Thursday, January 12, 2006
I left my cell phone home today.
I thought I had trained myself to the point where I wouldn't be able to walk out of my house with picking it up and clipping it on to my belt.
I figured I'd go three feet from the door and then my legs would whip around on their own and send me back inside. Don't leave home without it, indeed.
Today I went farther than three feet. In fact I was just taking my seat on the R train, watching the doors slide shut, when, oh, goddamnit, I realized I left the bastard home.
I did this a few months ago and I actually left the train station, wasting the fare, to retrieve my cell. I found a dollar in the street on the return trip, so I got a piece of my investment back.
It's not like I get that many calls on the thing. I can go days at a time without my cell making a peep and I have to check to see if I turned it on. (That's another problem I have with this thing.)
But I've grown used to touching the spot near my hip to see if it's still there; I take comfort in having that little black box pinned to my body like a new appendage. Today I kept reaching down to touch my cell and felt somehow diminished when it wasn't there.
I tried playing headshrinker, asking myself just why would you forget your cell phone? Are you avoiding responsibility? Do you secretly wish to avoid contact with family and friends? Or are you just a dimwit?
Great Moments in Cell Phone History
I was telling this to a man in the locker room of my health club this afternoon and he said he's only forgotten his cell phone twice in his life and both times they were on very important occassions.
"Oh," I said as I put my shoes on, "sounds like something's going on there."
It's so much easier to play Freud with someone else's psyche. And I didn't even charge the guy.
I think I may have been the dead last person on God's green earth to have gotten a cell phone.
For ages I maintained I didn't need one, that people who had them was just twits who blundered down the sidewalk bloviating into their cell phones about absolutely nothing at all. And I still believe that.
I kept a running tally of bizarre cell phone moments. Like the time I was on Bowling Green during my lunch break and there was this rather deranged woman walking by shrieking into her cell phone.
"Tell me why!" She screamed. "Tell me why I'm a fucked up person!"
Hmmm. Well, it's hard to put my finger on it, lady, but I think screeching obscenities in the middle of the street could be a factor.
Another time I walked into the men's room of a Barnes & Noble on E.86th Street. In an example of exquisite timing, I walked in just as a guy in the stall said, "hey, how's it going?"
"Why, just fine," I blurted, flattered that a stranger was being so friendly, but confused as to how he knew I was there.
But then he continued speaking and I realized he was on the cell while on the can. And from what I heard of the conversation, I see no reason why it couldn't have waited.
But the lack of easy access to a phone was getting on my nerves. I kept breaking dollar bills to make sure I had change at all times. I was constantly buying sugarless gum or the Daily News just to make change for the pay phone. The only ones using pay phones were me and the local drug dealers.
Reach Out and Touch Someone
Pay phones were my lifeline to home when I move to Stroudsburg, Pa. and then on to Waterbury, Conn. I remember my first day at the Pocono Record in Stroudsburg and I was driving out to cover a township meeting in the West End of the county.
I got a panic attack, convinced I couldn't do this job, certain I was going to fail. I pulled over to a phone booth on West Main Street and even though I was--allegedly--a grown man I called home and start wailing about my plight.
And way back in Brooklyn, my father said, "look, if you don't like it, just turn around and come back home right now."
I was touched by his concern, but somehow when he said that, I knew I couldn't just quit. Somedays I wish I had, since it was a really rotten place to work, but I'll always be glad I didn't give into my fears.
A similar thing happened in Waterbury a few years later. Again, I had a panic attack, again I was convinced I would fail, and again I was alone in a strange city. I didn't have a phone in my apartment yet, so I went to the bottom of Scott Road and called home on a pay phone.
I was a little calmer this time, but my dad still sensed my anxiety and he said "you know we love you, right?"
I started crying as he handed the phone off to my mother and she had to explain to him what was happening. When I left Waterbury, I should have uprooted that pay phone and kept it for myself. It was a family treasure.
Lately, though, I've been tired of being unreachable, sick of searching for a working pay phone. People would be looking all over for me and unless I phoned in and got them while they were home, I might as well have been living in a cave.
Last spring was the kicker. I got this awful part-time job, working at night in this boiler room office on Park Avenue South. I had to watch godawful TV shows and write these trivia questions for market research. I hated it.
I would go in on a Friday night and see people getting together at bars and restaurants, living like real humans. Me, I was just a nameless rat in front of a glowing screen. Since I was part-time, I had no phone, and I couldn't rely on people handling the company phone to pass along any messages I might get.
My dad is elderly now, not as able to comfort me as he once was. He needed to be watched so that if something went wrong, people could find me.
It was time to get a cell phone.
Quick, Watson, I need you!
I went to a local Verizon store in my neighborhood and looked for the simplest, cheapest model I could find. No cameras, no windshield wipers, no radar or rocket launchers, just give me a damn phone.
And no complicated plan that puts the theory of relativity to shame. I'm strictly pay as you go. I'm sure I could get a better deal, but I can't fathom these payment schemes, so I just treat the phone like a gas tank. When I'm get close to "E" I fill 'er up.
I had this weird feeling of caving in to a trend, but once I got my phone, I was ridiculously excited about it. Look at me, I've got a cell phone. Yeah, pal, you and everybody else on the planet including the homeless and people in mental institutions.
It took a while to get used to this thing ringing down near my groin. I kept forgetting I had it and then I'd jump whenever it went off, like I tripped a burglar alarm.
I remember walking down to that awful job (see above) and I was talking on the cell phone, like all the other twits in town, gabbing with my best buddy, who couldn't get over the fact that I had actually cracked down and got one these things.
"I can't believe it," he said. "I'm glad I'm sitting down."
Me, too. Apparently I was speaking too loudly that day, and he advised me to work on my cell phone speaking style. I think I've improved.
I Got You, Babe
So I joined the ranks of the terminally reachable. People could find me, I could find them--usually. It got a little strange over the summer, when my sister, my aunt, and a friend went up to Wave Hill in the Bronx and I got separated from the crowd.
I knew where they were and I was walking to catch up with them when my phone rang. It was my sister.
"Where are you?" She asked from about 200 feet away.
Gosh, remember the old days when people used to shout their business down the street? Could almost make you feel nostaligic.
Too late now. Cell phone technology is unstoppable. We've got people with the wireless headphones walking around now moving their lips like monks saying their evening prayers.
Since I constantly talk to myself and have pretty much given up trying to stop, I think I might get a fake set of headphones and then babble all the doo-dah day without anyone realizing I'm insane.
I came home tonight and immediately went for my cell phone, greeting it like a lost pet. No, there were no messages. And while I would be undressing for bed in a little while, I switched it on and clipped it to my belt where it's resting right now.
I may not get a call, I may not make a call. But my cell phone and I have been reunited and it feels so good.