Out There: Status symbol

I have never owned anything that has attracted so much attention.

herb keinon (photo credit: )
herb keinon
(photo credit: )
Two things I'm not: a thing person and a computer guy. Regarding things, they've never really turned my head. I wear a $13 dollar Casio watch (that way when I lose it, I don't feel the pain), drive a 10-year-old car, and don hand-me-down Shabbat shirts from my father. People who enter my third floor, 120-meter apartment rarely compliment The Wife and I on the furnishings (though I often get comments on the $6.95 souvenir spoons from around the world that I've collected, framed and have hanging on the wall.). This lack of emphasis on things was one of the reasons I fit easily into the country when I arrived in the early '80s. At that time Israel was definitely not a thing country, meaning materialism was not a value. Boy, has that ever changed. Now I'm not a flaming Communist or anything, and while I would like to fashion myself a Thoreau-style non-materialist, the bald and naked truth is that I've never really taken a yen to things, probably because I've never really had the money to buy them. If I had the money, my materialistic streak would likely have been more pronounced - no tzadik am I. Still, I've never felt the need to own something to make an impression; status symbols never spoke to me. And, as I said, I'm no computer maven. True, I spend my life on the computer, but can't tell you what a Jpeg, gigabyte or central processing unit are. A month ago I bought my first disk on key, having merrily been content for years with the old floppy disks. Hearing folks compare the strength of their hard drives and size of their gigabytes transports me back to high school, and the competition among the "greasers" about which car had more pistons and a better fuel-injected engine - talk that also left me cold. To those who may be thinking, "Yo, moron, don't advertise your ignorance about computers and cars, things you use on an everyday basis. Learn about them," I would counter, "I also use my body on a daily basis, but can't really tell you what the pancreas does or how the liver works, and that's after spending three months in an army medics' course." The world is a large and marvelous place; one can only know so much. SO IT was with a degree of surprise that I've found myself over the past six months feeling downright chic and cool carrying around and working on a recently purchased mini computer. At the risk of sounding like an advertisement, let me just say this thing is incredible. About a quarter the size of a standard laptop, it weighs about as much as a hardcover book, can slip into a backpack, and does all the things that normal people need their computer to do: surf the Internet, send e-mail, and serve as a word processor. It's also cheap, with the sole drawback being that the keyboard is so tiny, you need the fingers of a six-year-old to comfortably type on it. Still, I have never owned anything that has attracted so much attention. And, sadly, I have found this empowering. The secretary of a senior European diplomat who never initiates contact with me called to get the name of the machine, after I showed up at a press briefing and typed his comments into my tiny laptop. A stranger in the Atlanta airport, also the proud owner of one of these puppies, stopped by my table to discuss its benefits as I was checking e-mail, making us kindred souls in that cold ocean of people in transit. A woman I never met before at a Jerusalem lecture was so impressed by the computer's "cute" size that she asked, I kid you not, whether she could run her fingers over it. And high-profile Israeli colleagues who have paid me scant attention in the past - maybe because of my accent, maybe because I "only" work for an English-speaking media outlet, maybe because I sneer at them - are suddenly taking an interest in me and my new toy. All of a sudden I feel like James Bond. It's like one of those advertisements where you get the girl because you're drinking Coke. Unbelievable. UNTIL I get home. And then, no matter what I own, the offspring put me in my place. The kids have me pegged as a nerd, and no matter who I meet, what music I listen to, what I do during the day or, for that matter, throughout my life, that impression is proving extremely difficult to crack. It's funny, actually. In the mind of the kids I have gone - like all parents go - from a larger-than-life figure ("My Abba is stronger than yours") who can do no wrong, to a smaller-than-life figure who can do no right. I see it as a defense mechanism. If kids think their parents are nerds, were nerds and will always be nerds, then in the inevitable comparison they make between themselves and their folks at their age, they will always be doing well. "What's with the huge glasses?" my teenaged daughter said not too long ago, after finally paying attention to a wedding picture hanging in the hallway for nearly a quarter of a century. "Were you worried you might have to run out and do some emergency welding?" My protests that goggle-sized glasses were all the rage back then fell on deaf ears. "Ima," she said, turning to the bemused Wife, "how did you marry him?" "Good question," she responded. "Especially since back then he didn't own that cute little computer."