When my smart-ish phone died on a Thursday, I had a full-on-princess-problem-anxiety-aneuyrsm. The Do Not Resuscitate App* that suddenly appeared on my nearly ancient iPhone 5 tipped me that it was time to secure hospice care.
Admittedly, I had been dancing with fire. My phone had lived a very full and rewarding life for nearly three whole years. So, it powered down one last time, without any last words, while still esconced in its Lifeproof case.
Feeling like winning the cheapest spouse in the house for once, I took that day to process my denial, which is my favorite step of all the steps in the Kubler-Ross death patent. My denial took the form of carrying my dead phone around with me for a whole day, as if it was my Acceptable Human passport.
My car became my office since my kid refuses to let me talk on the phone in her presence. So, driving to work has always been where I return and make calls. But this Thursday, now known as Day of the Dead Phone #1, not being able to gab with family or friends, not able to illegally text or Word With Friend someone at stoplights and freeway standstills, having to actually listen to the car radio as opposed to Rdio or a This American Life podcast, I was horrified at how much I automatically checked the still-deceased little fucker. I faced my saddest truth yet which was that my dead phone was my latest compulsive behavior/addiction- my new cigarette, caffeinated liquid, fingernail chewing, or negligent boyfriend.
The rest of that day resembled the 80s and 90s. I used other people’s landlines to check my voicemail. I checked my messages more than people left them, which brought me right back to the nineties, minus those blasted little pagers we all clipped to our belt loops or lost in our torn purse linings. I remembered how, back in Ye Olde Pager-Times, I never trusted mine, probably because I didn’t want to believe so many people weren’t calling me. So despite the alleged convenience of having a buzzing box let me know that I had zero messages, I still obsessively checked my voicemail on landlines. At least voicemail systems were automated by the 90’s, so I didn’t have to listen to a bored stranger tell me that he/she was positively, definitely sure I still didn’t have any messages.
Work was fine if a little lonely without my phone cheerfully informing me that there was nothing I really needed to know at that moment. My first Day of the Dead Phone commute home was so long and quiet I actually listened to NPR. I’d grown used to having a friend who could talk me all the way home from the Westside, where work lives, to the Eastside where I live. Simply listening to the tragic and horrific news is just tragic and horrific, to the point where I looked forward to Kajon Cermak’s party voice telling me just how stupid long it was going to take to get home.
In traffic, I wrote a note to myself on my hand to Google Kajon Cermak, the affable and always upbeat traffic lady of KCRW. I had to write a note using an actual pen on my hand like I did before I started texting memoes to myself. Since I couldn’t talk to an actual friend, I was beginning to think Kajon and I would be great at a bar with nothing but a pitcher of Cosmopolitans and a pack of Merits between us. Then I realized I was just mind-stalking the Kajon of the 1990s.
By bedtime my smart phone withdrawal shakes were simmering down, most likely because I was drooling all over my husband’s phone, just to inform everyone via email and Facebook and Message to not to call me. Not that anyone had.
Day of The Dead Phone #2 was a Friday. Denial fully exhausted, I went online to secure a Genius appointment. My phone withdrawal was easing up because my husband’s phone was ensconced in my sports bra-cleavage so I could check my voicemail messages… which were still zero.
Texts, emails and Messages really have replaced the telephony aspect of the smart phone to the degree that having to speak into an actual telephone is an antique practice only used by grandparents, telemarketers and robo-people running for political office.
To my immediate relief the nearest appointment was right now and far away. Car keys in hand, about to dash to Apple, my husband appeared, grim-faced, covered in car blood. He’d been up to his shoulders inside his car engine, something was hemorraghing and he couldn’t stitch it back together before the car bled out in our rented driveway. As he begged me to use my car to go to Auto Zone, we were down to one phone and one car in one minute.
Just then, one friend arrived to stay for the weekend. In all our loss of everyday conveniences, we forgot he was coming. Not a Facebook user, he had been texting me to make sure it was still okay to come, but shrugged, saying: ‘Nobody answers their phones anymore’. ‘Nobody answers dead phones’, I replied, sounding more Vincent Price-ish than intended. Then, Andrew returned from Auto Zone, where his critical-to-life car organ was out of stock until Tuesday.
And just like that, we had one car, one phone, and one bathroom. For almost three complete people. In other words, my life suddenly became so last century.
In the face of all this loss of privilege, my fears completely melted. Bravery meeting temerity, I nabbed a Genius Bar appointment for the following Tuesday. And knowing this meant four days without a phone, I was… proud of myself, which is the must disgusting thing I’ve ever typed. All we needed was a Time Warner cable outage to fully restore us to factory settings, or, more accurately, a pre-internet time. Happily, or sadly, that didn’t happen.
We decided it was going to be our 1970s weekend. Not like we had a choice. It was going to be just like childhood, but worse, because it’s harder to be cheerful knowing how much easier life (allegedly) is with all this crap, than cheerful because there’s no other way to live.
That Friday evening, Day of the Dead Phone #2, we drank and reminisced about life before (Steve) Jobs.
My sisters and I came of age in the 1970s. We didn’t have much. We had one phone that sporadically worked (on account of those pesky monthly bills), a TV sheathed in an iron lung of aluminum foil to properly locate a signal, a bruise colored beater of a car, and a mold-tolerant bathroom, always occupado, since we were a family of four women.
All that sharing and unalleviated proximity led to yelling and fighting and the occasional Dr. Scholl wooden sandal winged at a head. But, we were and remain a close-enough family. We survived what we didn’t have and weren’t ruined by what we did have. What we did have was a rode-hard-and-put-away-wet record player and a fat stack of records that allowed us to live in music.
We lived far from everything except the Atlantic Ocean, so we lived in the car. When we grew tired of WPLJ’s playlist, as in anything not Bruce Springsteen, Boz Scaggs, Elton John, Earth, Wind and Fire, Steely Dan, ELO, Fleetwood Mac, Tina Turner, Billy Joel, Jefferson Starship, Heart, Neil Young, Blondie, The Police, Stevie Wonder, Minnie Ripperton, Elvis Costello, The Eagles, Jackson Browne, Bob Seger, Yes, Peter Gabriel, Traffic, Linda Ronstadt, Michael Jackson, CSNY, The Clash– we made our own solution.
We took a tape recorder, prop the tiny plastic mike with a too short & overly curly cord up to the sagging fabric of the record player speaker. Then we’d place the record player needle on the spinnng record, then nod at a solemn sister crouched over the tape recorder, waiting to simultaneously deploy the PLAY and RECORD tabs in order to record the album onto blank cassette tapes.
A lot of patience was required to remain extremely quiet while taping an album. Since our living room doubled as recording booth, the phone would ring, the
dog might bark or one of us would start talking and then have to record the whole thing over again. Many times the cassette tape would run out before a song was over. God willing the cassette deck in the car would work, and if it didn’t, the tinny tape deck would come along and underscore our commute to our all girls Catholic school, which was about 30 miles each way. We consumed mass quantities of what today is considered classic rock or classic new wave or classic country-rock music.
The sheer effort and concentration that went into the making of mix-tapes to express every specific, monumental teenage feeling of love, loss and heart-heat was formidable. We’d hand-write long, messy tear stained letters to people we actually saw and we actually took the time to find a stamp and actually mail them. We found ways to get every errand done for everyone in the car in one endless car trip, and we all still talk to each other– or more accurately, we text/message/email each other frequently.
Our 2015 1970s weekend was almost fun. We had to think and plan and scheme every event, including bathroom breaks and shower times and we not only survived, we thrived because we had no choice but to talk to each other’s actual faces. We had to listen, think and actually use our brains to remember. Would I do it again? If I had to. Do I recommend it, and not from a lofty, high falutin’ place of how much more zen I am? Not at all. If you want, do it.
Did we rush back into our hot, steaming piles of busy lives once we got our extra phone, bathroom and car back? Abso-fucking-lutely.
It’s almost criminally easy to do stuff nowadays. Yet, despite the convenience of everything that currently matters commingling in one little smart-adjacent rectangle of glass, metal and rare earths, we scramble for time, earth, wind, fire and air.
* The Do Not Resuscitate App does not exist, but it should- to inform tech-dependent people that they best begin to save up for the next model of whatever they are slowly killing with daily usage.