I have a confession to make: I now have a cell phone. It started with a phone call from my brother.
"So," said he, "tell me all the news of Our Home Town."
"ALL the news?" I said.
"Yeah, all of it," he said.
"OK," I said. "Well, last week when I was in the Blue Moon, I had a great talk with Jack Lawless."
"You had a talk with who?"
"Zack Bayless? I don't know any Zack Bayless."
"Not Zack Bayless. Jack Lawless."
"Slick Payess? Is this a joke?"
"Jack Lawless, Jack Lawless, JACK LAWLESS!" I shouted. "What's wrong with you anyway?'
"There's nothing wrong with me," he said. "It's your phone."
"What's wrong with my phone?"
"I can never hear you because your phone is a piece of crap."
"Hey," I said, "my phone isn't even a year old."
"Yeah," he said. "And if it was 50 years old, it'd work fine, because the old phones were meant to work forever. The new ones are meant to break down. Ergo, yours is a piece of crap."
The problem was he was right. Other people had trouble hearing me on it too. But because it was a new phone, I couldn't admit to myself it was no good and never would be. I also knew if I bought a new phone, within a short time, something'd go wrong with it as well.
So what to do?
I did the only thing I could - when my friends complained they couldn't hear me, I accused them of going deaf.
Of course, this was a stop-gap measure of the crudest and least efficient sort. And while my friends put up with both my phone's and my nonsense, my brother did not.
On his next call, he cut to the chase.
"Listen," he said, "Verizon has a deal where I can add another cell phone to my family plan for about ten bucks a month."
"Wonderful," I said. "But why are you telling me this?"
"Because I just put you on the plan, that's why."
"But I get by just fine without a cell phone."
"Sure you do," he said. "But no one who calls you does, since they can't hear what you're saying."
"Well, that's not quite true. It's really - "
"If it's really anything," he said, "it's really ridiculous. And I'm not arguing with you. I've put you on the plan and that's that."
"But nothing," he said. "I had to get a new phone anyway, since I want to get pictures of the grandchildren. So I'm sending you my old one. It's a basic model and works fine, but the battery is starting to go, so you've gotta monitor that."
And with that, he hung up.
A few days later I joined the 21st century as a full-fledged cell phone owner.
The worst-laid plans
Actually, I'd been thinking of getting a cell phone for a long time, for what I think is its intended use - emergencies. Face it: If you live where we do, and drive 20-year-old cars (which I've been doing for the past 30 years), a breakdown in the middle of nowhere is always a threat. It would also be the perfect time for a cell phone.
Also, since pay phones have gone the way of 10-cent cups of coffee, straight razors and spinster schoolmarms, when travelling it's always good to have a cell phone at hand.
My problem with cell phones was trying to figure out the plans. They had so many quirks and kinks, I couldn't decipher what to do if you didn't buy an unlimited plan (which I imagine was the companies' intention in the first place).
I mean, I'd see a plan that said, "Pay as you go." To me that meant you pay for X number of minutes and get them. Period.
Of course, that's NOT what it meant. Instead, you could buy X number of minutes all right but you also had to buy a contract of some sort, because if you didn't and you didn't use all your minutes within a certain period of time, you'd lose them and/or your first-born son besides.
So I'd always just said to heck with all that nonsense for now - I'll get a cell phone sometime in the future.
And suddenly, "sometime in the future" is now.
The first step is the hardest
I don't know how to program it, how to use call waiting, how to take pictures or how to do much else. I also don't know how to retrieve calls, but that's no biggie since I don't give out my number. Then again, why would I, since I don't know it?
I do, however, know how to make calls. But even that took some serious study.
When I got the phone I made sure to charge it, since my bro said the battery was starting to fail. But after I charged it, I found it wasn't starting to fail - it HAD failed. It didn't have enough juice to even light up.
I called my brother from my home phone and told him about the dead battery.
"That's weird," he said. "I hadda charge it twice a week, but it still worked."
"Yeah, well, it's not working at all now," I said.
"Well," he said, ever the pragmatist, "go and get a new one."
Which I was going to do, right after I had my morning coffee in the Blue Moon. But before I finished my coffee, the Amazon Queen came in. Immediately I told her about my new cell phone.
"Let's see it," she said.
"That's all you can do, is see it," I said. "It doesn't work 'cause the battery's dead."
"Well, you can plug it in with the charger and make calls," she said.
"Funny you should say that," I said. "I did that, but it still didn't work."
"Hand it over," she said.
She snapped it open and looked at it. Next, she poked something and a weird tinny tune came on. Then she broke out in a big grin.
"There," she said. "Now it works."
I was completely boggled.
Granted I knew nothing about cell phones, I did know one thing about batteries - dead ones don't work.
"So," I said, amazed, "what'd you do to get it to work?"
"Only one thing," she said.
"What?" I asked.
"Something you didn't do."
"Which was?" I asked.
"Which was," she said with an ever bigger grin,"I turned it on."