Monday, February 1, 2010

Princess at Five O'Clock

I think I might be ill: a bit of the fever, a smattering of the hives, a touch of the vertigo, a dash of the I have to buy a new phone today.

It’s the malady of the technologically panicked, and every time I think my convalescence is complete, another version, another generation of the iGerm infects me. Like any 21st century woman, I take to my bed. And you bet, if I had a fainting couch, I’d take to my fainting. Sadly eyeing my beige 1970s Princess rotary phone on my nightstand, I know what’s ahead of me. I have to do it. I have to storm the beach, head into the breach, get close enough to those cell phones to see the whites of their eyes.

This isn’t my first iBattle. My debut cell phone was an almost perfect fit for a slightly time warped girl like me. I’d compare it to two orange juice cans connected with a string; the sort we used to rig up around the neighborhood in the ‘70s so we could talk to each other in that clandestine way eight year olds do.

“Hi, what are you doing?”
“Nothing, what are you doing?”
“Kay, bye.”

When I'd whip out my Minute Maid/Virgin Mobile this century’s iMobs of eight year olds would point and stare. "What’s that?” they’d sneer. “It’s my phone. You wanna put up your dukes and talk about it like men?” I’d remind myself of the three decades I have on them and run away as fast as I could, peals of laughter in my wake. I’m sure they tweeted to the world (that’s what they do, right?) about the old lady talking into the orange juice can.

People look at my Princess phone like it’s an attraction in a freak show or a goiter. Their fingers get positively arthritic when they try to place a call. All their dexterity and muscle control has gone to their thumbs. “Get rid of it. It’s past its prime. It’s purely decoration.” Oh really? Would you say that to a guy tapping his toes to the engine roar of his Pontiac GTO? What kind of sad sack dance would that guy do if you made him take a trade for a minivan? Even if the minivan was also a digital recorder, sent texts and tweets (that still doesn’t sound right) and let you watch next day episodes of Lost?

There’s something about the Princess’ clumsy, tinny ring that's more an invitation than a command. It doesn’t ring often, but we do have a rendezvous every day at just about five o’clock. It’s a Princess subterfuge bamboozle. We perpetrate it on the newspaper salesman who wants my business in the worst way. He’s apparently the only one who got a hold of this unlisted royalty’s number. I know his ring by heart. It sounds like the past. I answer it and coo, “I couldn’t possibly make a decision until I speak with my husband. Won’t you call back tomorrow?”

“Of course Ms. Kloster.” And he does. Every day. On goes my siren song. 

I turn over in bed and on my other side sits my Blackberry. Yes, at some point I did graduate from oranges to berries. Cover your ears if they’re tender, but I hate that bitch. It’s been wicked since the day I got it. Do you know how many butter knives I’ve destroyed opening its trunk and switching out the battery just to make it run? All of them. Now where do I go to find a place that will sell me a phone and give me a free set of flatware? That’s right, 1978.

I remember the first time I even heard of a Blackberry. I was walking by the television during a Destiny’s Child interview, and I heard someone, either Destiny or Child, say she was addicted to her Blackberry. I swear by all that is rotary, I thought she was referring to lip-gloss. How nice I thought, that Destiny and her children still appreciate the simple things.

One foot in front of the other I make my way to the T-Mobile store. Why is that boy walking toward me so fast? He's practically galloping. I told Graham I should learn some Kung Fu or something living in these crazy times.

“Hi! I’m Shane!” he bellows at me coming precariously close to too close.
“Of course you are.”
“Well, you’ve got your thing there on your…” I point to his shirt.
“Oh, Ha! HA-HA!”

He laughs like Dane Cook just appeared with a mic. and a stool. I hate to tell you Shane, but it’s not going to be that much fun.

“What kind of phone are you in the market for today?”
“ohhhhhh…one that saves on butter knives."
“Are you looking for a smart phone?”
“What the hell?”
“Because we can get you online and we’ve got some great new apps.”
“What do you like in”.
“I know. It’s weird, I get sleepy this time of year too.”
“No. APP”
 "I love calamari. Order it everywhere I go."
“Hey man, I just need a phone. I don't want to work here."

Apps, naps, and squid aside, I’m wondering if Shane’s over 18. If I kicked him in the shins, would it be child abuse or regular old assault? I'm not comfortable with all these questions I don’t know the answers to. I try to take the lead this time.

“Ok, this is what I want Shane. If I’m in the middle of the woods in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.... No Shane, it does have two parts. No, it does. It does! See, look at my hands.”

“Ohhhh yeah, the mitten and the other thing. The mitten has more than one finger in the middle though, right? Or is that the peninsula you’re talking about?”

“Today, it’s just my finger Shane. Now what I want to know is will I have a strong enough signal to call my mom or a tow truck if I’m in the middle of the woods in Michigan or even Wisconsin? I’m aware you can get me a phone that will lure forest creatures from their hiding places and let me shoot deer without a license, but all I want to do is make a call if I have a flat tire, and I swear Shane, if you tell me my phone will change my tire…”

“Let me see what we have for you.” Shane hustles to the back of the store clearly faster than he needs to. Maybe he’s going for backup.

“Shane---Come Back! Shane!” I yell as he hurries away. He turns quizzically.

“Nothing. Just a joke.” Why am I tossing a 1953 Alan Ladd movie reference at this kid? I start to consider the possibility that my material needs an update before I realize I’m alone in this creepy place. Guess all the geniuses already have their smart phones because I’m the only dope in the joint. I look around. Everything is shiny and new. It’s all glass, plastic, and materials only my chemical engineer husband could identify.

I really need some dust and something made of wood to smell or touch or….eat. Is the only thing old around here me?! The lights are making my eyes twirl, and I’m positive all the smiling phones with faces attached to them are sending me subliminal signals. In preparation for this outing I had a vitamin and a Pepsi, but they have yet to take effect. I start to sway a little. “Ohhhh Jimmy Stewart..,,” is my last thought as the vertigo kicks in; the floor drops from under me and then smacks me in the face.

I come to with Shane standing over me.
“Lady? Ma’am?”

Whoa. Better than smelling salts.
“Ma’am! Lady? Shane, please not Ma’am or Lady. I’m no Ma’am. I’m no Lady. Miss or Ali is fine.”

Realizing Miss is not happening for me anymore, he kindly offers, “Let me help you up, Ollie.”

Convinced of my ambulatory status, Shane’s back to business, “Now what network is your mother on?”
“Usually MSNBC. She likes that cute Willie Geist.”
“No I mean...”
“I get it. Her phone is attached to the wall of our kitchen and it’s powered by a line that someone had to either hang high in the sky or bury deep in ground.”
“Well. Um, I still think you’d get a lot of satisfaction from the myTouch.”
“Ha! Now that's comedy."
“Did I say...? What did I…?”
“Satisfaction from the myTouch? Remember that song by the Divinyls? ‘I touch…’ No?”

I am ending this now.

“Shane, wrap it up buddy. You’ve paid your dues. Just wrap ‘er up.”
“How would you like to pay for this, uhhh, Lady, um, Ma’am, Miss, Ollie?”
“Lady Ma’am Miss Ollie? Well, apparently with my prize winning show dog money, Shane.”

I hand him a credit card the likes of which he won’t see for another ten years. What am I saying? He’ll have one more impressive than that in two years, and I’ll be living in a bucket clutching a rotary phone.

I look at my watch. 4:15pm. It’s time to go. I thank Shane for a hard day at the office and leap into my car. That soon to be sacrificed Blackberry starts to sing. A number flashes up I don’t recognize. I answer it. No lie, it’s my mother calling me from Florida on her new cell phone. “I CAN’T BELIEVE HOW WELL I CAN HEAR YOU! CAN YOU HEAR ME TOO? ALI? ALI?”




I’m driving home remembering the days when we’d wait until after five to call long distance and then spend three bucks remarking on how it sounded, “Like you’re right next door!” We weren’t hyper-efficient then. Who cares? We didn’t communicate instantly. Big deal. Text was in books, tweets were in birds, and pictures were in cameras. TV was on TV, movies were at theaters, appointments were in calendars, and if you were lucky, dates were in the back seat. Mail was in the mailbox, and facebook was in third grade when I cuffed Tracey Johnson with my math book just because she was pissing me off. I like everything we have now. I honestly do, but maybe, if we had just a little bit less of it.

Home. Taking the stairs two at a time. I hear the Princess. I lift the receiver gingerly, lovingly. “Hello? I’m sorry sir. You just missed my husband. I know he’s very interested in both a home subscription and an office subscription and possibly even one for the summer home (Please, we have no summer home). You will? You’ll call back tomorrow? Lovely. Have a wonderful evening.” I lie down. With my smart phone still in the bag next to me, I turn away from it and stare at the Princess. Only 23 hours and 45 minutes until the next call. The song remains the same.


  1. Ohhhh Ollie, this was a good one. Hil-freaking-arious. Good stuff.

  2. Can you hear that? It's the sound of my applause.

  3. Dagnabbit, Oily,

    I was sooo close to upgrading my six-year cell (six-inch thick, too, with broken glass and needs charging every two minutes).

    Now you got me a-feared. I guess I'll just remain alone again, naturally.

    Still have nightmares ala Toffler.

    I want the Droid, but you'll have to shock this monkey before I tread in those waters...

    Thanks for the warning, Oily.

    (wrapping paper being crumpled, and waiting to open the next...)

    Dr Thom

  4. Oh yes Ali. Time and invention of new electronics has played a mean part in our lives. I am glad the princess has a good home but I wish I still had one! The old fashioned ring is a sound of life from back in the day.

    The "It's long distance! We have to wait until after 5 or 9 or 'till the weekend..." Seems so long ago and yet not so long ago. Yet quite dear.

    Maybe we appreciate at times the instantaneous communication we now all have; the "smart phones", the tweets and the facebook. But once, back in the day, it was super exciting to wait for the mailman, and receive something we could hold in our hands and imagine how the person who sent it had held it in their hands and it was palpable evidence that someone had thought enough and cared enough to put words on paper, put it in an envelope, lick it sealed and post it. Now, it is just a click. Sometimes I don't think that progress is progress. And that's what I loved about your blog. You brought old times back.