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The Things I'd Call My Cell Phone…If Only I Could!

Always trust your instincts. So I was admonished through years of acting classes. So Regis Philbin once advised contestants on Who Wants To Be A Millionnaire. Hmm, come to think of it, maybe it's the latter of these examples that convinced me to deviate from mine. I mean, when I start seriously considering advice from game show hosts I'll really start worrying about my level of insanity -- and I'm not talking about insanity of the positive artistic kind.

But anyway, the point is I instinctively hate cell phones. I don't know if it's the annoyance of driving behind motorists too intent on the object attached to their ears to notice objects like cars and red lights on the highway or if it's simply the fact that they've always represented to me the tangible embodiment of pretension. Come on, how many people really need one in the course of everyday life? And as far as having one in case of an emergency, well, there are still those antiquated devices known as payphones kicking around. And, yes, I have tried to get one of those to work so I hear the objections you're shouting at me about now, but that's a different story for another essay.

Back to this one, however, the bottom line is I just somehow knew from my instincts that cell phones were evil. And although all of us as humans do find certain evils tempting, I have long prided myself (obviously forgetting that pride is itself an evil) on the certainty that a cell phone would never become one of them.

Ah well, as the saying goes, "never say never". Because sure enough, once you do you'll find yourself suddenly faced with a frowning friend whose ride seems to have left without him, and who subsequently can't believe that you, his trusted ally, has the audacity to not be carrying a cell phone in his time of need.

It's amazing how strongly a frowning friend can weaken one's resolve. Because somehow that's all it took to make my wall of cell phone resistance begin to crumble. And then, as fate would have it, wouldn't you know that only a few days later I found precisely such a hated object along a busy highway near my place of work. Unable to track down its owner, I was therefore left to stare at this vile piece of equipment for so long that its malevolent nature, so palpable at first, began to abate. Soon I found it actually beckoning me with an almost piteous tone reflective of its orphaned state. "Pick me up," it said. "Hold me. I don't bite. I'm harmless. Truly."

Indeed the devil does too often appear as an angel of light.

But then again, so do birthdays. And with one of these at the time fast approaching, wouldn't you know I found my once beautifully strong wall of resistance toppled even further by this very timely excuse to buy myself a "gift -- even though a warning voice nagged inside my brain, "It's more blessed to give than to receive." In other words, whenever involvement in any gift-giving practice makes one both the giver and recipient, it's pretty certain that one is in for a mixed blessing. Sometimes I hate being right.

Be that as it may, having opened the door the tiniest crack to the possibility that cell phones might not be quite as evil as I'd once thought after all, I soon found myself at Radio Shack, charge card in hand, my wall of resistance now a mere pile of dust further soiling the bristly commercial carpet on which I stood.

And, of course, I justified my action as so many other once self-righteous cell phone junkies before me. "I might get a flat tire along a deserted road someday." "Someone I love might get 'stuck in a moment' that only I can help them out of -- which means it's really for the good of others." And if nothing else, "a supposedly stranded friend demanding a cell phone will never frown at me again." I didn't want a cell phone at all. I needed one!

Still half conscience-stricken nonetheless, I shuffled through the dust out of the store with my new compact, lightweight, working Motorola unit somehow feeling strangely heavy. I took it home and charged the battery, peering at it closely from time to time for any signs that I might yet be harboring a demon. But it just stared back at me silently, its cheerful backlight reassuring me that all would yet be well.

Not quite ready to take the step of actually giving out the number, however, I carried this new creature around in my purse for several days to get acquainted with its presence. And, finally, I got up the courage to remove it from the little purple pouch I'd purchased for it and called my phone at home. The answering machine picked up and I responded to my own voice with the words, "Just testing. Thanks." Already it had me talking to myself. I should have realized then and there this wasn't a good sign.

Nonetheless, having made a commitment to this partner for at least a year, I plunged ahead into exploration of its voicemail system. And here at last I felt I'd found a feature that might be fun. Asked to record a greeting, I thought for a few minutes before coming up with a (so I thought) clever little variation on a once-popular song and sung it to my tiny, newfound, nearly invisible friend. And although part of me became a bit eager to share this with a more sizable -- and human variety -- of friend, I still couldn't find the courage to give out the number, or even make a "real" call on the mysterious thing myself.

But then one day it happened. Driving along with my tiny companion safely tucked away in his purple pouch, what should suddenly emanate from the radio but a song by Michael McDermott -- arguably the greatest and most underrated singer/songwriter of the 20th and 21st centuries. Of course, I couldn't wait to call the station to express my gratitude. Finally, an occasion that warranted christening my phone!

Having never used it before, however (despite carrying it with me for close to two weeks at this point), I didn't think to do this right away. Rather, I was already in my driveway when the thought at last occurred. As a result, I was standing outside my house not more than 20 feet from my "real" phone when I made the call…an irony (indicative of my own pretensions perhaps?) lost on me, of course, in the heat of the moment's "necessity". Instead I could only think that wanting this phone had never been about me. After all, wasn't it being used to support the very noblest of causes -- art!

Feeling infinitely better about both myself and the destruction of my now almost completely forgotten wall of cell phone resistance, I put my tiny friend back into his pouch almost lovingly, this cell-phone junkie fully enjoying her first wireless high.

And, still basking in the glow of the joint victory for art brought about by that radio station and my fabulous little friend, I went back to work in a state (as my grandmother used to say) "as happy as if I was in my right mind". And indeed I thought I was. Again I should have seen yet another warning sign. Always be suspicious of sanity.

About 7:30 that evening, I finished working, came home and pulled my little friend from his purple pouch to offer him a well-deserved recharge. Upon doing so, however, I noticed a small envelope icon flashing in the top corner of his screen. Puzzled (as I still hadn't given a soul the number) I wondered how I could have already received a voicemail message. But certain at this point my tiny friend could do no harm, I eagerly called my mailbox and listened for some wonderful communication from the outside world. Instead I heard about thirty seconds of hissing, crackling and eventually my own heart pounding in my ears. But no voice -- except, of course, that sadistic-sounding digital one so cruelly calm in its pronouncement, "End of message."

How could it be? How could my tiny harmless friend have so betrayed me? No warning. No offer to reply to the message. No clue to who had left it. Nothing to relieve the cold, sinking dread of knowing I was about to be labeled one of "those"…you know, "them". The inconsiderate, the thoughtless, the wicked -- on a Stephen King level of the concept -- one of the truly evil people who never return their calls.

"But I didn't give anyone the number," I lamented. "It can't have really been for me. Surely there's a mistake." And yet the dread refused to leave. Rather, it began to grow. "What if it was someone who needed help? Maybe it was an emergency and they got the number from information. Does 411 even give out cell phone numbers? Nah. What if they do? What if…just supposing…it was your frowning friend once again needing a ride?! Aaaarrrgghhh!!!"

"This is stupid," I comforted myself. "It's just a phone. Besides, all your friends know you'd call back. No one has the number. It's a mistake. You're going to the mall Sunday afternoon, anyway. You can look into it then. You worry too much."

But suspicions nonetheless continued to grow. I put my little friend back inside his purple pouch, trying to hide the feelings of doubt I'd started developing toward him. Poor little guy. It couldn't really be his fault.

Anyway, there's more to life than one's phone, but once the monkey it represents starts climbing on one's back, it's hard to shake. Especially when 4 days later -- on Sunday, just hours before that planned trip to the mall and the answers waiting at Radio Shack, it happens again. And wouldn't you know it did.

It's Sunday around noon…one of those things-to-be-done-around-the-house-you-can-no-longer-avoid kind of days. You know, the ones that make you wish could go to work just for the relaxation. And, by now completely paranoid, I actually had the purple pouch containing my one-time friend attached to my belt-loop, determined to be there this time should anyone wish to reach me…in fact, willing them to try. I needed to be needed just to prove I would come through.

And apparently someone did need me. Or want me. Or mistakenly call my number. Only my phone never even had the consideration to bother ringing. It just emitted this sheepish beeping sound indicating I'd got a voicemail message -- again. I didn’t get it. And, yes, I mean the concept, but the same goes for the message. Only this time I couldn't even get through to my mailbox to hopefully anticipate a voice. Nothing happened except the truly evil message staring back at me, "Call failed." Clearly something had failed all right.

Well, to make a long story short, I eventually connected with my voice mailbox to be greeted yet again by nothing more than static. Truly frustrated now, I fairly stormed into Radio Shack demanding an explanation as to precisely what dark force had suddenly taken over my phone. Faced with a maddeningly calm salesman, I was casually informed that my phone was fine. It was merely an issue of poor signal strength in certain areas, possibly complicated by the caller also using a cell phone, blah...blah...blah.

In other words, the phone is pretty much guaranteed to work great as long as I'm standing next to a cell tower talking to someone themselves using a "land-line" phone -- or even a cell phone provided they're standing close enough to drop the phone and merely shout…which is pretty much guaranteed to work better than the phone itself at any and all times.

Ah well. I guess such an outcome is no more than I deserve. Like I said, I should have realized right away that I was in for a mixed blessing. But hey, if I'm in this wireless (dis?) agreement for at least a year, then why not make the most of it. Before I got this phone I was a very private person, one who judiciously shared my home number only with good reason. But now I distribute my cell one with reckless abandon and encourage friends and foes alike to spread its digits like wildfire. After all, I dare anyone who uses it to actually reach me. And as for friend or foe, well, we know which side they'll all be on once I never return their calls. As the saying goes, it seems there really is a thin line between love and hate.

On that note I can only add that the love I briefly felt for my seemingly altruistic friend in the purple pouch has definitely waned, and that this once more despised object has truly fallen from my grace. And one of these days he's equally likely to fall (or rather be tossed) from a bridge as well. In the meantime, I just wish I could call him -- well, lots of things. For that matter, I just wish I could call him. Oh, I could. And so can you. But I warn you, don't expect an answer…unless, of course, you’re willing to shout very, very loud.