Why Did the Phone Ring? by Janet Keyes

     Let me say this at the outset- I got a cell phone only for my own safety and convenience. It leaves the house with me only if I go outside alone in the wintertime when I might possibly slip on ice and fall, and when I will be driving out of town alone. To assist in keeping my phone for my own convenience, I have given the number only to my husband and my three children. My three children’s spouses do not have my number, nor do my three grandchildren. It seldom rings.

     Generally I am conscientious about plugging the phone in regularly for recharging. I do know that a dead battery leaves the phone useless. With all my precautions in place, I felt confident that my phone would be used only by me for outgoing calls in proper emergencies. I suppose the enormity of my naiveté should not surprise anyone of my own generation, and will probably elicit pitying chuckles from other generations.

     When I first had the cell phone, I was dismayed when it rang. The nice man in the phone store had set the ringer on “vibrate,” but my phone had a very soft ring-tone accompanied by some vibration and an annoying noise that sounded like a cross between a hoot and a groan. Somewhere some poor owl must be in pain, I thought. My dismay turned to a mild panic when I realized I did not know how to turn the phone on. After I flipped the lid up, should I have pushed the round button? Or maybe I should have hit that odd green icon that resembles an actual phone?  Why didn’t that nice man explain all this? I had been very specific about wanting the dumbest phone possible, so what went wrong? I tried just saying, “Hello?”

     I had waited too long. No one was there.  Or maybe I had failed to push some button. I put the phone back in the bowl on the kitchen counter. This whole business of having a cell phone just for my own safety and security was getting to be complicated. A little later my daughter dropped by. She is a cell phone whiz, plus being a whiz at using all kinds of I-pads and tablets and laptops. She walked me through a few basics, and made sure I could retrieve messages if I missed a call because of being at the other end of the house or out in the garage. The missing message said, “This is Dr. So-and-So’s office calling to remind you that you have an appointment tomorrow at 2 PM, Mr. McMann.  Goodbye.”

     I called the doctor’s office back and explained at length that this was no longer a valid number for Mr. McMann. So now I’m a social secretary for a man I don’t even know. I don’t even remember his real name- I just made up a pseudonym.

     During the next few months I got many calls for him, and of course none for me. I had to explain repeatedly that no, this is not the correct number for Mr. McMann, and no, I do not know what his new number is because I do not know him. Sometimes his callers sounded a little hostile, and when I demanded to know who was calling, they would hang up. Eventually, I began to wonder why Mr. McMann had given up his number. Was he avoiding an ex-wife, or an ex-girlfriend? Was he avoiding collection agencies? Actually, all the calls seemed to come from men- maybe he was dodging an ex-boyfriend.

     I wish I could say I have become more skilled at using my cell phone, but that would be inaccurate. The menu page is for illiterates, with no words, just pictures. I think in words, not in pictures, or pictographs or hieroglyphics. One day as I was fumbling with my phone I discovered to my horror that it was taking pictures- a capacity I did not know it had. I still don’t know how to do it on purpose. The phone store man never mentioned it. Apparently the dumbest possible phones are determined to be smarter than I am.

     Somewhere in all these months of confusion, my daughter was helping me do something with my phone, and it required me to have the ability to text, so she canceled my setting of NO TEXTS. Now I get odd messages by text more than by voice. Sometimes those text messages say things like, “Long time no see. What’s up, baby?” And one hostile recent message said something like, “This Ur-Heg. You must return this call NOW!” Frequently around dinnertime, the phone hoots and groans to give me a text about how somebody needs me to help to make America great again, or to tell me the DNC desperately needs me to contribute money so we can Take Back the House. Apparently Mr. McMann has an eclectic mix of political loyalties. Fortunately the messages can easily be deleted, but I have noticed there is no option to Block this Number or to Opt-Out and Unsubscribe.

     So, after having this cell phone almost three years, I have made about five out-going calls, and have received about four in-coming calls from family members. But most of the time, I still cannot answer the question, “Why did the phone ring?”

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