Matthew Riddlehousen recently moved to Cloverdale from Dibley in the Downs to open a franchise of Silver Surfers, a computer tutoring service for the elderly, feeble minded and technologically challenged. You may see him from time to time in his 2003 Nissan MiniVan making house calls. ‘Silver Surfers‘ is written on the driver’s door. Above the words is a picture of an elderly man struggling to remove his computer mouse cord from his cat's teeth. The van's passenger door reads “MotherLoad Pizza”. Matthew subsidizes his income by delivering pizza in the evenings.
“I know computers inside and out,” Matthew said during my recent interview with him over lunch at The Hairy Lemon Pub. I discovered Matthew to be the dictionary definition of ‘Nerd’. He was shy and wouldn’t talk. I spoke and he listened as we ate lunch. Interviews aren’t suppose to flow that direction. It made for an uncomfortable half hour. I asked him if he’d ever tried a pint of Scrumpy, Cloverdale’s very own local beer. Instead of a verbal “no” he shook his head in the negative. I ordered one pint for him and a fizzy lemonade for me. He downed the Scrumpy in record time. He ordered another. He started talking after the second pint.
“I’m a real people person,” he said. I responded by nearly choking on my lemonade. A people person he wasn’t. In fact, I am of the conclusion his parents purchased the franchise in Cloverdale and gave him their car just to get him out of their basement and village. “I’m also really good with old people. My mother was 50 when she had me and my Grandmother Riddlehousen was really old also. She had gray hair, a cane and had accidents - if you know what I mean.” I nodded and quickly erased the mental picture.
“Everybody thought I’d be born retarded because of my mother’s age but I surprised them. Mind you, I’m not good with the ladies and I don’t understand religion or quantum mechanics but when it comes to computers you’d be hard pressed to find someone who understands them as well as me.” He smiled, sat back in his chair, closed his eyes and took a mental inventory of all the reasons he was satisfied with his life. I say that because he kept mumbling and counting things off with his fingers.
A moment later he opened his eyes, took another gulp of Scrumpy, wiped the foam from his face and glanced out the window above our table.
“See that old duck over there,” he said pointing to an elderly woman walking her dog. She looked to be in her early 80’s with thinning white hair and bent back.
“I’m guessing, based on my extensive knowledge of petrified humans, she knows just enough technology to dial a phone, operate her furnace thermostat, and turn on her oven and light switches. I sense she struggles with her television remote but manages, considering remote controls came out in the 70’s. The buttons are a challenge and heaven help her if she gets Satellite TV but at least she knows enough to watch her soap operas and the news.”
I recognized the woman when she turned to cross the street. She was the education reporter for Cloverdale’s local newspaper. I had her cell number. I knew she liked to text responses to calls to avoid long phone conversations. I had to have some fun with this so I reached for my cell phone, found her number and asked Matthew to continue listing his fool proof methods for reading what an old age pensioner can and can’t understand about electronics while I texted her a question concerning an upcoming meeting I was having on Wednesday about computers and the elderly. I put my phone away and watched from the window. She stopped to adjust her rain cap with her gloved hands while her dog did his business against the Indian Curry Take Out’s front steps. A moment later she reached for her purse and produced an iphone. She read my text and responded with thumbs flying.
“Matthew, she has an iphone," I said while faking shock. "Do you see that? She's texting someone!” Matthew looked shocked.
“Send me to Shame,” Matthew mumbled. He reached over and closed the blinds. “Well, most of them are not like that, take my word for it.”
“Oh, I do Matthew. I do,” I replied.
I asked Matthew if I could accompany him to his afternoon appointment at the Nearly There Home for the Elderly and Infirmed.
“I was going to suggest that, considering I’ve had a bit too much Scrumpy,” he slurred. I helped him into the van, buckled myself in and set course for the home. We found his clients asleep in a corner of the Day Room. One of them was at the computer. The computer’s disk tray was open. She had her cup of coffee perched in it.
“OK Silver Surfers, Up and At’em,” Matthew shouted. One nearly fell out of her chair. The others clung to their arm rests as they waited for their hearts rates to slow from the sudden shock.
“This kind gentleman would like a picture of me with you before we start surfing,” Matthew said while organizing them in some kind of order. I snapped the photo and prepared to take a second when Matthew interrupted, reached for his bag and pulled out several Hawaiian button up tourist shirts.
“OK surfers, let’s get into our Surfing Attire.” He handed each a brightly colored shirt with bold floral patterns. The residents helped each other with the buttons . He plugged in his boom box, pressed ‘play’ and started the class with his car wreck of a rendition of the Beach Boy's famous hit, ‘Surfin’ USA’. Of course he sang “Surfin in Cloverdale” instead. He shot me several thumbs up as he sang. I noticed the orderlies closed the Day Room’s doors to prevent the music from reaching the other inmates. The old ducks hadn’t had their afternoon meds and the Home’s staff didn’t want to risk a violent reaction to the music.
The lesson started after the warm up song. Matthew explained how electricity was produced and how it got into the plug on the wall by traveling along copper wires from the local coal powered power planet outside of town. He pulled out a small hand wound electrical generator from his bag of tricks. He wound up a good charge then selected a 'volunteer' to stand up and place her finger on the receptor. His selected 'volunteer' was prescreened earlier to ensure she wasn’t equipped with a pace maker. She jumped back the moment her finger came in contact with the wire. It was a nasty shock. The top layer of her heavily sprayed hair stood on end. She’d recently returned form the beauty parlor where she’d had her hair done for a great grandchild’s wedding. She shuffled from the room very upset to make a call for a respray.
Matthew apologized, shrugged his shoulders and contined the lesson. For the next fifteen minutes Matthew covered plugging in and unplugging the computer After the lesson he had each student demonstrate understanding by taking turns getting up and plugging and unplugging the computer. Once everyone mastered the concept they gathered for a team spirit cheer and the collection of Matthew's fee. We left shortly afterwards.
I urge Cloverdale’s elderly to consider using the Silver Surfers Computer Tutoring Service only after trying the following.
- Ask yourself if you really really have a need for a computer.
- Offer to pay family members for help (if they won't do it for free).
- Contact neighborhood kids and offered to pay them to help you.
- Read “Computers for Dummies”.
- Take local community education courses on computers.
- Call the computer maker's hotline.
- Call 911 for help.