Dad’s Cellphone

After the storm hit last week, all cellphones had problems. Cellphone towers were knocked down everywhere. I found that I could make calls, if I stood across the street under the street sign. I could only send one line texts. It was difficult, but I could communicate with the world.

My parents' phone was completely useless. With all the trees down, it would take me 45 minutes to drive to their house to check on them. 

My mom got their phone with a coupon in an AAA package. It was so cheap that it was the kind that drug dealers on "The Wire" would use once and throw away. It used some obscure carrier out of Utah. I said that they HAD to get a new phone for safety sake, and they finally agreed. They still don't have phone or Internet service, so a good cellphone is essential. 

On Sunday, I took them to the mall. I had my dad write a wishlist of features that he wanted on the phone. He read his list off to the salesdude, who amazingly did not crack a smile. "I want one of those address book things. I want a camera…"

We got him an iPhone 4, because they are selling them for .99 right now. He had no idea that he could check e-mail and read Drudge on it. It was like Christmas. 

26 thoughts on “Dad’s Cellphone

  1. you may think of this as a throw away post but it is delicious. you are an amazing writer. my mother recently got a real phone, too. good times. i still have a cheapie, but i live with many adults with real phones, and can walk almost everywhere, so i am never dangerously disconnected.

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  2. I predict Apple and ATT/Verizon will make out like bandits. Once we could drive in our neighborhood (5 days after Sandy hit), we both went and bought the iPhone 4S because the radio information was so bad. We have a crank-up radio, but it seems that most stations were more interested in reporting about the decision about the marathon or how much water was in the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel than telling you anything useful, like where you could charge cellphones or what grocery stores were open. Add to that that our jobs were sending out voicemail and text messages asking us to e-mail them (!) and you see that we have shifted into a world that depends on Internet access. I saw no one going through neighborhoods with flyers giving information for those of us without power.

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  3. I understand wanting to have a functional phone in emergency situations, but don’t see it as an urgent safety issue except for people without neighbors.

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  4. “Neighbors are Useless” was the theme of our block party last year.
    I know the names of about half of my neighbors, but I don’t know the name of the woman next door to me. I somehow didn’t catch it during the period when it would have been reasonable to ask and now I can’t really ask.

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  5. “He had no idea that he could check e-mail and read Drudge on it. ”
    So cute. My parent doesn’t have the issue of buying an obscure phone from a coupon flier, but has the issue that instead of just going out and buying an iPhone, he thinks he’ll get a less expensive phone, attach a mobile internet hotspot, get custom sim cards, and figure out a way to attach the phone to an arduino board so that he can also use it to do the laundry and start the coffee. So, we he ends up with bricks that work in funky and unusual ways.

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  6. Why don’t you know your neighbors? I still know the people who lived next door three apartments ago, let alone my current neighbors. And, I am a misanthrope!

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  7. “Neighbors are useless. We don’t even know our neighbors’ names.”
    We’re in our current apartment for just another 7 months, so I’m not fussing with that sort of thing, but in general, your neighbors are your first line of defense. In our old neighborhood, there was a family directory (that I eventually managed for a while) with names, phone numbers, addresses, emails, etc. It was awfully handy, but it was a somewhat transient neighborhood, so it did require a lot of maintenance to keep fairly current.
    We’re moving next year to a neighborhood where we already know two (and have nodding acquaintance with a third) families.

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  8. I still know the people who lived next door three apartments ago, let alone my current neighbors. And, I am a misanthrope!
    Maybe the “and” should be “therefore”, depending on the neighbors?

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  9. I am a total introvert, but I’m a big vote for going out of your way to make sure you know all of your neighbors.
    I am cooking dinner tonight for a neighborhood family where the sole cooking family member is going through pretty serious chemo (Red, white and blue chili and cornbread, with Michelle Obama’s chocolate chip cookies for dessert! Yes, I knew it was election day when I signed up last month.), and will be raking leaves this weekend for a single woman with MS whose kids are off in college. Haven’t had to call in any favors yet (knock wood) beyond a random “pick up my kid from school,” but being in the community network is really a big load off when emergencies come up.

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  10. bj,
    Your dad and my husband should have together someday. They have so much in common.
    Regarding safety:
    In our old neighborhood, we were able to tell our kids that in case of major emergency, they should run directly to the neighbors’ house and ask for help. (We were inspired by reading about that really horrible Connecticut home invasion story from 2007.)
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cheshire,_Connecticut_home_invasion_murders
    Even in the case of direst emergency, it might be difficult to get a child to knock on a complete stranger’s door.

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  11. I would love to know my neighbors and in the.two or three times that I”ve seen them in the past year, I have been super happy and smily and wavy, but they instantly disappear in their homes. They also have huge shrubbery surrounding their homes, so it’s hard to spot them.

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  12. Our neighbors would certainly not be our first line of defense in an emergency. We know our neighbors. One of our neighbors (who now needs full-time help, we think, and we think he has it, but aren’t in the loop to know) has come to our house for assistance at times.
    In general, though, our neighbors are neither our family nor our (close) friends (probably closer to acquaintances) and I wouldn’t expect them to fulfill that role, except in the dire emergencies where proximity is all that matters.
    Now we are fortunate that we have family that we would rely on in emergencies who are less <5 minutes and < 30 minutes away (right now, my parents are neighbors, though that will change in the near future).

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  13. Get a dog. It’s a surefire way to meet the neighbors. I know everyone now. Or let me rephrase that: everyone knows Abby. I’m just the human at the end of Abby’s leash.
    Speaking of neighbors, my sister’s neighbor called her tonight to tell her the neighbor got power, but she didn’t think Jen did. And sure enough, when she got home, she still had no power. But the neighbors hooked up a looooong extension cord and now my sister has a light, the tv, and a space heater (the latter loaned to them by the neighbors). Can’t believe she’s been 8 days without electricity. 😦

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  14. “But the neighbors hooked up a looooong extension cord and now my sister has a light, the tv, and a space heater (the latter loaned to them by the neighbors).”
    Awww.

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  15. I think that’s the case for most people. But dire emergencies are generally the ones people mean when they say they need a cell phone for “safety.”

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  16. My parents’ neighbors shouldn’t have to take care of them. That’s my job, along with my brother and sister. They did have a kind neighbor checking in on them, but it was only one guy. And they’ve lived in the same house since the late 70s.
    Actually, it’s not true that most people know their neighbors and rely on them. There is actually really good data on that.

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  17. There are two single old ladies across the way from me and I try to keep their walks clean in the winter even though one of them is kind of an asshole. It only takes like five minutes and then I don’t have to worry that I’d feel guilty if one of them breaks her head.

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  18. “My parents’ neighbors shouldn’t have to take care of them. That’s my job, along with my brother and sister. They did have a kind neighbor checking in on them, but it was only one guy. And they’ve lived in the same house since the late 70s.”
    I agree and disagree. Well, it’s easy for me because I don’t live near my mom, but my sisters take care of her. However, her neighbors have been *wonderful*. They all look out for each other and take special care of my mom, maybe because they know how hard she had it for 4+ years taking care of my bedridden dad.
    I also have to point out that the people next door to her are Indian, the people across the street are Egyptian (Coptic, I think), the best neighbors and the ones who come over most are Latino (Mexican or a Central American country, don’t know which), and on the other side are Greek. There’s also a Filipino family next to the Egyptians, but they do keep to themselves, maybe because they have a young baby and are working parents. Very different from when I grew up in that house! Then we were surrounded by whites, including the German-born wife of our across-the-street neighbor. Next to them were the Volvo family (yes, we called them Volvo man and Volvo woman and Volvo kids–they all had Volvos!). Next door, where the Indians live now, was a schizophrenic. There was Carmela (Italian) down the street–she never took care of her yard, and a rat problem developed.
    (Yes, I’ve literally just been reading Robert Putnam’s essay, “E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the Twenty-first Century The 2006 Johan Skytte Prize Lecture.” I know that we allegedly “hunker down” when confronted with ethnic diversity in our neighborhoods, but I happen to be seeing something very different happen in my mom’s Nassau County neighborhood, even before Sandy.)

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  19. wow… now I know what the 24 comments are all about, neighbors!! I agree with first commenter Marta, this is a lovely post!
    In any case, I totally hear you on the neighbors, sometimes it’s just hard to get to know them, it’s TOTALLY not your fault!.
    We got super lucky with mormon neighbors across the street who have a boy a bit younger than Linton and who are SUPER nice (as in she fed & cared for my cats for THREE WEEKS this summer, isn’t that amazing?). In any case, I don’t know the other neighbors very well, but we *always* wave to each other — common custom here in rural VA.

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  20. Proximity is really important. Take Wendy’s sister–not being close, Wendy couldn’t possibly snake an extension cord all the way to her house, but her neighbors can with relatively little fuss.
    I’d also question putting too bright a line between a friend and a neighbor. Several years ago, a family moved in next door to us. Fast forward to the present, and we’re no longer neighbors, but she’s one of my best local friends. Also, we’re going to be neighbors again, because I’m moving into a house that’s going to back to hers. She was even suggesting we install a gate in our shared back fence, which would be kind of cool.
    I agree that good cell phones are important for emergencies, though, both for communication and for unbroken internet access. I’m always noticing when our internet is down how much I depend on it for finding phone numbers and addresses or doing other basic household research.
    Here’s another possibility to explain Laura’s unfriendly neighbors: one is a mafia household, and the other “neighbors” are FBI surveillance teams.

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