Reality Truck

Or How I Spent My Leave of Absence

I didn’t get a cell phone for Christmas, and now I kinda wish I had, after mine finally bit the dust last week.

The text messaging and email went down in October, around the time of this particular provider’s merger with another provider (I could—and have—named names, but really, what’s the point, when they’re all the spawn of the devil?).

I was able to send out a few words at a time—but it was pretty arbitrary—and the provider seemed to have installed some sort of (I think the technical word is....) “gremlin” in the keypad, so that they, or possibly John Ashcroft, decided which words went through and which ones didn’t. I could never tell. But my coworkers definitely seemed confused most of the time when I’d follow up, and sometimes vaguely alarmed (so I think it’s entirely possible they were getting really inappropriate VERSIONS of whatever I was asking them to do).

I put up with that for awhile.

I started making daily calls to Customer Service in October (while conveniently on hold I learned all the words for everything from “Do You Know the Way to San José?” to “Time 4 Sum Aksion,” “Wootay,” “Twerk Sumtin,” and eventually “Run, Run Rudolph.”) Dionne Warwick. Neil Diamond. Then Master P. Soulja Slim. Silkk the Shocker. They seemed to get a little hipper post-merger…until Toby Keith’s “Very Special Christmas.”

I think the time frame makes it clear that everyone involved in this merger makes a cruel mockery of the words “customer” and “service,” but that’s probably why I’ll never be a Fortune 500 CEO (that, and the fact that 30 percent of them are over 6’2”…which I find wildly attractive and it makes me want to date one except that I expect 85 percent of them are married to 23-year-old pop tarts).


I just started leaving a LOT of voicemails for my coworkers....Until they all threatened to quit. I finally got the message the day I walked in and they were all standing on top of their desks in sweat-soaked t-shirts with the word “U.N.I.O.N.” crudely Sharpie’d onto pieces of driftwood they’d assembled from ripping up the bookshelves in my office. (Actually, they’re all too young to have seen Norma Rae…and truth be told, they’re not ones to whine. They didn’t even complain MUCH when I put black plastic on all the windows and installed timers on the light switches, thinking, Hey, if it increases production in poultry....)

I had to give up voicemail anyway, because starting a week or so ago, I learned that while I could HEAR all incoming calls, no one on the other end could hear me (which, honestly, everyone who knows me actually preferred).

At the beginning, it was incredibly annoying and frustrating. I would call (or answer) and start talking—but I found out later, all they were getting was my number on the Caller ID and then a series of clicks and static. This really freaked out everyone who’d gone with me to see White Noise (which is honestly NOT that scary....until your DVD spontaneously wakes you up at 3am, playing Something’s Gotta Give with Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton, especially if you don’t even have that DVD). And I think EVERYONE who’d seen Charlie Sheen’s 1996 “classic,” The Arrival, was justifiably disconcerted. (In it, he plays radio astronomer Zane Ziminsky and works for someplace like SETI, before he gets fired by Ron Silver who turns out to be an alien—after Zane intercepts and deciphers some clicks and static as alien communication—and then goes off to Mexico to prove that the aliens are, as I recall, causing Global Warming, and chatting back and forth with each other via all this tongue clicking. If they had tongues, which they probably didn’t, because maybe they didn’t even have faces. But I do think that was Teri Polo of Meet the Fockers playing his girlfriend. Hell, 1996 was a long time ago; I can’t remember everything, and IMDB just crashes my machine. But, say what you will, I liked it a lot better than the infinitely more pretentious Contact, with Jodie Foster.)

At any rate, since my friends and I don’t speak “Michael Keaton” or “alien,” I was going to have to remedy this situation.

I isolated it to two problems: first, I wasn’t getting signal; and second, the components of the phone were disintegrating and falling apart (you could see daylight through it).

I discovered I could solve the first problem, to some degree (at least broadcasting snatches of conversation), if I would lie on my right side with my left arm in the air. This was fine as a stopgap measure—but it was only a matter of time until I was pulled over or got in a really bad accident.

As for the phone itself falling apart, I’m pretty impressed at my resourcefulness.

A large binder clip worked well briefly, but it made it difficult to dial, so I switched to one of those ponytail holders (which have the tensile strength of steel as far as I can tell—and let me clarify I just mean the wrapped bands, and that I am not, nor have I ever been, in possession of a scrunchy).

When those snapped, I got out an Ace bandage (which didn’t work) before proceeding to the duct tape (which is usually my first course of action), but noticed it would obscure the keypad entirely.

Desperate times requiring desperate measures and all, I then got the Gorilla Glue out of my toolkit (which is actually a pink Barbie lunchbox, but it is surprisingly well stocked).

Gorilla Glue is not for the faint of heart, but I’ve found it’ll work for almost any household emergency that canNOT be solved by duct tape, which are admittedly few.

I was about to disassemble the whole thing and drench all the components in the amber glow of my primate adhesive of choice when the damn BATTERY died, AND refused to take a charge. I plugged it in, and a little Stop Sign popped up that said, “NOT Charging.” (My guess is, it saw the Gorilla Glue coming and was either trying to protect itself…or just giving me the finger. My other theory was that this was my punishment from God for accidentally forgetting to turn it to Silent when we went to see In Good Company this weekend—arousing the wrath of an entire theatre when the pager went off. If you were there: I’m sorry. Forgive me. I really did have a lot on my mind and I’ll never do it again.)

I realize this all sounds FAIRLY irrational to NORMAL people (who would’ve just bought another phone), but please don’t underestimate my unwillingness to venture forth to the wireless store; to make a commitment of any kind (much less one involving two-year contracts); and/or my capacity for sheer cheapness when it comes to my refusal to waste money on something I don’t want, along with my pathological aversion to getting ripped off.

I do okay with big decisions—I bought my house over the span of about 48 hours—but my eyes glaze over and I develop a virtual paralysis when it comes to the truly trivial. Left to my own devices, I’ll just stand in an electronics store helplessly like Rainman, chanting “bout a hunnerd dollars” ‘til somebody takes pity on me. (They know me well at HH Gregg, and I’ve found them to be quite supportive.)

I also wasn’t exactly reassured by the story (possibly told to me in confidence) by a NAMELESS colleague who said she had the same problem I did with this provider and that the only way she got a new phone out of them was when she started crying and wouldn’t stop. Her fear was that she’d set feminism back a few decades—my fear was that I am very rarely capable of crying (unless I have sustained a serious injury). Plus, I wasn’t anxious to let them break me. I do have my pride.

So I took a leave of absence from work; left a forwarding address; and headed to the wireless store—loaded for bear and ready to do battle.

I planned to leave there with a phone. I wasn’t going to sign a contract. I wasn’t going to pay $800 bucks for anything. I was hoping it wouldn’t be necessary to use violence, take hostages, or fake a seizure, but I was pretty committed to the strategy that anyone who mentioned “bluetooth” to me would require an emergency visit to the dentist.

Once I got there, I realized I hadn’t thoroughly thought this through.

There was a sign-in sheet at the door, exactly like the kind you get at the doctor’s office—except the place didn’t appear to be staffed by anyone who’d passed an MCAT. It didn’t appear to be staffed by anyone who’d ever passed a bar. It didn’t really appear “staffed” at all.

As I browsed mindlessly, it became clear that there were two young children running the place—and over the course of eavesdropping for several hours, it seems that Tiffany AND Heather had been allowed to leave for lunch at the same time; Joey had called in sick; and all the managers were taking the holiday off. There was another guy with a limp who occasionally labored his way up front to the registers, but he offered nothing more than false hope as it turned out he was a tech who worked on the phones in the back (where there’s a big sign that says, “THIS IS NO LONGER A SHOP.”) I was hoping he could at least be prevailed upon to kick Tiffany and Heather’s ass if they returned, but he was always in and out too fast.

They also needed a new sign-in pad because the old one was full—which is where I noticed my banker and his wife had logged in just in front of me—about the same time they greeted me and asked how my holidays had been. They were just there to update their FamilyPlan (you could tell by the clean, healthy, well-rested gleam in their eyes), and I was on the verge of asking him if he could loan me $800 bucks when my name finally got called. (My FIRST name by the way. And I don’t know about you but I was raised to address my elders with some sort of respectful prefix, even if it was just “Miss Nancy” or “Mister Jack”—and I wasn’t about to validate the practice of TEENAGERS using my first name, so I didn’t respond until I heard the inaccurate but more appropriate “MIZZUS,” followed by my last name.)

Hampered by the presence of my banker and a roomful of parents with their coughing, hacking children who were out of school for the day, I was not able to be as…stern…as I had planned, and in fact, censored myself to an amazing degree given that THEIR merger had caused all of MY problems, and I was MORE than ready to dig in and take the self-righteous, fault-free moral high ground (with zero intention of mentioning the Gorilla Glue, since I didn’t ACTUALLY get to pour any of it into the phone).

Still, I walked out with a phone. I didn’t pay $800 bucks. And I did NOT sign a contract. Now I spend all my free time programming profanity into the predictive text feature.

Naturally, no sooner was the digital ink dry on my painstaking entry of 472 names into my rolodex than they came out with the ACTUAL model that I had wanted from Lost in Translation.

It looks like a credit card, and it’s called something like “The Razor 5000,” which is either an allusion to how thin it is, or an indication that it doubles as a weapon/personal protection device.

And, having learned nothing from my horrible experience, if I had $800 bucks on me, I would go get one right now. n