Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Dead Lines, New Lines
“Hi Garce, it’s me. I’m heading off to New Orleans tomorrow. Just wanted to check in and say hello. It’s just that I noticed . . . well. Listen. If you get a chance give me a buzz. Otherwise be well.”
Wait a minute whoa whoa whoa. .. Jesus what was the number – I know who this is – she called me! That’s amazing! Jesus, where’s the mother effing number – fuck!
The little phone cartwheels out of my hand bounces off the porcelain rim of the toilet bowl and drops to the bottom of the gunk.
I don't care! I truly don't give a shit as I plunge my hand beneath soggy icebergs of toilet paper and what-what and grab the slimey little bastard and plaster it against my ear.
"Hello? Hello? You still there?"
Standing in the Men's restroom with my pants around my ankles I shake the nasty little gadget and yell into it again. What would I not do to talk to this person? Pride and potential dysentery are nothing against the chance to talk to this person. "Hello?"
It's a goner. It sags in my arms like a dying comrade.
I shake the little cheapie pay-as-you go cell phone with the cracked screen filled with brown water. Its bleeding! Black LCD shit is spreading like a pool of blood at a fatal jump from a tall building, all over the tiny screen. I hold it up to my ear to make sure. Pathetic. The line is dead. It’s a dead line. My phone is dead. It’s a dead phone.
Dr. McCoy puts his hand on my shoulder. “He’s dead, Jim.”
Al Pacino waves a machine gun at me. “Say goodbye to your little friend.”
Bye-bye little friend.
I wave the cheap, bottom of the barrel, little cell phone and put it to my ear again. Shit. The line is as dead as Julius Caesar. Now I’ll never know what she called for and she’ll probably never call again. And I don’t have the number, and even if I did I wouldn’t have the balls to call her myself. Some ladies, I feel like I’m back in high school again too shy to talk to a girl.
Jesus Christ. Gee zuz Frights. Cheese Whiz Rights. Cheese Whiz Fights.
Excuse me while I go boil my hand.
Okay, it’s going to be Walmart again, where good little cheapie pay-as-you-go cell phones come from. I think if the little SIMM card is still okay I’m supposed to be able to keep my old phone number somehow.
Cheese Whiz Fries!
In Augusta the Walmarts are a reflection of their local social class. The one near my house is kind of worn down and crappy but not that bad, which is about like my neighborhood. Then there’s the classy gadget rich Walmart of Evans, the center of yuppie White Flight in Columbia County; where people retreating from the poverty and crappy public resources of Richmond county fled to live in the suburbs with good schools and good libraries. This is what high property taxes gets you. Civilization. Me, I fled here too as soon as I could, because my kid was having a miserable time in a poor school filled with gangs. The liberal in me felt offended by my social cowardice, the daddy in me just wanted to save my kid from hating school forever. That’s how it works in the real world if not the voting booth.
In the electronics department of the Evans Walmart, I go cruising the aisles of the telephones. I see the smart phones and iPhones and the iPads and iPad2s and something that might be a time machine and all the gee whiz miracles I’ve always coveted. Everybody I know has one of these or a blackberry. Except me. They probably don’t have to worry about dropped calls or dropped phones either. The phones vary in price from about a hundred dollars to hundreds of dollars. And that’s not where the money is. That’s the service plans that start at about $300 a pop. The ones I want, well, same old story when it comes to buying things these days. It’s all for The Best and I’m not one of them.
I stand in front of the smart phones and tap at the screens. Its beautiful technology. Delightful. Simple. You could give a toddler, hell, a rhesus monkey, one of these and they’d have it figured out in a couple minutes. Arthur C Clarke famously observed that “Technology of sufficient advancement is indistinguishable from magic.” Well this lovely stuff is pure magic.
I tap at the screen and there’s the internet. A few taps and I can see the blog. There’s Google. Oh, my god, I could even read Google books on this. This is fantastic, and all so new. I’ll bet Facebook is in there somewhere. And the little eye on the top, that’s a web cam, the kind that revolutionary crowds in the middle east used to overthrow dictators. If only I had money, there’s so much stuff out there to communicate with and get me out of my shell or maybe deeper into it.
Oh well. I walk down the aisle to where the phone cards are and pick up a slightly nicer edition of my cheapie dead buddy. It’ll be nice to use a cell phone that doesn’t have all the numbers worn off the keyboard. It’s an okay little phone. It’ll do.
A revelation comes to me. A smile slowly crawls onto my mug.
I’ve gotten better. Spiritually.
I’ve gotten so much better.
I used to hate Christmas. Like poison. Like Dracula hates crucifixes. It was the season of envy, of being reminded of what I don’t have and feeling like a failure and having it rubbed in my face. But this time it feels different. Something in me has given up and its okay that I won’t get to have those things.
“Attachment causes suffering, grasshopper.”
Yes, Master Poe. Yes, indeedy.
Something in me has finally out grown this stupid idea that God or the universe owes me something. Hell, I’ve got a job. That makes me better off than 10 percent of people in my country. It makes me better off than a lot of the people I know from the old days. Standing in the phone aisle, I suddenly feel so good. Blessed. It’s okay to have cheap shitty stuff. It doesn’t have to be who you are.
I go back and run my hand over the smart phones, loving them. But not wanting them. The way you might sit and love the passing women with your eyes, adoring them, imagining them in states of undress, but not needing to possess them. Feeling happy for the men who get to have them in their beds.
I walk out of Walmart thinking it’s a perfect fall day in the deep south and I think I can afford an ice cream off the value menu at McDonalds.
In the evening over the dirty dinner dishes I talk to my kid. He’s been listening to the news, and of course if you follow the news it seems like the zombie apocalypse is around the corner. He’s feeling down tonight. He says the world seems to be dropping over a cliff.
It’s not, I tell him. Of all the 10,000 years expanse of human history today, this day, right now is the very greatest time to be alive. Ever.
“Look,” I tell him. “Look at the meal you just had tonight. It was spaghetti, because spaghetti’s cheap. Okay, but its real food your mother cooked, and she makes her spaghetti sauce Caribbean style which is really good. A lot of kids don’t get that kind of food anymore, just the fast food stuff. Tell you what, boy. I lived on the open road without a home for six years, and I’ll tell you it makes a difference when you eat food made by somebody you know, who loves you and wants you to be all right. You sat down and ate with your family. A lot of kids don’t get to do that, just microwave some frozen stuff and eat it in front of the TV. Maybe living with one parent if they’re lucky.”
“The food you ate, two hundred years ago a king didn’t eat that good. The king of Italy didn’t get spaghetti like that. And there’s plenty more food in the fridge. You can eat Captain Crunch anytime. That’s amazing. And you’ll be on Facebook in a few minutes, hanging with friends from all over the world, talking to them instantly about eating spaghetti for dinner and how you feel about it. That’s pretty weird but still. The future is flattening. Power is flattening. Social communication is flattening. The world is flattening. The future is going to be so different from anything anybody’s ever seen. And you’ll be there when it happens.
“You know, my generation the baby boomers. When I look at what we’re passing on to your generation, it feels like we messed everything up, like my generation is the worst ever. And its true, we took the American dream and gang raped it pretty much. But there’s this other thing. The smart phones. Someday you’ll get one. The Social Networks. The Internet. Digital communication. Instant information. Mass communication. Guys like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, the Beatles, these Baby Boomer guys gave you the world too. We gave your generation these really incredible powerful tools of communication and free information. Thing is, you’re still figuring out what to do with them. Your generation is the one that doesn’t care if somebody is black or white, or gay or lesbian or rich or poor or up or down or sideways. You don’t know how new that is. You have no idea how revolutionary that is. When your generation figures out how to use these tools to flatten wealth, and make the world more fair, when your generation finds a way to replace money with something else and money becomes obsolete, the world will change for good for everybody forever. It make take a long time, you’re going to stand on our shoulders, the stupid boomers who took a good country and messed it up really bad, and you’re going to use these powerful tools we gave you and make something amazing out of the mess. I just hope I’m around to see some of it.”
Cheese Whiz Fries. Someday we're gonna be all right.