Wednesday, August 15, 2012

My Phone Is Cool Like You

Elizabeth and Bill today
Prada phone

I used to be really cool. I was soon to learn that I was not.

I belonged to a celebrated Manhattan Writer's Group, and my friends had names you might hear of someday. This was just before the bohemian had morphed into "hipster." My bohemian forward-fashion was remarked on. I lived in north Williamsburg with all the other cool people, a "suburb" of the Lower East Side. I was a girl in the center of things.

One day I saw someone in my neighborhood wearing a suit. Around a decade ago. Since you would never see a "suit" in north Williamsburg, I recognized it as a Sign of the end- the Upper West Side was about to move in. This meant of course that rents were due to go up and push us out.

So goes the life cycle of a bad neighborhood: first the most courageous of the artists come in and make the place habitable, then the bohemians (like me) come running after and kick out all the natives of the neighborhood, and then once the neighborhood has become interesting, the yuppies come in and kick out all the bohemians. Sure I was part of the problem, but now the next cycle was going to be my problem.

Suits appear in Brooklyn
shameless use of Jonathan Rhys Meyers in blog

This man in the suit was touching his ear and talking to himself. Then I realized it was one of those new cell phone thingies, which people in business had just begun to use, and yuppies. These symbolized their status even more than did their suits. Wall Street, money, ambition, power, and other suit professions, as opposed to the search for beauty, truth and meaning. Yes there was once such a time, when no self-respecting artist or bohemian would have a cell phone. Or be seen anymore near one. I mean that literally, as you shall see.

It wasn't long before, as I prophesied, my building was sold and the rent doubled. For complicated reasons I had to abandon it before the end of the month and to crash in a friend's living room. I was homeless, so if I wanted to make appointments to look at apartments, I had no choice but to buy one of those cell thingies. To a 21st century eye my phone was clumsy and had no special functions. But for that time it was practically science fiction. As a self-respecting bohemian I found it a little embarrassing; but honestly it was the perfect solution for my predicament.

my predicament
fr Malte J├Ąger's photo travel book: 
'Couchsurfin' the World'

I met some friends for dinner in the neighborhood. I waited on the corner with my friends Elizabeth and Bill, waiting for friends of theirs. She worked in a junk shop and he tested computer game programs. Both were Williamsburg artists. I was homeless, and we were waiting outside a restaurant I could not afford. While everyone else would eat a nice Italian dinner, I planned to order a small soup.

My watch told me it was 7:00, time to make a call about an apartment. I pulled out my little cell phone. Elizabeth and Bill looked at me, eyes wide. "You have a cell phone??!" like it was a bad word. I was self-conscious, embarrassed and apologetic. I tried to explain that I was homeless, but they just didn't seem to get it. How ironic that they thought I was like a yuppie.
sent away

They actually made me walk down the street away from them so their friends when they arrived would not see me. I let them make me feel ashamed. Yet they were about to eat in a restaurant I couldn't afford. I did order my small soup (minestrone). Frankly it makes more sense for an artist to be embarrassed seen through the window ordering a $20 entree.


I have a shiny apple in my HIP pocket

The real irony didn't hit me until last year when I saw the viral video of Atomic Tom, a hip rock group with fabulous haircuts and one even in a suit, riding on the NYC subway, who supposedly (turns out not really) had their instruments stolen. They all just happened to own iphones, so they played a song together on their phones. 

I'm sure I am the only person who saw this viral video and thought, "How uncool." It seems somehow incongruous, these two worlds clashing, the haves and the have-nots. Since when did artists become consumers? Perhaps it was my experience with Elizabeth and Bill that makes me feel this way. I haven't quite adjusted to the fact that what once was incongruous is now the proper combination.  

Don't get me wrong, I do love the video. But you know what I'm about to say.
Not Elizabeth and Bill

What irony. While I am still using that same clunky old no-function phone from a decade ago, what do you want to bet that Elizabeth and Bill are proud owners of the latest sleek iphones, with upgrades and new apps each time. As a computer program tester, Bill is surely proudly geek now, chasing the latest technology. So much for cool, I'm still on the wrong end of it.

Don't get me wrong, I also think these phones are cool, and geeks are cool (I always did), and all the rest of it too. My clunky phone is still a little embarrassing, except this time for the opposite reason. It's very possible that someday I will- but for now I just don't- own one;  I just don't really need one. Mine isn't great but it's good enough. It's good enough! To me my phone is cool like you, Elizabeth.

Several months after writing this, the author confesses she has succombed to 'smartness.'

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