Showing posts with label Cell Phones. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cell Phones. Show all posts

Monday, June 2, 2008

Yes, I bought a damn cell phone

I long refused to get a cell phone and preferred rather to rage at the yakking philistines who couldn't stand silence in public places like bus stops or airline terminals, nor be bothered to bring a book or a magazine with them if they knew they might be alone at some period in the day, between stations, with no one to confirm how bitchen they were. It was a satisfying arrangement; overworked and underpaid and yet with so much unfulfilled promise that I could barely speak when my anger welled up like some dystopic stew blowing off the oppressive lid, my contempt for cell phones and the tech-addicted jerks who diluted the language with the odious devices was just the thing one needed to get a psychic leg up in the world.

I was smarter, I was old school, I revered books and the words printed on them by great writers who took their mission seriously, I cherished meditative quiet and loathed boorishness, I was a man of the ages (or at least the Seventies), I was an arrogant jerk. Arrogant and a jerk, yes, but it fed my ego, made up for whatever perceived failures I might have brooded over and over as the years wore on. The thinking was that for all the shortcomings and defects of character and amends that have been a part of my story, and for all the spasmodic awkwardness of getting my life back together, I at least had integrity and maintained a standard of using words carefully. I spoke only when I had things to say, and that I wouldn't indulge in an appliance that would, for a fee, indulge the prolix demon that lay dormant inside me. I had a home phone with an answering machine, and I would well wait until the end of the day to listen to who wanted to speak to me and why; if I needed to make a call en route somewhere, I could always use a pay phone.

Always use a payphone. Things change incomprehensibly when you're not paying attention, and came the time I needed to make one of those calls from a pay phone, none was to be had. There used to be two pay phones at the gas station next to the bus stop where I catch my bus to work. One morning, I needed to call and tell them that the bus was running late. I turned to where the phones were and noted that one had been missing, and the other had a smashed receiver dangling from the end of the phone cord. It would have made a great photo urban reality, an example of all the shiny things of the recent past becoming obsolete, smashed, useless and lacking even design virtues for one to consider in self-satisfied repose. Or maybe it was self-deluded repose.

All the integrity and class and hard won soulfulness I assumed I'd garnered by refusing on principle to be reachable virtually anywhere, at anytime, benefited me not at all. I stood there in the familiar raging powerlessness, staring where there used to be two perfectly operating phones. It was all I could manage not to fall into that abyss that seemed to suddenly appear just below my belt line, a gaping chasm of nothingness and undirected Being. It was dread, nausea, the whole anxious existential moment Kierkegaard fretted about with such vituperative relish. All this to say that I was annoyed unto death that I couldn't make a phone call when I needed to with the pay phones that were formally available with an Eden-like convenience. One ought not to have been surprised, or feigned the indignation of being caught short, as I had noticed the shells of old payphone booths dotting the city blocks from the lower to the higher economic sections of the city; gas stations, 7-11 stores, strip malls were having the pay phones removed, leaving an acceptable scarring on the building sides where they formally waited to be used, abused, bashed with hammers and spray-painted with gang graffiti. Like some of us, I never considered the world to change this close to the route I take to and from work every day. There was sufficient warning, my senses were not addled, I wasn't unaware of what would need to be done sooner or later. Sooner, though, comes sooner than you think.Meanwhile, a mixed clutch of exchange students drifted toward the curb as the wayward bus finally emerged in the horizon. It then approached the red painted curb, every other one of them rambling with a dead pan earnestness in the narrative tongue into cell phones wedged between shoulder and tilted head while they fumbled for bus passes or exact change. Doubtless, whoever these folks were talking to knew when their phone mates would arrive, and how to reach their party if they didn't show.

So, there I was, in downtown San Diego, entering a cell phone vendor's storefront as a newcomer. A salesman with a name tag reading “Jesus” offered an inquiring hello. I swallowed what small portions of pride I had left and told him my dilemma;

“I need a phone, and I need a plan”.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Don DeLillo, Cell Phones, The Destruction of Irony

A week ago, after work, on a crosstown bus, and all I wanted for the half hour ride was to read the galley of the new Don DeLillo novel, Falling Man,a ruminative narrative highlighting the lives of New Yorkers on the day of the attacks, 9/11. Finally, a novel about the attack that matters; not to give too much away, but this is prime DeLillo, exploring the sober side of what was White Noise's premise for post modern comedy, the disruption of fixed and certain lives by the intrusion of an event beyond imagination. 

In White Noise, the effect was comic, funny, and all ironies laid in the day were comedies of the clueless trying to make peace with the nagging changes that cause everyone to avoid the void as they try to retool old habits with new explanations, theories, contrived proofs that the world will return to normal. Now it's tragedy, and the quality of irony finds itself made ironical.The attack on the World Trade Center puts us beyond abstractions like comedy or tragedy , on which one can grasp onto something fixed in their minds as a normality they can get back to. All is muted, rendered mute.Rationalization is deferred.

So what I wanted to do in this thirty minutes was to swim in DeLillo's brilliant prose and wallow in my own abstract and unconnected intellections, vaguely aware of neon signs and street lights going past, when my own sallow pleasure was deferred, tipped over by a growing sound, beginning in consciousness as a mild buzz, a gentle irritant, but which now had increased in volume, length and grating persistence that it could no longer be ignored.A girl, twenty, yakking away in the back of the bus, at full volume. I was sitting in the front of the bus, but I could hear every word clearly. I might as well been listening from a across a Starbuck's table." --so Jenny says to me that Brad is a creep and has issues and such bullshit that makes him flake and bail on phone calls he was supposed to return or money he had to pay back, and told me too that going out with him was a bad idea, mega bad, but I said to Jenny that she could cool her jets and let me find out for myself because all that shit about Brad fucking Zoe is nothing I don't know about already and ---"
A breathless gush , a river of seamless nouns and adjectives, accelerated in tempo and announced to the entire bus in a pitch that resembled the high strung whine of apartment house plumbing when someone takes a shower; her voice was less appealing than a six year old with a bullhorn. I rose and asked her to lower her voice. She stopped talking."Your talking about stuff that's too personal for 
public consumption. We don't want to participate in your conversation..." Christ, I sounded like a goddamned old man, older than my father ever sounded when he chastised me for unctuous behavior in public. But I am an old man, truth be told, fifty four , almost fifty five, and convinced that I've lived long enough to not have to put up with this mindless inconsideration. Of course, I was talking to a nineteen year old girl, and not some muscled loud mouth male, or a crack head trying to score a fix. Big man. Still, let it be known.


Of course, I calmed down. Not good for the blood pressure to fume about the small stuff. But the irritation lingers, it's not likely to subside, and what makes matters really aggravating is my awareness that I'll have to , at some time, get a cell phone.

I oppose cell phone use commercial airlines and applaud the FAA's refusal to allow them to be used. It's not right to force people to listen to chatter junkies prate on and on when one hasn't the option to move to a quieter spot. Cell phone users driving cars, in check out lines, in theaters, in bookstores, in cafes must all be quiet. "Social conventions" have yet to emerge as something we apply to cell phones. If there is a "given" about the devices, it's that owners assume they have a right, mandated from God, to use their phones where ever they choose to discuss whatever they like, making life in the city all that less delightful. San Diego, New York, Chicago, Detroit, folks flip them open, prate about their affairs no matter how inane or personal or private--I had to listen to a psychiatrist wax to a colleague about a patient, name and everything, about a patient's difficulties and the treatments he wasn't responding to in the middle while in the middle of a crowded bookstore. So much for doctor/patient privilege. Really, social conventions, such as tact,respect for your fellows, holding a civil tongue in public, are dismantled and discarded when cell phones enter the picture. I don't regard the use of a cell as an unconditional civil right and would encourage Airlines to simply ban them outright, on the principle that paying that kind of money ought not be a buy-in to listening to yammering neurotics whose company I cannot leave until the plane touches down. Or when my bus comes to my stop.