Phone Your Friend (or, “Phone; Your Friend?”)

Well, if I called the wrong number, why did you answer the phone?” -James Thurber



In the battlefield of my mind, all army helmets look like turtle shells

There have been many phones over the course of my life.  I can count them all on one hand but the adventures we went through together are endless.  I was dragged kicking and screaming into the cellular age, and I am still wondering when one of the sides is going to win the conflict.

The first salvo was thrown in the form of a Samsung flip-phone.  This phone was forced upon me.  I have never seen myself as important enough to need a portable communication device.  However, as part of an upheaval at work, I was overruled.  As it was explained to me, it was desired that I be readily available “just in case”.

To ease the transition, the cost of the phone was covered by my boss and I was allowed to charge two-thirds of the monthly bill back to the company.  All that, and I was granted the request that I could keep my phone turned off on Sundays.  Honestly, it was a rather beneficial arrangement; even if it was hoisted upon me.

The phone itself was rather unassuming.  This was back in the days when small was the biggest selling point.  It did not matter that my coworker could not type in numbers on his phone without using the very tip of his fingernail.  He was proud that the battery was bigger than the phone itself, and that when the devil was all put together, it resembled a matchbox car.  Ah, the simpler times of early cellular phones.

My durable little Samsung was about the size of miniature computer mouse.  It fit neatly in a small pocket, and it survived a swim in Lake Washington.  For a first phone, it was benign.  That little guy was an excellent covert operative in the campaign to lull me into dropping my guard.

Then the RAZR marched in a set up camp in my life.  Now, I was not of the elite club.  I did not get my RAZR at the start when everyone else was getting theirs.  I believe I was invaded by the RAZR3.  When RAZR’s were starting to turn pink and everyone was starting to be drawn-in to the iPhone hype?  That was the time when I went “high-tech”.

Yes, this phone could take pictures!  Video too!  And the buttons were raised with glowing lines in-between so the whole keypad looked like an alien insect’s thorax.  Yes, with my RAZR (and the not-so impressive looking plastic case that hung loosely to it), I was ready to go.  800px-Motorola_RAZR_V3i_03I could now play Scrabble on my phone.  I could sneakily take pictures of my friends when they were drunk.  Later I would look at the low-resolution, poorly-lit images and shake my head.  I tried to remember which of my friends now resembled a dark smudge with the beer glass nearby.  The digital age had caught up with me and I was curious at what would come next.

Along came another Samsung product, the Glide.  (After the RAZR, it was nice having a phone that was named after an actual word.)  The Glide encompassed a higher-resolution camera, but it was an epic struggle to conquer it.

This phone was my introduction to commercial touch-screen technology.  I had used touch screen computers and registers, but never one so demanding.  Unlike the last two phones, this screen was uncovered.  Scratches and cracks were now an everyday threat.   No more could I defiantly slam the phone shut with a hinge.  No, I had to use up what could have been dramatic seconds to push my thumb to a button or a screen sector.  The only protective measure I could buy was a bulky rubber case.


brought to you courtesy of Wiki Commons. Specifically, these folks.

To my dismay, when I tried to take a photo my thumb had to go right in the corner, against the high ridges of the case, and try to tap that one little corner “just-so” where the button was located.  To say that the widescreen display and I had a hate-hate relationship is putting it mildly.  However the videos I played on my phone looked better, sounded better, and this phone had a slide-out keyboard!  Texting, by then a must-adopt form of technology, had never been easier.  The phone had a decent weight to it, like a grenade in my hand, waiting to explode.

After growing constantly weary of the bulk of the Glide (sliding keyboards take up valuable pocket space), I waited once again for my plan to expire.  Thus I met my latest attacker of my sanity, a smaller brand that goes by the name of… um… something.

The actual model is as forgettable as the company that sent it into battle.  I chose it because out of the three pages of phones my provider offered, it was the only one that was free and did not require an upgrade.  Despite all the glowing accolades my friends toss my way, I do not yearn for a smart phone.  The quickly-sapped battery, the fully-exposed screen, the double or tripling of one’s bill; it is not for me.

I would not say that this phone has been kind to me.  The receiver volume is far too low and I hunch over to hear what the other person is saying.  (I refuse to believe that this is old age setting in.  It cannot be.  The phone must be to blame.  It must!)  The camera is fine, the mini-keyboard is okay; it is, to sum it up, adequate.  I have a phone that I have no strong loyalty towards, and it clearly is plotting against me.

Why bring all this up?  Why relive a decade of phone usage and the quirks and trials we have quarreled over together?  Well, my biggest complaint about the most recent phones is actually something my provider has done.  At some point, “They” decided that my voice mail should be number one on my speed dial.  That was the cannon-shot that still resonates across the battlefield.

On my first two phones, my best friend was my number one speed dial setting.  I held down “1”, and soon I was directed to her inbox.  (Best friends understand when the other is too busy to answer.  Which for her, is always.)  She has always been number one. CELFGHT Ever since high school, long before “cellular” got shortened down to a four-letter word (in many, many ways), she was my comrade in arms.  She is the one I go to, the one who all “romantic possibilities” are judged against, and the one who knows all the dirt on me.

When a company turned combatant disregards that bond, they have committed a dishonorable affront.  “They” should be number two, not her!  Her birthday is tomorrow.  Can I really face her knowing that some group of satellite dishes and towers thinks she should be demoted the rank of number two?  (She might actually appreciate it.  If anyone likes a good “number two”, joke it’s her.  Potty humor; I tell ya.)

Still, I get my revenge.  The first call that I make when any phone is activated, the number that I have had memorized all this time?  It is her.  I call the best friend first, everybody else come later.  That is how it has been for almost twenty years, and that is how I like it.

Of course, in a cruel way of showing me I can only control so much in the cellular versus human conflict, the call inevitably goes to voice mail.

Put on Hold

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

Patience is a virtue; that means not everyone has it.” -Unknown

Put on Hold

Kevin sat in his small brick box, completely bored by his prospects.  This had been his life for the past five years.  In front of him were six gas pump units and behind him were six more.  He sat in his little glass aquarium, four windows allowing every customer to see any movement that he made.  Even when the weather was nice, the giant roof that encapsulated the gas station kept him from feeling any element of nature, be it rain or sunshine.  Over the years, he had contemplated quitting every single day.  The problem was that he needed to stay here or his life would never get better.

Many a time he had tried to explain the situation to people, but he never thought that anyone would believe him.  It had all started in the hospital.  Numerous wires and tubes had been running from his body to different machines and displays.  The morphine drip had been cut down drastically since the operation.  His face had been a beaten mess of purple hues and aching muscles.  But what had bothered him the most were his legs.  The formerly perfect limbs which Kevin had spent years enjoying were numb.  Every now and then a phantom feeling had shot out for his attention.  Yet, when he had reached to scratch his foot or turn his legs, he hadn’t felt a thing.

The semi-truck had done a ruthlessly efficient job.  Kevin had been crossing the intersection; the white-light man calmly had glowed to convince him that all was safe.  Halfway across, Kevin had noticed the truck.  It had honked and the driver had waved maniacally.  For the fleeting moments that Kevin had glanced inside the driver’s cab, and from the police report that came later, it had been clear that the driver had lost control.  The truck couldn’t have stopped.  Kevin tried to get out of the street in time, but he hadn’t a chance.  The semi barreled through the intersection and slammed into the front of a delivery truck with Kevin pinned in the middle.

Every time that a medical professional or friend had stopped into Kevin’s room, they had expressed that it was a miracle to be alive.  No one else would have survived being caught between those two massive vehicles.  He was supposed to feel blessed that he had somehow lived.  His legs, not surprisingly, were another matter.

If his legs had once been two strong oak trees, they were now more akin to sawdust.  From his hips to his ankles, every single bone had been broken.  As Kevin overheard one doctor tell a nurse, “There isn’t a single piece of bone left that’s bigger than my finger.”

Kevin had to admit that the doctors had done their best.  Eight surgeries in three months served as proof that they had tried to help.  Still, the result was inevitable.  Kevin was not going to be able to use his legs ever again.  Kevin had just begun to process that truth when he received a stranger.

At first Kevin had thought the man was the hospital psychiatrist.  He had been told to expect one since he had clearly been through a traumatic experience.  But nothing about this man seemed reassuring.  Every aspect of the man, from his bolo-tie to the canary resting on his shoulder, was just a bit off.  His brown hair had a little too much grease in it and his fingers had a few too many veins visible.  When the man went to shut the door, Kevin sat up taller in his hospital bed.  The man then closed the blinds on the window and sat on the side of Kevin’s bed.

Kevin ran through the scene every day since it had happened.  The man had heard about the accident.  The man had pushed against Kevin’s legs.  Kevin, of course, hadn’t felt a thing.  It was the man who had shaken his head at the limp legs and uttered things like, “such a shame” and “if only there was a way”.  The man had then gone on to suggest that he could help.  Before Kevin could ask what he meant, the man had reached up and pulled the canary down in his fist.  Kevin had been shocked as he watched the man snap the bird’s leg.  Kevin still remembered the rage and his attempt to snatch the bird away and pummel this man in the face.  But the man had stood up too fast.  He had told Kevin that, “Despite what you have heard, everything that has been broken can now be fixed.”

Kevin had watched as the man pulled a syringe from his pocket.  He had placed the bird, limping about in pain, on Kevin’s bed.  He had then injected the bird with a shot and pulled the leg into its correct position.  Kevin had lain on his bed, confused, as he saw it happen.  The bird had chirped, tested its leg on top of the hospital’s bed sheets, then it had hopped about merrily until it flew to Kevin’s lap.  Kevin had been speechless.

The man had presented his case rapidly.  Certain groups had new technologies at their disposal.  There were ways to get a body’s genetic material to rewrite itself.  The man called it a “rebooting”.  Kevin was promised that he could have his legs back.  Kevin had been trembling with excitement, yet he had been wary about the man’s ethics.  “You didn’t have to hurt the bird”, he had said with his jaw set firm in anger.  The man had only shrugged and said something about, “having to prove it worked”.

That was how Kevin found himself in this gas station, day after day.  The man had given him a phone.  It was a typical, out of date cellular phone, but it only had one button.  Kevin had been told that he was in charge of this phone.  The man had gotten Kevin a job as the gas station attendant, but his real responsibility was guarding the phone.  Kevin had been instructed that every once in a great while, certain individuals would come and ask for the specific phone.  The phone only dialed the people that the man represented.  The phone was the only one encrypted to dial the number, so it was paramount that the phone be available to those that needed it.  And, as the man had warned, if Kevin ever tried to dial the number himself, the car wreck would look like a walk in the park compared to what they would do to him.

Kevin thought about that meeting every day.  The phone sat underneath the keyboard of his register, constantly taunting him from out of sight.  Kevin felt his gaze falling to his wheelchair.  It was parked along the side wall of his booth since there was not enough room for it and the wall of cigarette packs.  Kevin constantly kept on an eye on the wheelchair partly because he didn’t want it stolen, and partly because it served as a reminder of why he was there.  Once in a while a couple of kids would try to steal his wheelchair, but so far Kevin had been able to scare them off.  What scared him was the thought of never getting his legs back.

Kevin wondered if the man could actually do what he had promised.  Maybe the bird had been some sort of trick; perhaps even a robot.  It wasn’t like Kevin had poked under the wing and examined the bird.  However, there had been two occasions that made Kevin believe the story he had been told.  Over the past five years, two different men had coming looking for the phone.  They had both run up, bleeding or worse, and demanded the phone.  Each time Kevin tried to point them towards the pay phone and each time they had shaken their heads.  “No”, they said with angry voices, “THE phone.”  Kevin had given them the phone and watched as they had run away yelling into the device.  One of the men looked like he had been shot in the chest and Kevin thought he had seen the other with a gun tucked into his belt.  The next day the man Kevin had met in the hospital had returned and handed Kevin a new phone.  He hadn’t said anything, hadn’t offered any answers, he had only dropped off the phone and walked away.  Kevin had banged on the window, had demanded to know how much longer he was supposed to be stuck in this tiny booth with his life on hold.  The man, no canary in tow, had walked away dismissing Kevin both times.

Kevin often considered his options.  He had sacrificed much for this lousy booth.  Weddings, dates, vacations; all had been put on hold as he had waited.  Maybe he should listen to all his friends and get fitted with prosthetics.  Kevin stiffened at the idea of losing his legs to two machines.  He wanted to run and jump again, but he didn’t want to lose half of his body to do it.  No matter how high-tech a machine was, it was still a chunk of foreign material to him.

More and more, the idea was growing on him.  Kevin was not made to sit in a tiny booth.  He was caught in the middle of some shady dealings that he had no control over.  He had no desire to be the operator that connected calls for some rather despicable individuals, no matter how important their “cause” was.  Kevin was tired of smelling like gasoline all day and every day.  He had long ago grown weary of selling cigarettes to people that were clearly addicted.  However, he wanted his legs back.

Kevin missed hiking.  He missed walking to work on nice days, “just because”.  How could he know when the man would decide Kevin had worked long enough?  What if the man decided to help Kevin out when he turned sixty and was no longer able to fully enjoy his legs?  How long was Kevin going to put his life on hold?  He didn’t know if he should have a little faith or if he needed to kick himself in the seat of his pants and get on with life.

Kevin wanted to be out in the world.  He didn’t want to be under the thumb of heartless thugs.  At the beginning of their arrangement, Kevin had been willing to wait.  That patience was eroding as Kevin considered all he was missing out on.  He started to think that when that third person eventually came for the phone, Kevin might not be there to hand it over.

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