Phone Home

It was like a taste test of spring this weekend. The cold is back today, but maybe I can live on the memories of one weekend. Fort Greene Park was idyllic, with all the snow melting and the kids and dogs running around. There are a lot of kids and dogs in this neighborhood. Also there are a lot of cell phones. When I was sitting on a bench noticing the flower buds and contemplating the nature of change, a woman 10 feet to my left was asking someone to e-mail her a resume to her work account, and a man directly behind me was recounting last night’s bar hopping. Naturally the park is practically empty but these two see no problem with having their inane conversations a stone’s throw from an innocent loner depressive. Why is listening to one side of a cell phone conversation so horribly awfully annoying?

I don’t get annoyed at overhearing two humans in close range having a conversation near me. Actually I mostly like it since eavesdropping on strangers is one of my favorite activities, until they annoy me of course. But take away one person and replace with a shiny plastic device and I start to shoot them dirty looks. Which they don’t notice of course because they are so oblivious to the actually existing world. Maybe that’s the thing. The second one puts a cell phone next to his head the entire rest of the world disappears. Shouting gossip about Sam five feet from uninterested strangers is acceptable behavior.

I should disclose now that I currently don’t own a cell phone. It’s a hard thing to explain to most people. Depending on how much I want them to know about me I either say it’s a moral, practical, or financial decision. Of course it’s sort of a combo. Originally it was purely financial. When I left for Paris I sold my trusty Sprint flip phone since it didn’t speak French or have a work permit. I got a cute and cheap GMS phone my first week in Paris after possibly the most convoluted and painful retail exchange in history. But the little red Alcatel served me well. I used these refillable cards which were amazingly handy for avoiding ten page legal contracts and talking excessively. When I came back to New York the Alcatel didn’t work and I put off getting a new one since I kept thinking I might leave the city. My standard explanation was that I just couldn’t commit right now. Plus I was always home so whatever.

But as the cell-phone-less months went by, I started noticing all the good parts about not having phone. Like not having to remember to shut it off when going to the movies or a concert lest you become everyone’s pet asshole. Like not perking up like trained monkey every time there’s a ringing noise in the vicinity. Like actually making plans with people instead of planning to call each other and then make plans. Like not checking the thing maniacally when you have plans to make plans and are in a crowded, loud or reception-questionable place. And of course not having to remember another number. It took me months to remember my new/old French one (but only a day to forget it entirely – odd).

So lately it became a practical moral type thing. Of course there are times when I miss the thing desperately. Like when I write down the address of a meeting place wrong. Or I want to do something with someone spontaneous. Actually the convenience of the phone that I miss the most is having all my phone numbers stored somewhere. Right now I’ve got a disintegrating little red book with things scrawled in no particular order, that I keep leaving at home no less. Last week when the AOL corporate jet to DC was delayed on the tarmac for two hours (that story is on it’s way), I asked my neighbor to borrow his phone to call and alert my appointments. He was incredulous. “I lost mine yesterday,” I added quickly. “Oh – Of course.”

Mostly I’m annoyed at having to apologize to everyone else for not having one. It seems to be more of an inconvenience for my friends than me. But I’m never the asshole in the park, or the asshole in the movie theater. It just cuts out a lot of opportunities to be annoying to strangers, which is a good thing. Like built in civic responsibility. Maybe it’s a platform for running for office?

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