Yesterday, I got a message from my Uncle Jack. As this may be unprecedented, it was a pretty major event. Uncle Jack lives waaaaaayy out in the Avenues and has lived in San Francisco all his life. He is my father's older brother and, as such, he is no spring chicken. In fact, at this point, he may actually qualify as a winter chicken. Additionally, his health is not, as he and/or my father might say, "up to snuff." At least, that is an expression they both have been known to employ, though neither would be likely to use it about their health, unless perhaps to describe their imminent return to the level of snuff. When calling to inquire after a friend or relation they both famously open with, "How are you doing? Great?"
They are the uncomplaining side of the family. Not stoic, mind you, just sort of cheerfully uncomplaining. In fact, I believe that my father might deny ever having had a cold. [Note: he has had many colds.] Surely, it is statistically impossible that I inherited zero of this bight-sidedness since there seems to be so much to go around, and yet I go crying and grousing and swearing through life, rolling my eyes as though it counted as aerobic exercise. I will say it now: I am not proud of myself.
Uncle Jack's message was straight out of an "old people" joke from the very advent of answering machines. It began loudly with, "Kari? Kari? Kari?" though my outgoing message is pretty explicit about my absence. I'm also confident that this is not the first answering machine Uncle Jack has encountered in the last 30 years, but it would be hard to tell just by listening. Once he got past the tricky start, he left the salient information about a family dinner and asked that I call him back. He did not, however, leave a phone number.
This afternoon I called information and I got to participate in another hackneyed joke with the assistance of a Comcast robot that was willing to hear "John" or "Kiernan" but not both at the same time. It finally gave up on me and transferred me to a human, which was exciting for me since I didn't know there was a human option available. Though my conversation with the human, I was very astonished to discover that Uncle Jack is unlisted. (I mean, if one's elderly relatives are not available through directory assistance, who is?) [Note: I am.]
I gave up on all this independent problem solving and called my father. Unlike me, my father calls Uncle Jack with some frequency. I have been in the room when it's happened, in fact, so I know it's true. Yet, he was a bit stymied by the phone number request. It transpires that he has Uncle Jack on speed dial, but seeing as how he was already on the phone, was not sure that he could look up the number. Fair enough. "But don't you have it in the rolodex?" I asked. (There is a rolodex.) He thought he did, so he went to the other room to check. "Yes. It's here. It's EL OH 6..." "What?" "El Oh Six..." "Daddy, are you giving me the letter exchange right now? Is that still a thing? In 2015?" We weren't too sure, so we agreed he'd check the speed dial and call me back. That took about ten minutes for reasons I can't imagine and about which I chose not to inquire. The upshot is that yes. Uncle Jack is still reachable on the LO exchange.
Something about this, my uncle bellowing at my voicemail from his house in the Sunset where he's lived for more than 50 years; my father on the other side of the bridge basically saying "Operator? Get me Plaza 209." is deeply moving to me. Meanwhile the Google bus rumbles by my house, followed by three Ubers and a Lyft, and I moan about how San Francisco has changed.
And it has. No doubt.
But it sure as hell hasn't changed as much since 1995 as it has since 1935.
And guess who never complains about it? Not ever.
God bless the Kiernan brothers and this little city where their mother was born.