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Cell Hell Phone Fun

Or, How I finally caved in.

12:00 AM, Sep 15, 2006 • By LARRY MILLER
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I HATE CELL PHONES.

Well, hate is probably too strong a word.

No, it's not. I hate them.

I know they've become as essential for all of us as deodorant and bottled water, and that without our phones, we would all sit very still for half a minute or so, then begin drumming our fingers, then roll our necks a couple of times, take a deep breath in and out, quietly whistle a bar or two of "Arriverderci, Roma," then suddenly vault up, screaming, and dive out the nearest tenth story window.

The ones who astonish me are the people who wear hidden, hearing-aid-sized models and strut down the street yakking to no one and looking for all the world like escaped mental patients. (By the way, do we even have mental patients who escape anymore? If so, do guards in all-white uniforms still chase them down with butterfly nets? You know, where by the time they catch the guy he's already talked himself into being the head of Ford or something? And everyone's shocked to find out he was just crazy? On the other hand, maybe that explains why they made a car called the "Probe.")

No, sadly, I think, the only Americans who used to walk up and down the street talking to themselves were lunatics, and actors auditioning for parts. (Take a minute to make your own jokes on that one.) They've both been overwhelmingly shunted aside by hard-charging junior executives and party-planners with cell phones who don't know--or don't care--that talking loudly in public is rude, and makes the yakker look stupid.

Sometimes when a junior something-trader gets onto an elevator talking animatedly into his phone about his next big deal (no doubt talking to another guy somewhere in another elevator who's speaking just as loudly; probably in the same hotel)--and only if it's just the two of us, mind you--I'll suddenly start singing something right behind him, like, "He don't love you--and he never will!--like I love you . . . " The louder the guy gets, the louder I get, until he finally turns, and I say, "Oh, I'm sorry, was my singing too loudly interfering with your speaking too loudly?"

It will never chasten the pinhead (they're bulletproof), but, on the plus side, you only have a few more floors to go.

Well, the reason I'm bringing this up is that I finally got one last Friday. I've had them before, but I keep losing them. I've had three, actually. The first I got a few years ago, when they were still as big as pints of milk. That one lasted a few months, and I took it to a job somewhere (Calgary, if I remember) for a few weeks. I think I left it at Lake Louise. Or a bar.

The second one I had a little longer, and dropped it (seriously) into a cup of coffee in a trailer on a set. To show you how stupid I am, I fished the thing out and dried it off, and put in the sun, open, to dry even more, trying to turn it on later in the day every half hour or so. I didn't know, until one of the production assistants saw me and gently explained (with a look of astonishment on her face), that once the thing is immersed completely in a large, Sumatran Breakfast Blend, it's not a phone anymore, and can never be one again. The liquid kills it, and it is, now and forevermore, just a hunk of matter with a hinge. You might as well put a rock up to your ear and talk into it.

Ah, well.

The third, the last one, I had for, I don't know, eight months, a year, and left on another set. I think. No, I did. I know I had the thing that morning on the way to work, and I looked for it (a little; very little), but didn't have it on the way home. Yeah, that was it. Maybe at the snack table. I don't know.

And that's where it stayed till last week. I was without a phone for six months, and the happiest guy in the world. My wife kept saying, "Okay, you have to get another phone." And she's right, too: Sometimes the Little League game was rescheduled, or someone needed to be picked up. And I'd come strolling in like a happy hobo after she'd spent three hours trying to track me down.

Perhaps you can picture how pleasant the next three hours were.

The point is, like so many things, the toothpaste cannot be put back into the tube, and our lives are already changed, and we're all prisoners. How did Little League games get played before cell phones? I don't know. Maybe there were none.

But I kept forgetting to get one. (Or resisting.) Then, last Friday, I was getting ready to go to Toronto for a few days, one of the most beautiful cities in the world, when someone I'm married to and someone I work with both called within the same 10 minutes to tell me I just plain had to get a cell phone before leaving, to not even dare to think about arguing, and how, come to think of it, it would probably be best to do it "that day, that morning, that minute. In fact, now. Get up now." It was like an intervention. "Larry, we love you, but this can't go on."

Well, you know the old saying: If ten men tell you you need a cell phone, you'd better lie down. I stopped off at the local store, where they're always puzzled to see me, but never shocked, and when the guy (David, a very smart and polite young man) said, "Do you have any idea the kind of--", I cut him off with a smile and a raised hand and said, "Which one do you carry?" He went in the back, grabbed all the stuff, pulled up my record, changed what needed to be changed, and I was on my way. He even set up the voicemail, too, which I'd never even bothered to do on the others. (Guess who told me to make sure I did that.)

David and I even got to share a guy thing at the counter, and both followed a shatteringly well-made debutante out with our eyes as she deliberately sashayed through the store swaying her new phone. She and David were about the same age, and he muttered, "Wow," and I said, "I wonder what her roaming charges are?" He looked back at me nervously to see if the moment we had was okay, and I smiled and said, "Hey, I'm out of the game, but I still coach."

I had enough time to go home and wait for everyone while I packed, and then looked at all the phone attachments in the bag on the bed.

And the strangest thing happened.

I liked it. I took it out, held it in my hand, and liked it. I liked the heft of it, and I liked the look of it. I liked the lights when I opened it. Even the volume seemed about right. Even the goofy music as it turned on made me smile. Not too long, not too loud, not too anything. Hey. Whaddya know. I even called my wife for the first call. She was coming up the block, in fact, right then, even as we spoke, and would be walking in the front door with the kids in just a couple of minutes, so I said, okay, honey, well, 'bye, I'll see you in . . . a couple of minutes. (Another essential use of these stupid things, by the way, but let's not start that again.)

And that's not all I liked. David threw in a leather-like case with plastic windows that are easy to press. And I really dug it! I put it on (myself!) in two shakes of a lamb's tail and hefted it again. (Without the instructions, by the way. I just slipped it right on, the first time, and no mistakes. How about that? Okay, there were no instructions to begin with, since even a macaque would be able to do it. But still.)

And wait, there's more! There was another product, a plastic holster for the phone. The leather-ish case had a hard, round knob on the back that slides into the holster with a click, and the whole thing fastens right over your belt. And it can turn 360, but I don't think I need that. I was so thrilled I quickly called The Divine Mrs. M. back--even though she was less than 50 feet from the house--to tell her. A case and a holster, honey, and it snaps right onto your belt!

I started to say goodbye again, but she said, "Wait, a what? A case? Your belt? Oh, uh, you don't need to do that. Just, you know, carry it." But I said, "No, that's what I hate, I don't want to carry it, it's too much trouble. This way, you can walk around everywhere and have it, and not worry about it, and never lose it. Hands free. It's always right there!" I heard the garage door opening, so I signed off after saying, "Let's take the kids out for dinner!" I think she started to say something else, but I wasn't sure.

I had just enough time to snap it back on, and admire myself in the mirror, when she came into the room apprehensively. I turned around, fully, slowly, arms held out with a giant grin, and faced her and said, "What do you think?"

"You look like a Xerox salesman." She was distressed, but I was too far gone to notice.

"I know," I said, "Isn't it great?"

WE WENT TO OUR FAVORITE PIZZA PLACE, and someone we both know from work was just leaving with her kids, and she said hello, and then said, "So, Larry, I heard you're going to Toronto. That'll be cool, huh?"

And I said, "Yeah, yeah, hey, check this out. I got a new phone. And look, it goes right on your belt." Her smile froze and she glanced at The Divine Mrs. M., who just shook her head and said, "I'll call you tomorrow."

And the owner and his wife, heavyset people from Italy in their 60s, came up and yelled, "Hallo, Millers! Hallo, boys!" and hugged everyone, and took us to a table, and I showed his wife the phone and how it snaps on and off, and even her professionally cheerful face cracked a little before she shuffled away, saying, "I'll start your salad." Well, for the next hour you've never seen more smiles drop faster in your life. Friends, waiters, bartenders. But I was digging that phone so much it was unbelievable.

I wore it on the plane (turned off, of course) and kept looking around to see if anyone else had one. No one did. Hmmph. Don't they know how to live?

I couldn't stop looking at it in the hotel, too. Last thing at night, first thing in the morning. Isn't that silly? On the last day there I turned it on and opened it up to check the time when I woke up--even though I obviously knew the exact time, because I'd just had a wake-up call and the night table had a clock radio and my watch on it anyway--but that didn't matter, and I giggled when it came on with the song. Let 'em laugh. It's a free country. I like what I like, and I change my mind when I feel like it. Maybe I'll even read the manual with this one, find out what all those symbols mean. Ooh, there it goes. Hee-hee. I even dig the printing style! Look at that. Monday, September 11, 7:15 a.--

Then it was my turn for a smile to freeze. Monday, September 11. I had spent two days without TV; had never picked up a paper. Monday, September 11. You remember. The day Jeff Goldflam and three thousand others were pulverized into a dust so fine they were breathed in by the people trying to rescue them. Hey, buddy, is your phone on? What's today's date? I'm sorry, what? Today? Oh. Monday, September 11. I just . . .

Remembered.

Edge of the bed, cup of coffee, drapes still closed, blue light of the news. Why don't they show those tapes more? I think we need it. Shattering. This side, that side. Impossible to accept.

In the car to the airport, the driver says, "Here in Toronto, they caught a lot of guys trying to blow things up. Maybe you didn't hear about it in the States." But I did. "Good thing you're getting to the airport early. September 11, you know. Five years." Yes.

I DON'T EXPECT to have this cell phone in five years. I've never held onto anything that long. Even with the holder. Too many cups of coffee in five years to drop it in. Too many bars to leave it in.

Will we remember September 11 then? Of course. The relatives first, the rescuers second. The cell phone wearers third.

I wonder if we'll have any other horrors to remember.

Larry Miller is a contributing humorist to The Daily Standard and a writer, actor, and comedian living in Los Angeles. His book, Spoiled Rotten America: Outrages of Everyday Life, will be published in October by Regan Books, and his website can be found at LarryMillerHumor.com.