Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Phone-Shaped Hole

I was sixteen years old when I got my first cell phone. The year was 2004, and I was a junior in high school. At the time it seemed like such an unnecessary luxury, as I was mostly using it to call my dad for rides home from track practice. Other uses included playing that snake game, browsing the default ringtones, and not receiving text messages.

I was given something like eight minutes of talk time each month, and had to use each second strategically.

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Nowadays, my relationship with my phone is one of codependency. I was recently thinking about how strange it is that my phone is never more than 10 feet from my person at any given moment. Strange in that I essentially have a robotic appendage, and that freaks me out when I think about it too hard. It’s become an extension of me.


And as my phone is as readily available to me as, say, my hand, or my nose - one would think that I’d treat it with the same care and respect as I do those actual flesh and bone meat bits. But I don’t. I love my phone, but I treat it poorly. If my phone were my lung, I’d be a chain smoker. If my phone were my liver, I’d do like Ke$ha and use whiskey as toothpaste. Is that too old of a reference?


I think the best way to illustrate this point is if I drag you through a miserable day in the life of my cell phone. From the buttcrack of dawn and onwards.

It starts with me sleeping, and my phone yelling at me to get up. Every evening I set my alarm, and every single morning I let it go for a while, turn it off, and sleep until my eyes open on their own.


When I finally get out of bed, I’ll peruse the Spotify app on my phone, pretending to look for some new music to listen to as I greet the day. In the end, I always go with a playlist that includes Taylor Swift, Mumford & Sons, Justin Bieber, and the songs that Jonathan Coulton wrote for Portal. Without fail.

I get lazy with music. I’ll find something that I really like, and I’ll run the wheels off of it. I try to hide this from people, along with the belief I have that Justin Bieber is a pop messiah. Especially the Bieber thing. I don’t let that one out of the bag. So don’t tell anyone, ok?


After I’ve exhausted the same eight tracks, I’ll have a burst of energy. I’ll tell myself that it’s a glorious day, and that I can do anything that I set my mind to. I’ll throw my windows open and greet 11:00am with arms outstretched. And then I’ll remember that it’s December and close the windows because Jesus CHRIST oh my GOD it’s cold.

Still riding the high, I’ll put on my sneakers and inform myself that I’m going for a run. My heart protests. I hate running. But if history tells us anything it’s that on any given evening I will consume upwards of four different types of cheese. So I run.

When I run, I carry my apartment key, my subway card (in case I have a fuck this moment and decide to hop on a train), and my phone so I can listen to music/podcasts while I grumble my way through four miles. On this particular day, I’ve gone to the trouble of putting on all my gear and psyching myself up - so when I stand at the threshold and see that it’s raining, I refuse to back down.


For a second, I think about my phone. Phones, like most electronics, don’t like to get wet. But instead of saying ok, maybe I run in silence today, I do this.


Because god forbid I go thirty-five minutes without mental stimulation.

The thing about saran wrap is that it’s effective only as long as you allow for zero points of entry. In my impatience to get this thing over with, I did a shoddy job of wrapping. The result was that once water got into the plastic cocoon, it stayed there. The exact opposite of its intended purpose.

During the run, the phone objects.

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When I finish the run, I tenderly unwrap my phone to find that water had somehow gotten under the screen. But it still works, so I high five myself.

It’s now noon, and I’ve got a good fourteen hours to go until I will consider going to sleep again. Bearing this in mind, I decide that it’s time to eat a lot of something. The goal is to negate the calories I just burned as quickly as humanly possible, and this means delivery.

I order takeout far too often. Objectively, I don’t do it that much. But for a girl who lives in the most expensive city in the country and whose salary is significantly less than what Beyonce sets aside for her yearly skin tone panty hose budget, one instance of takeout alone qualifies as “too often.” But I’ve become accustomed to a certain standard of living. Removing takeout from my life would be akin to removing insulin injections from a diabet I can’t even finish that sentence. Horrible analogy. Horrible.

The point is, I’ve made my phone an enabler, and it doesn’t like that. All I need to do is reach for my phone, open the app, and three taps later I’ve got corned beef hash, eggs, and french toast in transit. I’ve put my phone in an uncomfortable position, and it is racked with guilt.


After my feeding, I approach the part of the day where I try to be productive. I’ll work on freelance projects, on blog stuff, on anything really. As long as I sit at a table and don’t go on Reddit, it’s productivity.

My phone has already been through so much, and it’s not even 1:00 yet. While I work, it rests. For a fleeting moment, it believes that it might make it through the rest of the day without having to withstand any more abuse. But then I get bored with work, and make it play those eight songs again while I shower.


Six o’clock rolls around, and I’m getting restless. In an effort to get out of the apartment, I decide to go to a burrito place in Union Square that I like before meeting friends in Chinatown. I check for my keys, my wallet, my phone - and I’m out the door. Usually, the hallway outside of my apartment door is empty. There are only two apartments on the floor, and only seven apartments in the building. It’s rare that I run into neighbors. This is the leading cause of me not having relationships with my neighbors - it’s that, and also I’m terrible at meeting new people.

So when I open my door and see a young guy with a dog locking his door, there is simply nothing I can do but acknowledge that he exists. We’re standing three feet away from each other. We’ve lived that far apart for upwards of a year. We don’t know a thing about each other, including first names. We’re both cognizant of the fact that this is weird, and it seems addressing it is unavoidable. So we stand, and we talk, and I ask him what kind of dog it is, and he says he doesn’t know, and I say that I have a dog too, and he says oh really, and I say yeah well technically it’s my roommate’s dog, and he says oh, and I say but I feel like he’s my dog, and he says right, and we both want to die.


We’re both leaving our building. As we go down the stairs together, I start to panic about where this is going. What if we start walking in the same direction when we get outside? Am I expected to walk with this person indefinitely? What will we talk about? I’ve already used my best small talk moves, which include staring at the floor saying “so yeah!” and starting sentences with “full disclosure.”

I never do well under this sort of social pressure. I turn into a toddler. Once we get out the door, it becomes clear that we are, in fact, headed in the same direction. My immediate reaction is to jog across the street, as I just couldn’t bear the thought of fumbling my way through a minute more of stranger conversation. But as I get to the curb, I have a moment of clarity and remember one social grace that many people adhere to - saying goodbye.

It all happens at once. With my back to him, I decide to say goodbye, and the word shoots out of my mouth as I abruptly turn to face him. My arm was not informed that this would be happening, so to compensate, my hand is thrown into an awkward wave. That hand is holding my cell phone.

It takes an eternity for the thing to arc and start its descent. We both watch it fall.


Knowing what I’m going to see when I pick it up off the ground, I look to the guy as if he might be able to offer some solution, or time travel options. He’s got nothing.

I pick it up, and the screen is cracked to shit. I make a mental note to remember this horrible moment - a moment caused by my crippling awkwardness - whenever I look at my busted screen. As punishment.

I’m done with this interaction. The guy continues to stand there apologetically as I walk away, my head hung in shame. I speedwalk the four blocks to the R train, and on the platform, I further examine the damage. “It’s definitely cracked,” I say to no one. “Yep, I definitely cracked it.”

Despite the water under the screen and the blunt force trauma, my phone is still fully functional. And since I’m waiting for a train, I decide to explore the dozens of apps I have to pass the time. Games, news, social media, an app that turns the phone into an ocarina - I’ve got a huge selection. A world of information and entertainment, at my fingertips. And I choose an outdated version of solitaire.

You’re asking yourself two questions right now. 1.) Kristin, why are you playing solitaire when there are so many other application options? Why limit yourself to the world’s most boring and least dynamic game when you could be filling your brain with the New York Times?


And the second question you have for me - 2.) If you insist on playing this useless game, why are you using an outdated version?


The worry I have about losing my high scores if I update is greater than the urge to use a playable version. As if having won 3-draw solitaire in 90 moves is something I’d want to share with my grandchildren. This is my cross to bear. My lot in life. I’m an idiot.

My phone is sick of it.


So the R train finally comes, and I continue an impressive losing streak all the way to Union Square. That’s about a thirty-five minute ride. My phone is ready and willing to throw itself onto the subway tracks as I exit the train - if only it had a central nervous system.

I’m not unfamiliar with Union Square. In fact, of all the areas in Manhattan, I probably know Union Square best. I work in the area. That being said, I’ve surfaced from underground, and I have no idea where I am. I’m in Union Square, yeah, but I used an unfamiliar subway exit, and even though I’m probably 30 feet from what I know, I’m as lost as an idiot puppy.


The logical thing to do in this situation would be to take a moment, look in a few different directions, maybe walk a few feet, and locate a landmark that rings a bell. Instead I panic and go right to the maps app on my phone.


The phone’s anger ebbs, and turns into pity. Pity that a human who has lived for a quarter of a century can’t get to a destination 322 feet away without electronic assistance but can give a full character run-down on each Real Housewife of Beverly Hills.

I hit Dos Toros hard. One enormous burrito later, I make my way south, towards Chinatown, where I’ll be meeting friends for drinks. As I approach a crosswalk, I notice what looks like a fresh pile of vomit next to a trash can. At first I am repulsed. But the thing about having a lifelong fear of vomiting is that the phobia also doubles as a fascination. As long as it didn’t come from my stomach, I’ll stare into the depths of this food smoothie all afternoon.


And then I’ll decide that it needs to be remembered forever.

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I locate my friends in a bar where you can pay $3 for a PBR and a whiskey shot, but the trade-off is that you have to overlook certain quirks like “pest problems” and “sharp object-wielders.”

Whiskey is a powerful substance. A small amount of it will send me well on my way to giggletown. Sometimes, when I get in a drunk groove, I’ll have flashes of things that I think are funny or worth remembering. This happens when I’m sober, too - and the result is that the notes app in my phone is filled with both coherent thoughts and complete nonsense. Grocery lists and relevant addresses are punctuated with phrases like:

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As the night progresses, I certainly don’t get less drunk. That’s delicate enough. I don’t get less drunk.

I can say with confidence that this next part has only happened to me once. It happened once, and it will never happen again. Of all the things I put my phone through, this was by far the worst.

I remember having a wonderful time. I remember celebrating the birthday of someone who I may or may not have met before. I remember eating breakfast foods. I remember getting in an argument about whether The Wonder Years was set in the 60s and shot in the 80s, or vice versa. I remember getting in a cab with my roommate and nodding off on the way back to my apartment. I remember eating a bowl of Honey Bunches of Oats over the sink. I remember the conscious decision I made to sleep in my jeans, as the effort involved in changing into pajamas seemed absurd and irresponsible.

I remember waking up and immediately knowing what I had done. Even though I knew I wouldn’t find it, I turned my bag upside-down and tore through the familiar items. Not one of them resembled my cell phone.

Stolen. Someone stole it. Granted, I probably left it alone on a bar or in a cab or on the back of a toilet - but the point is - I had it before, and I didn’t now. I felt empty. Hollow. There was a phone-shaped hole in my heart.


Sometimes I’ll think about the phone thief - a twenty-seven year old guy named Steve I invented - and wonder what he thought of the girl who stored pictures of vomit and wrote stupid notes and ran in the rain and spiked her phone on the pavement. Maybe he’ll treat the poor thing with more respect. Maybe this is for the best. Maybe I should give up and get one of those indestructible senior citizen flip phones with the huge buttons.


Then I’ll think about the last thing I googled, and everything’s funny again.

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