Virtue & Mischief: Just put it down


I walked in the house after a particularly stressful commute home, put down my briefcase, slipped out of my dress shoes, and collapsed on the couch in the den. After roughly 10 seconds of peace and quiet, I heard the familiar footsteps of a teenaged girl approaching—footsteps that promised an end to my brief period of tranquility.

“Hey, Dad! How are you?!”

“Fine, Abby. Well, a little tired and worn down, to tell you the truth. Thanks for asking. How are you?”

“Great! Hey, I was wondering,” she added, reaching her point with admirable swiftness, “is your Ipod somewhere?”

“Oh, yes. I’m fairly certain it’s somewhere.”

She sighed the beleaguered sigh of teenagers the world over. “Dad, have you always been like this? Were you born sarcastic, or did you become this way over time?”

“Great question, Abby. It’s a mystery that’s perplexed the world’s greatest minds for many, many years. My assessment is that it was a gift I was born with but which I cultivated through rigorous training with my family of origin. We had sarcasm practice, you know, and I was always the first one there and the last one out. So I guess you could say it was the perfect sarcasm storm of nurture and nature.”

“Uggggghhhh!” She began to skulk away, equal parts adolescent angst and righteous indignation.

“Abby, come back. Here,” I handed it to her. “But listen. Just use it a little while, okay? You’ve been spending a lot of time on that thing and there’s more to life than texting your friends. You know you can actually call them on the phone once in a while. Talk in real time, so to speak. Hear each other’s voices and laughter and such. Back in my day it was all the rage. My parents had to force my sisters OFF the phone. I’d like to see you put that device down and use this old fashioned phone-thingy from time to time instead. You’re allowed. Really. And there’s other cool stuff in the world, too—books and walks and music and conversing with your mother!”

“Daaaaaaad!” she protested. “You’re doing it again.”

I shrugged, delivered my best Flynn Rider smolder-wink, and handed it over. She proceeded upstairs to the privacy of her bedroom where she would no doubt give her opposable thumbs a workout as she communicated and received all the latest Greenville Junior High School skinny.

Two or three days later I was at the University of Dayton “Rec-Plex” gymnasium, trying to prevent my sad, worn out body from going completely to seed. This effort has become a bit comical lately, as at my advanced age I now suffer from a smorgasbord of afflictions—bursitis in my right heel, a neuroma on the sole of my left foot (merely walking is something of a challenge on some days), rotator cuff issues with my left shoulder, etc.—so I must be a bit choosy about which exercises I engage in lest I aggravate one of my myriad chronic injuries. In addition, I don’t have much time to complete this pitiful, constricted exercise routine. In order to get back to work in a timely fashion I must be extremely efficient, scrambling from the elliptical machine (where I work my heart and my legs) to one of the mats next to the track (where I attempt to keep my waistline trim enough to permit me to fit in my pants…just…one more week!) to six different weight machines (where I rather risibly work on my arms and chest so that I’m able to carry suitcases and full laundry baskets, and perhaps throw a baseball and hit a tennis ball for another year or two) in rapid succession during my lunch hour.

On this particular occasion I was making good time until I confronted a young man wearing a white UD cap sitting at the shoulder press machine. I was ready to use it, but he continued to sit there, oblivious to everyone around him, tapping his smart phone with his thumbs and staring at its display. I paced. He continued, face down to his device. I coughed. No response. The seconds ticked by. I was behind schedule now and, as the amigos and Krista can attest, nothing chaps my backside like getting behind schedule.

“Son,” I began—yes, I played the middle-aged card and called him “son”!—“Can I sneak in there quickly and do a set?”

He never looked up, never diverted his zombie-like gaze from the screen.

“Hey!” I continued. “I’ll only be a few seconds. Could you take a break and let me do a set?” Nothing. I tapped his shoulder firmly. He stood up, still never looking away from the screen, moved a couple of feet away, and continued typing.

I ventured over. “Son,” I repeated as he finally met my gaze, “you’re allowed to put it down. You might find a beautiful and exciting world around you. Or you might not. But at least you wouldn’t put geezers like me behind our schedules by behaving like public places like this are the same as your dorm room. Just food for thought.”

He gave me a look of profound confusion, nodded, and resumed typing.

By Timothy Swensen

Timothy Swensen is the author of the weekly column series Virtue and Mischief that is published every Tuesday in The Daily Advocate. He can be reached at [email protected]. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.

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