Reach out and touch someone (for mature audiences only)

A cell phone adventure

7 minute read
Is there no escaping this gizmo?
Is there no escaping this gizmo?
One red cell, that's all it took to drive me furiously into Olden Age. Not a red cell of blood, a red cell of phone. When it jingled in my purse or thrummed on my thigh, I answered politely. To end the call, I clapped it shut. How hard is that for Granny? Yet and yet.

Mostly Red Cell lived in my purse, where I can't hear it ring because I can't find the right function to make it louder. So don't call me, I'll call you. I never got messages. Or, I don't think I did.

If I pocketed Little Red, that tingling feeling on my groin was a message or an incoming call. I fumbled to dig it out in time to catch the call while I fumbled for my drugstore specs so I could see the teeny screen. Teeny mysterious buttons, teeny little letters, on the screen that I can't make bigger. By the time I settled the scratchy glasses on my nose, Red Cell had gone back to sleep, showing me only a T-Mobile logo.

Red Cell didn't cost much on the Husband's plan, but I live at my PC keyboard right beside a clear landline. So did I really need a cell phone? But what if one day I became inspired to text or take a photo? So I kept Old Red, irritated every time I found an old message from weeks before. Irritated even more by being such a dweeb: the only person who doesn't wear a blue tooth or an iplug in her ear. I have become so, so very ancient.

Then Red's wall charger disappeared. I searched the room for weeks before Red's battery ran down and I had to buy a new charger.

An offer to help

So I tapped my foot impatiently behind the other customers at the T-Mobile store one Saturday, unable, as always, to read the tiny serial number on Old Red to match up with the tiny serial numbers on the hundreds of chargers on the display rack.

Just then another customer, a friendly Hispanic woman of about 40, offered to help. Her untidy hair was graying and her clothes were well worn. She saw what I was after.

"Look," she said, "here's exactly the right one: a car charger on sale for just five dollars." The others cost more than $30.

"That'll do it!" I yelped. "Thanks! I hate to spend a dime on this damn phone. I hate it."

"Your phone's a lot better than mine," she replied, showing me an old Metro model in a chewed-up plastic case. "I'm here to get a new one because I have to go to a funeral on Monday and this one don't have coverage in Fresno." Almost 200 miles to the east. "But my credit's so bad I don't think I can get approval."

"I'll sell you mine," I blurted, as a wave of relief washed over me.

"I'd love to buy it," she exclaimed. "That's a really nice phone."

Just one problem

The wave receded. "Gee, it's on my husband's business plan," I said. "I guess I can't sell it to you."

"Oh well, thanks," she said cheerfully. "I'm going to try for a new one. In the past I made a lot of dumb mistakes about my credit. But I'm getting better."

The deep lines in her face, her baggy jeans, her helpful energy.

"Look," I said. "I'll lend you mine. Take it to Fresno. It'll roam anywhere and it has plenty of minutes left." I figured: Husband's program had loads of unused time. We could follow the usage online and just cancel the service on Little Red if she went bonkers.

"You would lend me your phone?" she said, both amazed and pleased. "You never saw me before!"

"Sure," I said.

I gave the clerk $5 for the charger. "You might as well take the charger, too," I told my newfound friend. "Bring it back when you get home."

"I can't believe you are doing this!" she said. She gave me her name and address and explained that she worked at Home Depot, right across the street, in the hardware department. "You can find me there," she said. "Except not this weekend. But I'll be back on Tuesday."

An immigrant community

She carefully wrote her name, address and number on a slip of paper: Alma Alvorado, a street in East San Jose. Lot of immigrants there, Vietnamese and Mexicans.

I went home, marvelously lighter without my Red Cell. Feeling good about the world, like donating a pint of blood.

The weekend passed. Monday I dialed Old Red and got my voice-mail right away, meaning Red was off. A few friends snickered at my naÓ¯veté: You'll never see that phone again. Tuesday passed. By Wednesday I thought, Maybe they're right.

Early Wednesday evening Alma walked down my driveway, looking exhausted, holding Old Red in her hand. She was on her way home from Fresno.

She hadn't needed Red after all, she said, because her credit was good enough for a new phone. She'd considered sending her husband over with Red on Sunday morning.

"But he is a Mexican man and I thought, maybe..." Alma looked around at my neighbors. Not fancy, but not East San Jose, either. Mexican man, not Mexican. I'm still pondering that distinction. I gave her a hug. My, she was short.

Death at 17

"Wait, the charger," she cried, and began to paw through the jumbled boxes, old furniture and bags of stuff in her beat-up Pinto hatchback. She pulled out a T-shirt printed with the face of a tough young Hispanic man and the dates: 1992-2009. "My brother. We made these for the funeral."

I calculated his age. "Holy smoke, only 17."

I've driven around Fresno, a fragile eastern California ag town at the western edge of the Sierras. A struggling little city, home to thousands of Mexican immigrants, at the bottom of California's economic tank nowadays. "How?" I asked in a whisper.

"Murder," she said, and sighed. "Gang, probably. Aha, here it is!" She handed me the charger.

"That's a lot to go through," I said. "And a long drive. You must be exhausted. Want to come in for a beer?"

"Yeah, I am really tired. But no thanks. I'll go home and have a cup of coffee." Then she brightened. "One really good thing happened when I was there. My brother finally, after ten years, agreed to let me have our mother's ashes. She always wanted to go to Hawaii but she never got there. Now my sister and I are gonna go in the fall. Somehow."

Alma rolled her big brown eyes. I wanted to buy their tickets right then and there. "Take Mama out to sea and bury her in the Hawaiian Ocean—I know it's probably illegal. But she's gonna get there after all."

Last goodbye

Of course I still couldn't read Old Red Cell's screen or figure out how to pick up my messages. Probably weren't any except the one I left myself when I doubted Alma.

I kept Red for another month. Then one day, after a delicious, salty burrito at Taco Bell, I put a cup of water into the car's cup holder. Put on my Walgreen readers for a squint at Red's teeny screen and plopped the phone into the cup, killing my Red Cell forever.

Totally by accident, of course. Requiescat in pacem.

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