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Photo by Quilty

Martin Able had most people fooled. The 94-year-old retired history professor prided himself on owning the very latest smartphone. For the past five years he upgraded annually. His latest could shoot video in slow motion and download music with the touch of his thumbprint. The phone even included an app that could call the rescue squad if his blood pressure took a sudden dip. But Martin didn’t really know how to use any of these features; he just like having them available. He liked boasting that he possessed the latest. His phone, he believed, would keep him young.

Whenever one of Martin’s friends died, he would announce, “He will always remain in my contacts.” This was not said out of sentimentality. It was mentioned because he could never remember how to delete a contact. So, Martin’s phone on one hand was keeping him young, and connected, but on the other, collecting the names of the dead – alphabetically – and reminding him that he was old, so old that he could remember a time when phones were held in two parts and cranked.
Martin had a 13-year-old great-grandson with whom he enjoyed attending concerts at Lincoln Center. One night after an evening of Brahms, Martin and the boy were walking through Columbus Circle when the boy asked Martin if he could use his smartphone to photograph snow piled high up on the curbs – remnants of last week’s snow storm.

“Would you give me a lesson in photography?” Martin asked the boy. This is just the thing Martin needed to make him feel he was using the phone’s added features. This was the first app of many he would employ to stay abreast of technology – the key to youth – he thought!
The boy took the phone, opened the camera app, and said, “Look here, frame your subject, then press the big red button at the bottom.”

Martin did just that. He photographed the first thing he saw – a mound of dirty, flinting snow that lay directly in front of him. Martin was filled with joy – youthful joy, he thought! He then saw a miniature photograph on the lower left of the phone’s screen. He had heard this was called a “thumbnail.” So he touched it, and it grew larger – full screen size. And at the very moment he congratulated himself for doing something intuitive, he discovered just what he had photographed. In the mound of old, evaporating snow, he saw the skulls and faces of all the dead from his contacts. They were all there; some staring directly at Martin, while others were in profile – looking left and looking right, in all their unreliable beauty.

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