If one chooses to pick the phone up less, the memories come pouring in
Amy McIntyre Kramer | Seven Mile Satellite
Originally published 27 July 2019
I’ve been trying to figure out where our fixation with cell phones will lead us. Hopefully not to the funny farm but some days I wonder.
I sit on our front deck in Avalon most mornings while the rest of my house sleeps. It’s early. I’m waking up, drinking coffee, doing yoga, reading, sometimes writing. And although not always successful, I try to keep my cell phone inside. If it goes well, if I make it out there unencumbered, I count it as my first accomplishment of the day: taking my first step out into the morning air, device-free.
If I’m not successful and the phone rides out atop my journal and the short stack of books in my arms, invariably, I’ll pick it up. There’s a strange magnet that pulls me to it.
But the mornings that I intentionally — or unintentionally — leave the phone inside, I find I can start my day breathing easier. There’s space between my thoughts. I can even pull out my pencil and jot one of those thoughts down.
If I’m not reading or writing, I’ll simply sit and watch the passerby. I’ve noticed that most of them have succumbed to the magnet’s pull too. In fact, an astounding number have. It seems there’s barely a walk to the bakery sans phone, while dog walkers are 50-50 simply because some have two or three furry friends in tow. Bike riders are half and half as well, that second half being mostly teenagers who are craning their necks to keep up with what’s happening “out there.” And very unscientifically, I find that stroller pushers come in at a whopping 80% more likely to have a phone in their hands. After all, their subjects are up in front. Up there, those little tykes are goo-goo-gaaing at anyone and everyone who’ll look their way. Unfortunately though, many of those people passing by don’t even take in those cute little live-action faces. Instead, they’re looking at a reel of something else.
All of this cell phone business got me wondering. How would my formative years in Avalon have been if I’d had a phone?
Would I still have sat under the 29th Street boardwalk with my younger cousin Phil on a Friday night, killing time by pretending we were gold diggers? We were 14 and 12 years old, a plastic toy “screen” in each of our hands as we sifted through the dark, cold sand that never saw the light of day underneath the area in front of Avalon’s movie theater.
Nestled under those boards, we’d heap handfuls of sand onto the screens and then shimmy them back and forth, back and forth, searching for coins or — heaven allow — diamonds and gold. With no internet to post a lost bauble, what you found was yours. Most of our lot was coins, the ones that slipped out of people’s hands and rolled on the weather-worn slats before they hit the divide at just the wrong — or for us, the right — angle, and either conked us on the head or dove hidden into the sand. Every once in a while we’d even find a bill. A one or a five, a 10 and only once, a 20.
Most times, we’d divide and conquer, but sometimes it was every man for himself. I can’t remember which method was used most often, I just know for sure that neither one of us had a phone in our back pocket. If we did, we’d have been somewhere else.
Phil’s older sister Julie and I would have been somewhere else, too. We were only four months apart and had our first job together, chambermaiding at the Whitebrier Hotel, Bar and Restaurant that stood between 20th and 21st at the beach.
For the life of me I can’t picture phones in the tiny pockets of our tiny uniforms, those short, tight, white polyester numbers that helped us get the job done. But even if those pockets did fit a phone, I’m guessing they would’ve been empty. We’d likely be pulling double duty: one hand on the phone and the other on a toilet brush.
But the bed races, we needed two hands for those. Those races were the reason that the “double queen” rooms were our favorites. Julie would stand at the foot of one bed and me at the other, and then, one, two, three, go! We’d race to see who could get the bed made the fastest and also the best. Corners had to be perfect, pillows evenly spaced, bedspread smoothed just right.
We raced so that we could then pad our break times. We raced because when we did, the laughs came pouring out of us.
And aside from all this, with phones around, how would I ever have gotten to know Julie’s deep, dark secrets — and her, mine.
I also doubt we’d have spontaneously jumped off the 21st Street bridge, our phones would’ve been toast. We wouldn’t have snuck into party after party having the time of our lives — except for that one night — because the phones would’ve told us there was somewhere else to be. And the Peter Frampton, Foreigner and YES listening sessions upstairs at Julie and Phil’s on 27th Street, they surely wouldn’t have happened. Our devices would’ve been screaming, “There’s better music out there, all you have to do is look.”
We can’t stop time. We can’t stop change. But we can challenge ourselves to have a little more untethered time. If we do, memories like these find their way in. When that happens, it makes me want to get out a pen and paper and drop Julie a line.
And come to think of it, I’m going to do just that, with my phone parked inside.
Amy McIntyre Kramer is a writer for the Seven Mile Satellite. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.