||“Makes about as much sense as rubbing two sticks together to start a fire when you’ve already got matches in your pocket.” I told her, “And besides, a fella’s gotta stick to his principles about something in this world. Certain things a guy my age has earned the right to do; like speaking his piece on any subject. Or things he’s earned the right to not do...like not running to catch the bus; not dumping all the innards of his personal life on Facebook, if he doesn’t want to. And not texting!”
When the concept of text messaging first came about, I dismissed it as another societal misadventurelike Nehru jackets, leisure suits and the Pet Rock. Remarkably, once it got a toehold, the concept held on like grim death and spread like kudzu, especially among the Millennial crowd. Oh, you’d hear or hear about Boomers who texted, but for the most part, they were outliers. Tapping messages out on keys was something that was done by the younger generation, not mine.
The full-blown embrace of the “I’d rather text than talk” philosophy of lifealong with the rise of the Kardashians and the emergence of Snookiwas, in my book, a sure sign the country was headed in the wrong direction. And while Obama’s policies didn’t bother me in the least, the fact the leader of the free world was a known Blackberry-carrying texter made me raise my eyebrows. “What ever happened to just picking up the phone and dialinger, uhpunching buttons?” I’d often wondered.
Of course, when it came to texting, or rather, when it came to me texting, I’d drawn a line in the sand. I’d been emphatic about it, too. I’d said the same thing to others many others. But Lackawanna, the teenager whose family lived on the other side of the cul-de-sac, was my main audience. “Listen to me,” I told her one afternoon, “if you ever get any kind of a text message from me, call the police. Immediately. It means I’ve been kidnappedabductedand I’m texting from the trunk of some Mafioso’s car. It’s the only reason I’d ever text anybody.”
“OK, suit yourself, Mr. C.,” she said nonchalantly after listening to me rail. “Everybody does it though. At least everybody I know. It’s really the only way”
As I mentioned, Lackawanna is one of my neighbors from across the street. We encounter each other twomaybe threetimes a week when she is on her way home from school and I am finishing my daily run of several miles around the neighborhood. My jogs help me to delude myself that, because I am doing something to improve my health, I can indulge myself with Smokey Bones and Rocky Roadwith extra walnuts.
On most days, Lackawanna dresses in some variation of the same theme: long sun dress, sandalsshowing toes with each one painted a different colorand an Army-green urban back-pack. She wears a constant ponytail and invariably totes a metallic red cellular device upon which her attentionsand fingersare almost always ruthlessly focused. The sixteen-year-old also wears black horned- rimmed glasses and sports a blue and yellow cavorting dolphin tattooed prominently on the right side of her neck. On those same days, as I complete my run, I’m dressed in a pair of dark running shorts, and my lucky-but-ragged T-shirt that brags “PROPERTY OF GEORGIA TECH FOOTBALL” in very faded letters across the chest.
At first blush, the generational divide would appear too great to allow us to do more than exchange just an occasional “Hullo” or “G’bye” as we enter or leave our respective homes. Over the past couple of years however, Lackawanna and I have developed an egalitarian friendship of sorts, one based upon the exchange of ideas and information about our own particular demographic. She keeps me abreast of the latest urban-speak, and she also does her best to answer my compelling questions. For example, do young teen women really view teen males who insist on wearing their pants hanging off their butts as being eligible for friendship or anything else? (She doesn’t, she says). She also explains to me such things as why people wearing nose rings should be taken seriously.
In exchange, I fill her in on the lore of my generation, such as it really was possible to live in a world in which personal computers had not yet been invented. And also, every Baby Boomer who swears they were at Woodstock couldn’t possibly have been. But more importantly, the sound of Young AmericaMotownran through Detroit, not Liverpool.
A few days back, as Lackawanna and I convened near my mailbox wrapping up a brief conversation that had us both scratching our heads (over UFO’s and Dennis Rodman), the subject of texting arose. (I’d wanted to discuss the joy of dolphin tattoo removal but thought better of it.)
“Texting is how I keep up with my peeps,” Lackawanna explained.
“Yeah, peeps. You know, friends and associates, Mr. C. Anyway, texting is really the same kinda thing dolphins do underwater. We learned about it in school. As a pod of dolphins is swimming along, they send signals to each other that only they can interpret. It’s how they communicate with each other. Like I said, texting is really the same kinda thing ’cept it’s for humans, of course.”
“Dolphins? Signals?”Are you sure about this, Lacka?”
“You never learned about the dolphins, Mr. C? I guess they didn’t know that kind of stuff when you were my age. Or maybe you were too busy listening to that guy you told me about last week. Whosis...whatsisname...uh...uh...er...James Brown?”
She looked at me, smiled, shook her head and then disappeared inside their family abode, presumably to do the things other inveterate text messengers do. But I could only presume.
I’d remained steadfast on the matter. Texting rather than talking seemed like a step backwards. At some level, there’s mischief involved. It required you to learn code language such as TTYL (talk to you later), OAN (on another note), WYD? (what are you doing) or MYC (man, you crazy). The whole thing was too much like work if you asked me, especially when I considered that everyone I’d ever seen do it was multitaskingi.e. sending, receiving and composing witty repartee while doing something else entirely: walking, smoking, driving, or painting their toenails. “Heck, single-tasking is getting to be more and more of a chore,” I told myself.
Texting also ultimately brought up the matter of my own notorious track record: my penchant for technological disaster and disarray. The small size of any text screen, the age of my eyes and the proclivity of my pudgy fingers to make inadvertent typos all on their own, especially when trying to punch tiny keys was a sure recipe for disaster for me anyway. I could well envision a well intentioned text request of “Will you carry me?” being received as “Will you marry me?”which is just not the same thing at all.
A day or two after me and Lacka had discussed that business about the “underwater dolphin signals as text messages,” and after I had once more restrained myself from bringing up the subject of prominent tattoo removal, I was out on my daily jog. The only thing I can surmise is that extra endorphins kicked in, and I found myself about six miles further from home than I usually go. I headed back in a homeward direction when a “partly cloudy” weather forecast turned into an angry deluge.
As a result of the high wind, the rain was falling in sheets and torrents. Suddenly I was ten pounds heavier because of the weight of the rainwater in my clothes and shoes. If this wasn’t enough, the storm turned angrier and hail began to fall.
Heretofore, any hailstones I’d ever seen were “pea-sized” or perhaps “dime-sized.” The Weather Channel had never prepared me for the apparently “new and improved” model: the bullet-sized, projectile-shaped, armor-piercing hail pummeling me. It brought to mind what bad writersthe ones who wrote cheap dimestore novels and badly-produced TV melodramasmeant when they’d written about the hero “...being caught in a 'hail of bullets' or a 'rain of gunfire.'”
The only refuge in sight was a McDonald’s that appeared to be about a half-mile away. Blinding, pelting rain and hail must alter one’s depth perception though, because as I sloshed, squished, and wheezed my way along, the Golden Arches didn’t seem to be any closerit must have been a mirage on the horizon and three counties away. Just after a bolt of lightning split a nearby oak tree (along with the flash of the first twenty years of my life), a yellow cab materialized out of the blue, windshield wipers throwing off rainwater in every direction. (Even now, as I re-tell this incident, I find it scientifically interesting!) This taxi just appeared as if it were beamed down from the Starship Enterprise or from the end of a wand waved by some unseen, unknown Fairy Godmother.
The driver powered down the passenger-side window: “Mr. Ceeeee,” he shouts, elongating my foreshortened last name. “You are Mr. C, aren’t you? Well, aren’t you? Get in, man. Get yourself in out of the rain.”
Pleasantly stunned, but soaking wet, I squished and wheezed my way inside. I don’t normally ride with strangers appearing out of nowhere, but under the circumstances, I think I would have gotten into a car with a known serial killer.
The cabbie’s namegospel truthas shown on the city permit on the sun visor over the driver’s head, was “Noah.” He handed me a beach towel. “Here, dry yourself offhave you home in a jiffy,” he says.
“Thanks, but how did you know?”
“Lackawanna texted me, just after the storm came up.”
“Yeah, you knowthe girl with the dol”
“phin tattoo,” I finished his sentence, and we both laughed. “Yeah, she’s my neighbor.”
“She’s a good kid, that Lacka is...said you’d be along here somewhere, and you’d be needing a ride about now. Said you’d be the guy in the running shorts and a T-shirt you’d obviously stolen from Georgia Tech.”
Minutes later, I was at my front door, asking Noah how much I owed and, as always happens in cases like this one, the rain had stopped and there was a bright bluebird sky directly above my house.
“No charge. It’s complimentary. Lackawanna wouldn’t have it any other wayat least for a first-time customer caught in the rain. I’m one of her peeps. Part of her network. You must be, too.”
“Yeah, like the dolphins. She’s told you about the dolphins, hasn’t she? Well, of course, she has. We all text each other, all day long. Cab drivers, waiters, pizza guys, bankers, pharmacists, doctorsand all our customers, too. We all know Lackawanna. She’s got us organized. Heck, since she came to town and taught us to text and network, my business has increased 237%!”
“TWO HUNDRED AND THIRTY SEVEN PERCENT!” I repeated to myself a few minutes later as I wrung out my rain-soaked clothes and changed into dry ones. I couldn’t help but think about how observant Lackawanna had been about the routine of my daily run. Mostly though, I thought how considerate she was to send Noah to my rescue. The kid had just conjured up a Yellow Cab, out of the blue, one that likely saved me from catching pneumonia...or worse. Maybe the girl with the dolphin tattoo was onto something. Maybe I’d even try te..te..te...texting on my ownas long as nobody I knew could ever see me doing it.
I wanted to thank Lackawanna for her consideration, and I thought, “What better way to thank her than by texting her?” Cellphone in hand, I attempted to tap out, “THANKS FOR THE RESCUE CAB,” but which my fingers somehow translated into “TANKS FO THR RESCU CAN.”
Moments later, I was startled by a knock at the door. “Everything okay here?” the police officer was asking, “Your neighbor sent us...said the guy who lives here might’ve been kidnapped.”
Will Cantrell is a writer, story-teller and spinner of mostly-true urban tall tales. He can usually be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, assuming he’s managed to find his way home and out of his latest predicament.