Morrie Mox says he could easily do without many of today's technical advances. But he's always been plugged in.
In this digital age, Morrie Mox hears nothing but analog symphonies.
He longs for the tube radios or the crystal sets he once built. He still uses DOS, the disk operating system that was popular among computer users before Microsoft switched over to Windows in the 1980s. He still has a typewriter.
"I suppose I'm a dinosaur," said Mox, 62, a supervisor who has maintained communications equipment for Anoka County for 35 years.
"We profess to be wise," Mox says, "but allow ourselves to become inundated with so many things that are trivial.
"What would I know? When I was a child, and I was bored, I'd put a drop of water under a microscope and watch the entire world go by in that lens."
Mox is "one of the brightest guys in the county," according to County Attorney Tony Palumbo. County Commissioner Jim Kordiak marvels at the way Mox "wants to know how things work." At least one county official listened to Mox and wondered if his IQ was off the charts.
Yet, Mox would tell you he's just a modest guy trying to make a living -- except he's too modest to say so.
He said he was probably 5 years old when he took apart his first radio. He later built go-carts and collected bugs (never coins). And he'd stay up until 1 a.m. listening to radio stations that were broadcasting from cities hundreds of miles away.
But his grades rarely reflected his interests.
"I had a tough time in school," he said. "I didn't have any interest. I wouldn't say I was bored, but I didn't care for it."
Felt cut off
Mox, an only child until he was 10, grew up in then-rural Ramsey and felt geographically "cut off" from the community at large. His radio became his favorite companion. TV was OK -- especially watching Steve Allen or early-morning shows on Saturday. But radio was his true love.
His dad took apart radios while in the Navy. Mox, who wondered about things like harnessing solar power and "why we underutilize resources," found he shared his father's passion.
In fact, he followed his dad's seafaring footsteps to the Navy, enlisting after attending the University of Wisconsin-Stout and UW-Eau Claire.
"I enlisted," he said. "I had no choice. I lost my deferment when I went from college to technical school."
He didn't go to Vietnam. Other than one trip on a ferry, he says he was never even on a boat.
He went to Naples, Italy, for 3 1/2 years. It was there that he met his bride, Lina. Mox also lucked out with a dream job, working in electronics at a NATO radio site.
He came to Anoka County in 1976.
"He still remembers taking little glass tubes out of radios," Kordiak mused.
Keep it simple
Mox still might be doing that, if he had his way. He loves technology and gushes about the advances computers have made and their affect on society.
"I have a problem spelling and the computer constantly corrects me, which I love," he said. "The Internet is an explosion of knowledge and yet things have gotten so complicated.
"In college, we joked: 'Never make anything simple. Make it complicated and wonderful.' That, for better or worse, is what we're doing with computers."
Complicated? He says his favorite all-time toy was an Etch A Sketch. He still has an old bow saw, for cutting trees. He's hung on to his old computers and printers -- even though he hasn't used them in years.
"I have a plasma TV, but I'm not impressed with digital TV because I don't think it's as good," he said. "Why do we digitize everything? When you hear a violin play, you're hearing waves of analog sound. Why try to change that?"
Mox, now a grandfather and ham radio operator who is a lifetime member of the Anoka County Radio Club, says he's happy.
"I'm grateful I took the advice of my parents, who said, 'Don't get greedy. Don't be concerned about looking over that fence. Live frugally.'"
Mox plans to work at least a few more years. Then the Navy man who never traveled the seas hopes to retire and build a boat.
"I'm a manager who would be happiest just doing repairs," he explained.
"I don't necessarily want to float a boat. I just want to build one."
Paul Levy • 612-673-4419