Saturday, January 14, 2012

Fone Follies

This past week, an attendee at a New York Philharmonic concert made headlines when his iPhone began ringing—and continued to ring for several minutes—during the "most intense, most sublime, most emotional" section of Mahler's Ninth Symphony. Conductor Alan Gilbert calmly stopped the orchestra and asked the offender—who was sitting in the front row—to turn off his phone. Several times. While the phone continued to ring. When the man finally complied, Maestro Gilbert re-started the orchestra and finished the concert. All-in-all, a very civilized way of handling the situation—although I'm sure the orchestra and the rest of the audience would have preferred to see the maestro descend from the stage, grab the phone, throw it to the floor, grind it under his heel, and beat the offender savagely with his baton.

Apparently, the man's excuse was that he thought he had turned it off, but it was a new phone, and he wasn't familiar with all of its features. Well, I suppose I can understand that—especially if he is of a certain age. Most of us who were not born with a cellphone in our hand have known the embarrassment of having our phone go off in a meeting. How many of you have "butt-dialed" someone with a new phone? When Loretta got her first cellphone, I began getting strange calls, with mysterious muffled voices. Her phone would dial the house every time it bumped against something in her purse.

My father and I were still getting used to using our cellphones a couple of years ago, when Loretta and I were visiting my parents in Virginia. I was driving him to the nursing home where my mother was undergoing rehab. We had left a message with my parents' doctor, and I told my father to bring his phone along in case the doctor tried to reach him. Sure enough, about halfway to the nursing home, the phone began ringing.

"Whose phone is ringing?" my father asked.

"Yours, Dad. Answer it. It's your doctor."

"Why did I bring my phone?"

"In case your doctor called. It's him calling. Answer it."

He tried to answer it, but by then it was too late. He tried to call back, called the wrong number, realized his error, and disconnected before the call went through. At that same moment, my phone rang. When we were at a stoplight and it was safe to check my phone, I saw that I had missed a call from "Mom and Dad." Assuming it was Loretta back at the house, I called back. My father's phone began to ring.

At this point, it should have been obvious what had happened. My father had called my phone by mistake, and I was now calling his phone, thinking I was calling the house. However, at the time, I still hadn't caught on...

"It must be the doctor calling back," I said.

Dad answered it. This time he was ready.

"Hi, Babe," I said, thinking I had reached Loretta.

"It's not Babe. It's me," said Dad.

My father and I both do fairly well with our phones now, but I don't think my mother will ever get used to using a cellphone. Recently, my parents moved into a new apartment. It was several days before their phone could be hooked up, and the only way to reach them was by calling their cellphone. A conversation with my mother went something like this:

"Can you hear me, Mom?"

"Fine, dear. How are you?"

"Hold the phone up to your ear, Mom."

"Yes, we had a very nice dinner."

Cellphones. What would we do without them?

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