The Water Bottle and the Cell Phone

I really want to have something thoughtful and worthwhile to say about Orlando.  I don’t.  Instead, have a funny story where the only thing that gets hurt is my pride. There’s a funny animal picture at the end, for no reason at all.

Several weeks ago I committed one of the minor tragedies of our modern era: I dropped my cell phone into a sink of water.  I did this not five minutes before I needed to be out the door to meet a client.  Woops.  I was very cool about it, though.  I turned off the phone, yanked the SIM card, shoved the phone in a bag of rice, then popped the SIM into my old cell phone and set it to charge.  I always completely ignore my phone when I’m having a sit down meeting with a client anyway, so this was annoying but not a real problem.

Let’s pause here for some back story about that “old phone.”  The old phone is, in fact, identical to the new phone except in one critical way: its screen is cracked so badly it actively loses shards of glass as you use it.  I dropped it while I was visiting friends in December and that was pretty much the end of that.  It was the phone I got two weeks before I left Wisconsin to move to Seattle.  It was the last phone I intended to get until design trends shift back to a “smaller is better” paradigm.  It was also old enough that it cost just as much to have the screen repaired as it did to buy a new copy of the same phone off eBay.  About six hours after “my phone extruded shards of glass onto my face while I was talking on it,” became a thing I could truthfully say, I went ahead and ordered a new copy of the old phone.  Which I’d been using quite contentedly until I dropped it in the sink.

Generally you leave a phone that got wet to dry for about 24 hours.  The sink incident happened on a Thursday afternoon.  Halfway through Friday I decided that I’d go ahead and be really paranoid: I’d leave the new phone to dry until Sunday night.  I was doing an open house on Saturday, but Sunday was (theoretically) a day off so it didn’t matter that the phone I was using had a few quirky flaws, like sharing jagged stabby bits with the unwary user. Nothing could possibly go wrong with this plan.

On Saturday, armed with my open house supplies which included, among other things, a cookie sheet tucked under my arm, I realized what was happening.  As my finger dragged across the crumbling, textured surface of my old phone, deftly dodging glass splinters, I recognized my true motivation in putting off switching back: I’m emotionally invested in the old phone.  It rode with me all the way out to the west coast and was there for me as I set up my business from scratch again and then faithfully took a train with me all the way back to visit people, only to be cruelly and clumsily dropped onto the chilly concrete of a garage floor, then discarded for the damage it suffered.  That phone was supposed to be my constant companion for an entire product design fad and I callously set it aside just because it couldn’t hold up to my negligent care.  And yet, there it was, ready to step up and rescue me when my clumsy disregard for my electronic companions struck out at its replacement.  Did my old phone chide me for my behavior?  No.  It spent four hours installing updates and randomly crashing, but then it went to work as if I’d been as faithful to it as it was to me.

Reader, I am such a heel.  I realized this, acknowledged it, then patted the phone and in deference to its tireless work (and my desire to avoid glass splinters) turned my attention to my book.I got off the bus.  I retrieved my bike from the rack on the front of the bus.  I reached into my pocket for my phone, my cherished, devoted, faithful little phone.  The little phone which was, right that moment, faithfully sitting right where I put it, on the bus seat.  The bus was already pulling away.I stashed the cookie sheet in my bike’s basket and started searching through every pocket in my bag.  Things I pulled out of my bag while looking for my phone:

  1. A box of business cards
  2. A stack of folders with information about the condo I was holding open
  3. A stack of information about similar listings
  4. A stack of fliers about low-income grants and loans for first time buyers, also fliers about buyer discounts available from some home insurance companies.
  5. A 32 oz.  water bottle I stole from Dr. Unicorn roughly ten minutes after we moved in together, full of iced tea.
  6. A hexagonal black plate
  7. An oven mitt
  8. A spatula
  9. The crushing realization that I didn’t actually put the cookie dough in my bag and I’ve carried a cookie sheet this far for absolutely no reason
  10. The rest of the list doesn’t matter, I’ve made my point

My phone was nowhere in there.  Because of course it wasn’t.  It was on the bus seat.  Where I put it.  Moments after admitting that I’m sentimentally attached to it.

I very calmly put everything back in my bag.  Then I took my cookie sheet wielding, bicycle pushing, business casual self to the first stranger foolish enough to make eye contact with me.  Let’s call him Arjun.  His name wasn’t Arjun, but he didn’t consent to appear as a bit character in this story, so I don’t think he’ll mind that I changed his name.

“Excuse me,” I say, as if it’s not part of the greater Seattle area norms that strangers only try to talk to you when they’re asking you to sign a petition or for money.  “I’ve just left my phone on the bus that pulled away.  Could you help me?”

Arjun very clearly wanted to be nice to me.  He was also clearly scared by the very calm, slightly manic, but mostly calm over-dressed lady with the huge bike.  I chose to focus on his desire to be helpful and pretend I was not at all scary.

“I need to look at a map to figure out how to get to the place I’m supposed to go.  Could I do that?” I asked.

Arjun handed me his phone.  This is how I learned his name, which, recall, I changed.  I pulled out one of the folders with the information for the place I was supposed to hold open, then looked up directions to the address I wanted.  Then I stared at the map.  I stared at the map really hard.  Addresses around here defy logic and order and I haven’t yet met a map program that didn’t suffer as a consequence.  Normally, upon finding an error, I sigh, prod the address input a bit, then keep going.  But I can’t do that.  Arjun is going to be rather upset if I get onto my bike and ride away with his phone, and unless I do that, I need to know exactly how to get all the way to my destination without further help.  It’s really important that I don’t screw this up.  It was a little after noon when I got off the bus.  The open house is supposed to start at 1pm.  I would rather die than call the listing agent to tell him I can’t do this after all.  Also, I can’t, because his number is in my phone and I carefully eradicate all signs of the listing agent from the material I bring to an open house; the point is to have people contact me.

I spent a whole second and a half wondering how much of a head start I’d get just from Arjun being surprised if I got on my bike and ran off with his phone.  It was uphill to my destination, though, so he probably could have outrun me.  My bike is ergonomic for somebody with bad joints and prone to biking in fancy dress slacks and moderately dressy shoes but it is not fast.  Also, morality and golden rules and not biting the hand that was nice to you and all that.  Also also, it would have been wrong to betray my poor damaged phone so quickly by literally running off with the first modern behemoth I could get my hands on.

The “ethics” routines in my brain are sometimes complicated.

I returned Arjun’s phone, climbed onto my bike, and set off to my destination.  I arrived there some unknown quantity of time later; I only wear a watch when I’m teaching so my phone was my only time keeping device.  I have no idea how much time I have to get there and finish setup before 1pm.  Hey, at least I don’t need to worry about getting the cookies baked. *sigh*  It’s okay, though, because the oven doesn’t work, so I couldn’t have baked the cookies even if I had remembered the dough.

I did my usual setup.  Information on the counter, thermos in the fridge, signs out at nearby intersections and leading to the building.  Then, because the unit had absolutely no furniture in it (insert grumbling about listing agents too cheap to do even basic staging in one of the most expensive markets in the country) I sat on the steps, book in hand, and waited.  About the time I guessed it was one, I set the clock on the microwave (which, unlike the stove, was working).  The first person who showed up to the open house met a cheerful, relaxed me who could only answer questions if she had the information stored in her brain or on her printouts, but I’d prepared pretty thoroughly so the need to look up information was small.  Also, very smoothly, I asked them the time and then corrected the clock on the microwave so I would know when it was time to pack up and go home.

Do you know what happens when you respectfully don’t make your phone work while you ride the bus, then don’t have it on hand when you are at the open house, and the listing agent you’re hosting for is the kind of cheap skate who doesn’t stage and takes ugly pictures?  Nobody comes to your open house.  And you finish reading your book.  And you have nothing else to do.

On the one hand, this feels like appropriate cosmic justice for being the kind of feckless person who rewards a phone’s faithful filling in by abandoning it on the 520 bus to Everette.  Not to be all dramatic or anything, but a little boredom is the least of what a wretch such as yourself deserves for the reckless disregard for your own property you’ve been displaying lately.

On the other hand, I’m really bad at not having anything to do.

When 4pm rolled around, or a time close enough to it for the hastily set microwave to release me, I packed away my fliers and business cards.  I put away the signs.  I locked up the unit, stowed my pointless cookie sheet in my bicycle basket, and set off to catch my bus home.

Only when I reached the transit center, thinking fondly of how kind it was of Arjun to let me look at the map on his phone and how happy I am that I didn’t rob him, do I realize what I didn’t pack away.  See item 5 in the list above.

A 32 oz.  water bottle I stole from Dr. Unicorn roughly ten minutes after we moved in together, full of iced tea.

It was no longer full of iced tea.  It was full of water.  Also, it was in the fridge of the condo where I’d had my open house.  Also, my bus was, right now, arriving.

You’ve seen how attached I was to a phone that would literally cut your finger open if you weren’t paying attention while you used it.  Imagine how attached I am to a bottle I brazenly pilfered from a beloved roommate.  Reader, my crisis in that moment was painful and real.  But I was aware that I was going off the deep end with regard to sentimental attachment to physical objects.  I put my bike on the bus.  Then I put myself on the bus.  Then I rode home, head hung low, desperate for reading material.  (“I could listen to a podcast!” I’d think to myself.  Then realize that this would require me to have my phone.)

For reference, I lost that same water bottle for a few hours at WorldCon last summer.  People seemed puzzled by my alarm when I realized it was gone. This is strange to me.  I stole it. From somebody I live with. That’s a serious category of theft, imparting significant value to the object. They might want it back, and then instead of saying, “No, it’s mine now, I licked it an everything,” I’d have to say, “Sorry, I’m a careless flake.”

Needless to say, when I was out with a client and, consequently, had a car, I shamelessly tromped right back into that unit and rescued my water bottle from its seclusion in the fridge of a moderately well renovated and poorly marketed condo. The client didn’t care, but I petted that water bottle for the rest of the evening.  It’s a good water bottle.  A reliable water bottle.  I’ll strive to never abandon it like that again.

I got a brand new SIM card to put in the sufficiently dry new phone and completed my weekend none the worse for wear.  Even happier, when I called the Community Transit customer service people to check their lost and found, somebody had actually turned in my phone.  Apparently the market for selling stolen phones that hemorrhage glass at the unsuspecting user is small enough for happy endings.  The old phone lives on my desk once more, where I periodically stroke its screen and assure it, “Yes, I am still weird enough that deep down, I like you more than the other phone.  I’ll never recycle you.  You are a good phone.”

And I have learned an important lesson: Sometimes we’re idiots to the things we love.  They are things, and incapable of punishing you for your abuse.

Did I do that learning a moral thing correctly?  I can never tell.

And now, the real reason you’ve scrolled down so far, the promised picture of an animal.parrot-phone

Too on the nose?  Okay, fine.  Here’s something subtler.  Colorful Parrot Desktop Background

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One thought on “The Water Bottle and the Cell Phone

  1. Something she neglected to mention: this was a very old water bottle that I hadn’t used in years, having long since gotten better ones. It’s durable, true, and it doesn’t sweat (I think?), but it’s something I tended to forget I had unless I was packing for or unpacking from a move.

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