Can You Hear Me Now?

Most of my toys were stolen from storage while I was away: laptop, cellphone, Palm organizer, digital camera, jewelry, journals, and CDs. More were stolen from my backpack while traveling, or worse, misplaced, like my Buddhist paraphenalia, by the guardians in whose care I’d left them.

I can finally laugh at how cross I was to learn that my meditation cushions and little altar were thrown out by the friend who had asked for them as a keepsake. A bodhisattva he was, the careless fecker, slicing through my spiritual materialism. These weren’t just cushions, you see, in spite of their kapok-and-cotton manifestation. They were zabuton, and they were fifty bucks apiece. Hand-stitched by chanting monks and stuffed with their shaven hair, I suppose. I had bought them from a special website three years ago, when I was bent on following the upper-middle way. Now I sit on the floor in my lower-middle neighborhood, and brood about attachment. Mine.

Of all the things I lost, I miss the cellphone least. I used to design software for cellphones, so they feel like work, and now that I pay my own way the billing plans confuse and worry me. You would think I’d like phones, given that their main function is to put off decisions, but that’s cancelled out by the multiple calls that every meeting now requires.

Sadly, these days I’m too rarely untethered to need a cellphone. I’m on my fifth startup, and startups don’t change. That means I’ve spent the summer at a desk, Sundays too, or at my volunteer gig for a change of desk. So it was last Friday when I finally missed having a phone. My friend Amy had asked me to a showing of Spike Lee’s _25th Hour_ under the Brooklyn Bridge. I met Amy in Mexico last year, and she is one of my favorite Brooklyn people, the kind that always has a scheme for something to do. But I live online and she lives on the phone, and so our arrangements to meet can be awkward.

The movie started just after sunset and I was late when they valet-parked my bike. No Amy. I searched the park for a small woman with two deck-chairs and couldn’t see her. I did bump into Michael, whom I’d hired some years ago to work on cellphone applications with me. I knew I could count on him to lend me a phone, but didn’t want him to think his old boss had hit the skids. So I nosed around again during the opening credits, squinting in the dusk as Edward Norton did something with a dog a few blocks from the same park. Finally I sat on the grass by myself.

After the film I stood at the back and scanned every face leaving, but there was still no sign of Amy. I collected my bike, and wandered around DUMBO(Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass) looking for a payphone. But DUMBO is one of those fake neighborhoods where people pay huge sums to live in old factories, and there are no payphones and no bodegas. Eventually, I biked up to her apartment in Brooklyn Heights, sure by now that she’d suffered a terrible accident and was lying on the bathroom floor while I’d watched Edward Norton for two hours.

Amy answered the door in her pyjamas. She’d given up on me and left an hour into the movie to go home to _The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime._
“What did we do before cellphones?” she said sleepily.

Well, we said more than “See you at the park.” We said “Let’s meet at the popcorn stand at twenty past eight.” But we’ve been trained out of these habits, and now we need our walkie-talkies.

5 thoughts on “Can You Hear Me Now?”

  1. Your screed reminds me of the time, about 6 years ago now, that a young lady, not more than 20 years old, walked into our office. She had a panic-stricken look on her face.

    What you must remember is, at that time, I lived and worked in Wawa, and cellular phone service was still several years away. (The townsite has it now, but there’s still nothing along the highway until you reach the Sault.)

    Anyway, this frightened looking lady was clutching a cell phone in her hand and said,”My cell phone’s not working!”

    “That’s right,” I said. “We’ve no cell service here. If it’s an emergency, you’re welcome to use our phone to call anywhere.”

    “But what if someone’s trying to call me?” she asked.

    “Well, I guess they’ll be unsuccessful,” I speculated, and repeated my offer of the use of our phone.

    She just shook her head, and left the office. I think I saw her driving down Broadway Avenue, out of town a few minutes later. I’ll never forget that “deer-in-the-headlights” look she had when she realized that her wireless connection was severed.


  2. Still no cell coverage anywhere here in Lake Superior Provincial Park, just a jog down the Trans-Canada Highway from Wawa. We like it that way. In the continental states, there’s not a single wilderness mountaintop where you can’t get at least two bars of signal; USNPS rangers despair of the constant telephone calls from hikers ordering in helicopter airlifts because they’ve lost the path for five minutes, or have bad blisters, or are about to run out of Trail Mix.

    – T


  3. I sympathize, Ranger Tim. I rather liked not being accessible by mobile phone. I must confess, however, that upon moving south last year, I did get one of the nefarious devices. With traffic and an appalling dearth of pay phones, the mobile variety seems well nigh essential. It has come in useful at times, but things were simpler in Wawa…..


  4. As an expat for the last few years, and now as a listless traveller, i’ve come to realize just how much the internet and cells have changed the way we plan. Like you say, it’s just the matter of a few words, but their inclusion or ommision has altered social interaction.

    Call him. With payphones being removed all aroudn the world, and highly vandalized before that, it’s hard to do.

    Plan in advance. We’ve been trained not to. I hate planning. The certainty of a text message once you’re there, the looking around for someone typing on their phone… it’s humorous, if it weren’t the way we live.

    I don’t know where it’s going, but being here, in Bangkok, with no cell (that works) makes me wonder what the world’s doing. And while i don’t need them, i’m not sure i’m any better off being oblivious.


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