Monday, August 1, 2011

Bill, Disconnected

The man ventured forth into the night, leaving his beautiful wife behind in the glow of lamplight. It was cold and the streets were wet with melting snows.

He shivered and pulled up the collar of his coat and punched the button to unlock his minivan. He opened the door and stepped in and then drove off into the darkness on his mission: ice cream. "Mint pinky-berry swirl" for her, "chocolate chewy candy chunks" for him. The usual.

Halfway down the dark suburban road, lined with spooky houses that glowed blue from the windows as television screens flashed, he reflexively and then violently felt his coat's breast pocket. His heart rate quickened. It wasn't there. Where was it? It was always there . . . where had he put it?

Where was his cell phone?

He smashed down on the brake pedal and skidded to a stop, halfway down the street; halfway to his convenience store destination.

Should he go back? What if he broke down? What if someone needed to call him? What if he missed a call? What if someone played a word on cyber-Scrabble and he couldn't see it? What if he got a text?

Calm down, Bill, he thought to himself. You can get through this. Just keep going. You'll be at the store in no time. You get the ice cream. You come home. What can happen?

He scrubbed at his watering eyes and drew in a breath. He went forward. Soon, he was in the lot of the little store. People walked in and out, all happy, all holding their phones in one hand and car keys in the other. Next to him a woman was talking and laughing as she pulled backward out of her spot.

In the store, people texted in line. Some held their phones between ear and shoulder as they poured coffee.

He tried to look away. Push through it, Bill. You can do this.

Soon, he was at the freezer. He opened it. Chocolate chewy candy chunks. Check. Minty pinky berry . . . minty pinkberry . . . he looked everywhere. How could it be? He looked again, holding the door open. There was none. Frozen (if you will pardon the pun) he let the door swing closed. It was frosted over from being opened, so that, now, the pints of ice cream loomed behind it like icy ghosts. The labels were unreadable, but their myriad presence could be felt, mocking him.

What do I do? He thought. I can't call. How do I know what she wants? I can't call. I can't call. I can't . . .

"Are you alright, son?"

Bill looked up. He was sweating, he realized. Wiping his brow with a coat sleeve, he saw an old man. The man was wearing an apron with the store's logo on it. "Huh? Oh . . . you're out of mint pinky berry. My wife's flavor. I forgot my cell phone and I can't call her. I don't know what to do." He was panting.

The old man went on putting chips on a self. "Quite a conundrum, eh?"

"I'll say."

". . . if you are a gutless lump of worthless, pinko sissy-man, that is?"

"I beg your pardon?" said Bill.

"Let me ask you this," the old man said, letting a bag of Doritos drop to his side, looking Bill in his eyes. "Do you want me to come over and satisfy your wife for you one of these nights? It must be hard for her living with a sissy-man."

"I beg your pardon!"

"You can beg all you want, but you'll still be a sissy-man, Skippy. Just pick a damn flavor you techno-dweeb."

"Whaaaaaat?" said Bill, embarrassed by but unable to control the elevating octaves of his vocal ejaculations.

"Pick. A. Flay-voooouuurr," said the old man. (Bill did not like his tone.) "Married long?"

"Eight years," said Bill, feeling like a frog pinned to the dissecting pan.

"You know your wife. For the love of Pete, just pick something you know she'll like. Jesus." The old man went back to stacking chips, but he was breaking them now, slamming bags into place. "Sissy." He began to mumble: "Vietnam jungles  . . . no cell phone . . . tiger pits with spikes dipped in human feces everywhere . . . children with grenades strapped to them . . . bunch of pansy pushing wimps in Acuras . . . " (Here, he obliterated a bag of Munchos with one mighty push.)

Bill opened the freezer, thought, and reached in.

At the counter, a teenaged boy with pimples was playing a game on his phone. Bill cleared his throat. The boy looked up. Bill paid.

He pulled up to the house. At the front door, he breathed a deep breath. Inside, his wife was sitting on the couch, watching TV. "Hi," she said, smiling

Now, Bill. Now's the time, he thought. "They were out of your flavor. Uh, I know you like cheesecake, so I got you this."

He handed it to her.

"Ooh! That looks good," she said.

Bill flashed his most debonair smile and plopped down on the couch next to her. When they finished the ice cream (which she loved and claimed she was going to get next time), there were glances and giggles, and soon the two ran upstairs for a night of frisky frivolity.

The next day, Bill (who was now regularly called "Tiger" by his saucy wife) cut his lawn without his cell phone in pocket and without a shirt on his back.

And no sunscreen.

The day after that . . . who knows what reckless adventures awaited our hero?


  1. You really captured that fervor, that fevered senselessness and neediness that so often accompanies dependence upon certain technologies, particularly in young folks (people my age and below, I guess). I do not like my cell phone, especially the occasional panic I experience when I forget it. Interestingly enough, I almost always experience a greater sense of self when I'm removed from my technological crutch.

    ~ Matt

  2. It really is tempting, technology. My wife calls her iPhone "my precious" in order to underscore the point. We are truly addicted, worldwide, to our phones.

  3. Nomophobia – (n.) fear of being out of mobile phone contact

    This is so pertinent. Not that it's surprising there's a term for this phobia, since there are far more phobia terms than most people realize. But still, it's telling.

    ~ Matt