us that you care about something other than paychecks and per diems.

Joe Mauer is the best player on the Twins, a future Hall of Famer. But he’s as emotionally flat as flatbread or a flat tire. He’s predictable. No strolls through the clubhouse singing an aria to break open the silence, no shaving cream pies, no jokes, no ice in another players under shorts or peanut butter, just a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on white bread eaten along in front of his locker, waiting to take hie new position at first base. If there’s passion in Joe, it doesn’t show.

Give us some passion. Bring on Kirk Gibson coming to the plate in the World Series on knees so bad he could barely walk, throwing his fire into a swing that pushed the ball over the fence with nothing but the pure grit from the fire in his belly, hobbling around the bases like a man recovering from hip surgery. Give me Kirk, Joe.

New rule: No iPhones, iPads, or any other such distractive devices in the clubhouse. Put ’em down. Get to know each other before you take the field. I’d wager that the first team to institute that rule would go the World Series not because they’re the most talented but because they care about each other and they care about playing as a team.