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DALE McFEATTERS If you think a Harley is dangerous ...



Published: Sat, April 23, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



At a certain age you become Ralphie from "A Christmas Story" all over again.

You remember Ralphie, the kid in the perennial Christmas movie who desperately wanted a Red Ryder BB gun but kept getting told, "You'll shoot your eye out."

What I get is: "You want a Harley-Davidson? You're crazy. You'll only end up killing yourself."

So what I got for Christmas was a cell phone.

Judging from the cell-phone-using drivers and pedestrians I encounter every day on the way to work, a cell phone was every bit as good as a Harley for getting yourself killed, but my position as the last person in the greater national capital area without one was apparently unacceptable.

There were two problems here.

I don't really need a cell phone. I'm in the office all day and there's a perfectly good phone on the desk that the company pays for. At home it's a different matter. I'm at an age, what with ailing kinfolk and the kids away, that if the phone is for me, it's probably not good. There have been days when I've been relieved to find a telemarketer on the other end.

And the other problem is, and let's be frank about this, I'm a technological dunce. There are TVs in our house that I can't turn on because it takes three remotes to do it. And this cell phone came with 123 pages of instructions plus all kinds of bells and whistles -- photos, music, text messaging and a cryptic warning not to use it in areas where there's blasting going on.

When I started in the newspaper business we used candlestick phones, just like the ones in those posters where the reporter bellows, "Sweetheart, get me rewrite!" Except now there are no candlestick phones; it's illegal to call female colleagues "sweetheart;" and there's no rewrite anymore.

'Star Wars'

Our daughter, Kirsten, got the same cell phone and soon she was happily programming away and running up her bill. While I was out, my son programmed mine so that on a call from our home phone, my wife's picture would appear as the phone thundered out the Imperial March from "Star Wars." His calls were announced by "When the Saints Go Marching In." Very funny, son.

The phone sat on my dresser for weeks until I got up nerve to clip it to my belt. I didn't turn it on; I just wore it around, radiating, I imagine, a thoroughly spurious air of techno-savvy. Finally, after consulting the directions, I took to turning it on.

Since then, I have had only one occasion to make a call, and I botched it. At a meeting, I volunteered to contact someone and began authoritatively stabbing at the cell phone. A number I didn't recognize appeared on the screen quickly to be replaced by images of a moon-faced male with glasses and thinning hair peering anxiously out of the phone. It was me! My phone was taking my picture and sending it to some unknown number. In desperation, I turned the whole phone off. I haven't tried to make a call since.

And I have received only one call.

One day, I was sitting quietly at my desk when my left hip began belting out that rouser from "Les Miserables": "Do you hear the people sing? Singing a song of angry men? It is the music of a people who will not be slaves again!"

As directed by the instructions, I pressed "send" to receive -- you see why I get confused -- and my wife said, "Oh, sorry, wrong number. I was trying to call Kirsten and got you by mistake. 'Bye."

One way or another, however, I will master this phone and I think I know how. I'll practice by calling telemarketers and sending them my photo.

Scripps Howard News Service




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