You meet some unique people in this job, and Gerry Cohen ranks right up there with the best of them. He’s a 70-year-old funny, fast-talking, retired postman who has managed to survive the technological revolution without succumbing to its two main addictions — a personal computer and cell phone.
He’s never emailed, texted, tweeted, yelped, youtubed, googled, bought anything online, or learned to type with his thumbs. He survives with only a landline to communicate, and still licks stamps to pay his bills.
Bill Gates and Apple haven’t gotten a buck of business out of his wallet, and neither will Elon Musk. If he needs to know something, he’ll stop by the local library or ask a computer savvy friend to look it up for him.
If you need to reach him, leave a message on his landline and he’ll get back to you when he gets home.
“I live my life on the Peter Pan principle,” he explains. “Just pick the best time of your life and stay there. I’ve lived the last 50 years like I was still in college when there were no personal computers or cell phones.”
Now that’s a novel way of looking at life. Pick the best time and stay there. I’d still be in Little League.
It drives him crazy, he says, to walk into a restaurant today and see people at every table with a cell phone in one hand and a fork in the other. There should be a rule that everyone has to put their cell phones in the middle of the table when they sit down, and the first person that needs to use theirs has to pay the bill.
Cohen retired from the post office 14 years ago when they offered early buyouts, and now spends much of his time representing postal carriers and clerks who face disciplinary hearings for infractions they allegedly committed.
He works for free because he doesn’t need the money and because his opinion of postal management ranks right up there with the guy in the restaurant with a cell phone in his ear.
If he needs background information on a case, he has friends with computers look it up for him. He doesn’t miss what he never had.
“It blows peoples minds I can exist without a computer and cell phone, but it doesn’t phase me. I spend a lot of time on the (landline) phone, so when I walk out my door is when I have peace and quiet.”
Peace and quiet, remember those things? We’d walk down the sidewalk and actually make eye contact with people, maybe even smile. We weren’t always in a rush. Sometimes we’d even stop and smell the roses. Cohen’s stopped and smelled them a lot.
“I promised my sister when I retired I’d get a computer and cell phone, but I never did,” he said. “It’s become a challenge to see if I die without ever getting them.”
He admits it’s getting tougher, especially with the loss of public pay phone booths. How do you call AAA if your car breaks down without a cell phone?
Things might have been different, he admits, if his job demanded computer skills, but it didn’t so he chose peace and quiet over Google.
“When I took my last physical, my doctor suggested I get a shingles shot,” Cohen said. “I asked him what the leading cause of shingles was? He said most probably stress. I told him I didn’t need the shot because I had no stress in my life.”
Techno-stress wasn’t around in the early 1970s, where Gerry Cohen still goes to college.
Peter Pan was, though.
Dennis McCarthy’s column runs on Sunday, He can be reached at [email protected],