the cricket’s warning chirp

31 October 2012 § Leave a comment

Am I the only one who notices the porn-shop grunginess of used and pay-as-you-go cell phone shops? The employees always seem distracted, though ironically not with their phones, and are just shady enough for me to think that if I asked for a cricket plan with a side of meth, they would happily fill my order, and slip all my twenties into the same drawer.

Samsungs and iPhones, Andriods and Blackberries alike, lined up in sad rows in glass counters, objects of our obsessions, like toys that beep when we smile at them. These places are pawn shops without the chainsaws or class rings, where young men go to profit from their latest find, or to facilitate secret keeping.

And then I realize, what am I doing standing here? I am not wearing a shiny football jersey or Nikes, my car has no 22 inch dubs, and the only plastic bags in my pockets are those earplugs come wrapped in.

Yet – like them – I wish to stay off-grid, whatever that means; I wish to keep my ugly credit file in the dark and out of use, to keep my name off contracts. Obligation and commitment are to me rejected family members, twice removed. But is it worth the grime?

A month ago in Albuquerque, Heather asked me to turn around. You need a phone for the trip, she told me. I didn’t particularly want to be reachable – I wanted to take the great western hitchhiking trip with as little caution as possible. Even the idea of having a destination curdled the Kerouac romanticism in me, but I accepted it. And, I’d learned to not argue with her, especially on points of irresponsibility. Somehow, she always wins.

Heavy drops of desert rain pelted us as we ran from a fenced church parking lot to the Cricket shop next door. In ten seconds our clothes stuck to us like panicked cats trying to keep out of the bathtub. I covered my head with my wet t-shirt, saw the futility in it, pulled it down again, and made peace with the weather. I sucked in the scent of rainsoaked sage and thought of the childhood I spent feeling indifferent about where I was.

The man inside asked for my ID. I hadn’t committed to the sale, and frankly could have mistaken the place for the apartment of a narcissist thief. He outlined the month-to-month plans with a soft Juarez accent with all the enthusiasm of a skipping stone after it’s sunk. Like many questionable characters before me, I perused the cheapest plans and cheapest phones, and felt distinctly that I was choosing from a stockpile of dead children. Phones that had once gathered all of their owner’s attention – eyes at screen for hours, emotions roiling at received text messages, fumbling with in pockets anxious, or, to be among the luckiest – and now saddest – having been slipped into a bra while bodies danced. It was a cellphone hospital whereby the doctor sold off his former patients. It disgusted me.

“Fifty. You like that one, I can do fifty on that one.” He pointed at the phone that caught my eye, a heavy Samsung with the face that moved to reveal a keyboard.

I considered the history of the phone – where had it been, what conversations had developed over it, how many times had it been lost, or cried into? It was well-used, a charcoal blue and silver brick of advanced technology circa 2007.

“I’ll take it. What’s the coverage like?”

He showed me a map so inaccurate that had I known how rarely I’d have service over the six days and two thousand miles of the trip, I would have communicated with Heather via messenger pigeon instead. Green splotches covered the beige map in a shape curiously similar to the interstate system, with major cities fat around their bellies. The phone worked until Santa Fe where, promptly, the screen blinked buscando SVC for much of the next six days.

In Portland, a lazy day in the rain. Another Cricket shop. Used desktop computers, dusty and old, sat overpriced in the window. The man behind the counter wore a shiny football jersey and mumbled in baritone to a man trying to sell him his phone. They spoke no common language but Cell Phone.

“Fifteen. I can do fifteen on that one.” The customer searched the room for a translation. He looked at me.

Quince,” I said quietly.

No, viente.

I wondered if I wanted to be a part of this. My fellow customer was not someone I wanted to see angry, and the man behind the counter, likely a linebacker in high school, seemed to want him out of the store.

“He’s wondering if you’ll do twenty.”

“Can’t do it. I’ve got six of this model already.”

The customer picked up the phone, stared at it, then at the footballer, stuck it in his jacket pocket, and left.

“Can I help you?”

Just then I heard laughing in the back of the store. He went around the corner, took my phone number and cash, gave them to a guy with slick hair who sat at a computer, and said I was good to go. Simple as that. I asked for a receipt. “You’ll get a text,” he said, already having dismissed me.

On my way out, I noticed the security bars on the windows and door. They fondly reminded me of Costa Rica, where I understood no one’s intentions, always stood in the back of the crowd, but somehow got involved with whatever grit came with the breeze. Some places I just don’t need to be.

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