This summer was particularly exciting for us. My brother and one of my daughters earned BA degrees. My wife and I celebrated 30 years of marriage. And in a once-in-a-lifetime alignment of the planets, not one but two of our family’s cell phones are eligible for an upgrade.
It’s a time of reflection and negotiation. Among the five of us, who’ll get the upgrades? Will it be daughter #3, since her old flip-phone is disintegrating from constant use? Or should it be daughter #2, whose phone is lovingly called the “retro”? This phone came out of mothballs to replace one that her friend tossed in the river because it was “way uncool.” This “helpful” friend remains alive today only because I never managed to get his name.
My family, my cell mates. We share the same plan, but we have different phone-philosophies. My method – leave it off and return the call later. I hear this is “old school.” Daughter #3’s approach is to answer on the second ring, at all times, anytime, every time. Daughter #2 won’t return a call for days, but will text you in a few minutes if you text her. Our son’s voicemail has been full for years now. He answers only if he’s texted first, and my wife couldn’t do her job as a nursing teacher without her cell. She’s very good about returning calls, partly because her i-Have-A-Better-Phone-Than-You has a psychic friends feature that dials out randomly for no apparent reason.
Still, we’re grandfathered in at “low rates,” a reward for 20 years of paying for service we’d lived without our entire lives—BCP, before-cell-phones. Our first “portable” had the size and heft of a brick, only uglier. The technology was “analog,” which means that it emitted enough power to soft-boil your brain if you talked on it for more than five minutes.
This was a very, very special phone that was off almost all the time, to save the battery. It stayed on only during those rare evenings when my wife and I hired a babysitter and went out to dinner. This allowed our sitter to ensure that every unpleasant thing we were paying her to deal with was relayed to us almost instantly. What a joy it was to be asked, during dinner, if there was any trick to getting cat vomit off our new couch.
As the children grew, they soon were old enough to be home alone. We stopped getting babysitter calls. Instead we’d get the pay-for-view experience, where one kid would call from a safe distance and narrate the blow-by-blow fight unfolding in the next room. The audio on our phone wasn’t the full digital quality we know today, so the screams could only be heard one or two tables away. Next, when the kids were old enough to drive, we gave each a cell phone for their safety and Mom’s peace-of-mind. Of course, what that meant is Dad got service calls from people who thought that the “E” on the gas gauge was only a suggestion, or who heard a funny noise that went away after I’d abandoned my Barcalounger, drove 20 miles, and raised the hood.
Cell phones, for my money, mean calls from people with problems who WANT my money. Back when I was a kid, people needing money had the decency to call you “collect,” and you could always refuse the charges. Such is progress. Now our phone bill costs enough that no one can afford to go out. It rivals the payments on my first house, but no matter what, everyone seems to covet a new phone. My son may
have just gotten the Watoosee 500, but he now needs the new 500S. It talks to you, can play games, surf the web, and ignore a call all at once. “And, Dad, you get this $700 phone for ‘only’ $300.”
Or, my daughter tells me, I can get a “free” phone for “only $100.”
“Yeah, but I need a car charger, skins, multimedia kit, scratch guards, and carry case,” she says.
Oh, joy. Upgrade? Please just lock me in a cell, preferably one with lots of padding and zero bars.
Robb has enjoyed writing and performing since he was a child, and many of his earliest performances earned him a special recognition-reserved seating in the principal’s office at Highland Elementary. Since then, in addition to his weekly column on A News Cafe – “Or So it Seems™” – Robb has written news and features for The Bakersfield Californian, appeared on stage as an opening stand-up act in Reno, and his writing has been published in the Funny Times. His short stories have won honorable mention national competition. His screenplay, “One Little Indian,” Was a top-ten finalist in the Writer’s Digest competition. Robb presently lives, writes and teaches in Shasta County.