"Herb, the menu has disappeared," he said. "Where did all the icons go? The screen has some funny writing on it."
Recently we bought my dad an iPad Mini and a Bose speaker so he could play his 120-CD collection, which includes Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, the Kingston Trio, Glenn Miller, Eva Cassidy, Ray Charles, Simon & Garfunkel, Ravel, Berlioz, Beethoven and just about anything with a melody, harmony or beat.
I'm stuck in fifth grade when it comes to the tech revolution, having been held back twice for persistent slowness, but I have discovered the pleasure of playing songs, via Bluetooth, from an iPhone (where I have a thousand songs stored) on a Bose speaker (about the size of a rectangular, much slimmer than a loaf of bread).
"How does it do that?" Dad asked. "How does the phone talk to the speaker and send music to it?"
You're asking the wrong guy. I'm still not sure how an ice chest keeps beer cold.
It might as well be magic, music magic that can fill a room with Vince Gill's rich voice and keep you company while you're refinishing pine floors, painting walls and sweeping out the garage from the last dust storm.
Dad liked my setup. I don't know how long the old man has got to live. I don't know how long I have to live. In the meantime, I'd like to listen to music and why not afford him the same pleasure?
Here's the challenge: Dad is 88. A young 88, but 88. He has successfully avoided desktops, laptops, email, texting and tweeting, figuring my mother can handle that sort of unsavory business.
I started by burning 120 of his CDs onto a computer and then transfered them to the iPad Mini. I typed the instructions in 18-point font. Any larger and you could have read them from outer space.
We met recently at Jack's Restaurant in Bishop and, after breakfast, we retreated to an empty dining room for a run-through.
"Touch the screen lightly, Dad," I said. "Try playing a song by Judy Garland."
He hit almost every conceivable part of the screen, except the song icon. If you're not used to the touch screen, you jab at it as if -- were you to overstay your welcome -- your fingertips might start smoking. He looked like he was playing tic-tac-toe and losing.
"This screen is sensitive," he said.
Dad was fighting tech terror. I still have it.
I'm trying to hook up Apple TV at home, and even though Herbie assures me it's three easy steps, I'm stalled at No. 3 because it calls for another password and I've hit the wall with passwords.
Tech terror. You think you're the one person in the universe too dumb to get it even though a chimpanzee can use an iPad or connect Apple TV.
My response to tech terror was to talk softly to Dad, as if I were a nurse dealing with a patient who'd had a nervous breakdown.
The worst thing you can do is get mad, and believe me you want to, because once the patient senses irritation, he retreats into a safe place far away from the mean people who have lightning bolts shooting out of their heads.
"Dad, when in doubt, turn it off and start over," I said.
Worse than tech terror is tech avoidance, which is what happens if tech terror becomes tech frustration, which can become "I never want to see this iPad Mini again."
Five days later, Dad called. He was excited and I could hear a trace of swagger in his voice.
"Herbie, I'm listening to the Limeliters," he said. "I'd forgotten how good they are."
Goodbye, tech terror; hello, tech convenience, which can lead to tech joy. Victory and music to my ears.