You never know how much you can handle until you are truly pushed to the edge.
Last week I stood isolated, alone, untethered… There I was, a solitary man with no tools or resources. As if I were dropped from a plane in the Antarctic or tossed off a boat in the Pacific. I was cut off from the rest of world and stripped of all modern convenience. I forced myself to be mentally centered like a marathon runner just to keep myself going forward. Like a secluded, deserted island castaway that swam miles to the shore only to then start crawling companion-less under the blazing sun, using my last bit of strength to drag my body through the burning sand one—–hand———in———–front———— of————- the————-other…
I struggled to my feet and stood mentally naked to world arms raised to the sky… “WHY ME!!” I shouted out to the universe. But my words fell on no ears. I was silent to all. No one could hear my calls.
You see I was on vacation when my cell phone got stolen and I was without a phone for almost 5 days. GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
No phone, no computer… immediate forced cold turkey. I felt like Gilligan without the Skipper or Professor. No email, no texts and no sports updates. I found myself peeking over other people’s shoulders just to get a glowing screen fix. No Trump thrashing or Pelosi persecution. I was getting the shakes. No Amazon Prime same-day shopping, no weather updates or insta-twit-snap-red-whats-face I was jonesing like a junkie just off the stuff. No social media!?!? How would I survive a day without cat FAIL videos, dirty memes and my god without my big brother manipulated Facebook feed how will I know what cute thing my old neighbor from two houses ago’s best friend’s cousin’s 4-year-old kid did? Five days of keeping my emojis and snarky comments to myself. Oh, the horror. I was poking interesting strangers trying to find their like button. I never even took the Buzzfeed ‘Which Founding Farther Are You’ quiz!!!!!
Okay, I’m exaggerating a bit.
It really was not that bad. The only real problem was i kept forgetting I was forcibly shoved off the grid. I’d think of something I wanted to text my wife, only to find an empty pocket. I’d see it was time to check-in for my flight and not have a way to do it. I’d reach down to buzz for an Uber and… well you get the picture. Over and over I was reminded how connected I was to a damn phone. It got to be whenever it happened, I hummed that Price Is Right loser riff… ‘wa wa wa wa waaaa, whuuuuuuuuaaaaaaaa’ or sometimes I would blurt out in the Soup Nazi voice something like “no cab for you”.
My life did not end. The world kept spinning. I guess the worst part was the beating myself up. How could I put it down and turn around in my chair for even a second. I normally guard my stuff like a maniac. Most days I check that my wallet is in my pocket about a hundred times. I really do that. I just did it now.
I thought I was street smart and city savvy. I was raised in Queens where I was taught to look over my shoulder when I walk. I was told to separate my money and wallet so if I got mugged I’d still have cash to get home. What happened to me? I imagined some thick-necked thug in a deep Brooklynese accent banging on my door to revoke my New Yorker status. “Yo, schmucko… whadya dhinkin… always keeps an eye on yer sheet. Ya not from friggin’ Jeeeeersy. R-yaa?!?!”
I still can’t believe I let my phone get stolen. I should have kept it in a pocket or connected it to a belt loop with a chain. But no, I had my crap spread out all over the place in a public place and left it a couple-a feet away while I turned around to look at some sports crap that I don’t really care about on the big screens behind me. Now some underground sleezebucket street slug has my Samsung with the Otterbox case and a smiley face sticker on the back that my 90 year old Dad slapped on it over my doting Mother’s objections.
It reminded me of when my buddy Mike first moved to L.A in the 80’s and someone broke into his 20 year old Mustang stealing, among other things, a case of homemade cassette music-mix tapes I made for him back in Junior High School. At the time all we could imagine was the toughest possible group of hardened gangster killers standing on a burnt-out ghetto street corner, slipping one of my tapes into their 3-foot tall bass-juiced boombox and listening to dorky Dan’s assortment of wacky vanilla tunes like Fish Heads, Black Slacks, Existential Blues and Hello Muddah Hello Faddah.
I was far more traumatized when three thugs stopped 12 year old Dan while I was riding my week-old ten-speed bike Dad just purchased. I was too young and stupid to understand what was happening at first, so I kept objecting when the one holding the handlebars said my bike was his brother’s. Another eventually got tired of debating and shoved a steak knife against my side while telling me to get off. I asked if I could at least have the lock I paid for myself from the little leatherette pouch hanging off the back of the seat. And there I stood holding back the tears, slumped forward with the lock dangling from one of my hands as I watched two of them hop on my new orange Schwinn Varsity speeding down the park road and out onto busy Woodhaven blvd.
It sounds odd but in the many years since, I have been in four armed robberies but none of those affected me the way the bicycle theft did. I’ve had guns pointed at me, a hammer waved at my head and someone once broke into my apartment stealing, of all things, an ancient VCR that I got for free. All of those things are definitively not very pleasant, but that damn bicycle was the worst. Well that and the phone the other day.
You see, with all the other stuff I just happened to be there, I blame myself for the phone. If I had kept it in my pocket, or lap or a retro fanny pack or used a nerdy belt clip or anything, it never would have happened. I could have easily prevented this, so it stings. It makes me question myself and my abilities. Am I losing a step? Am I growing complacent or just old? Yeah, I have insurance but that does not replace my new-found lack of confidence that I won’t do something foolish again. And that might just be worse than having to reprogram a new phone or being cast out on that island alone.