Once upon a time I did not have a cell phone. It was the 90s, I think. The memories tend to get hazy as the years go on. For example, the very last memory I can conjure at this moment that involves me NOT having a cell phone is when I visited my old roommates in London in the spring of 1999 and I had to borrow my friend Katie's mobile phone version -0.1 to let her know when we could meet up after spending the day wandering through Hyde Park. It was awkward and heavy to carry but I enjoyed the ironic freedom of being able to be found and met without worrying about loose change for the pay phone.
So, when I got back from that trip, I realized that "everyone" in NYC was getting one and my curiosity won out over my troglodytism (patent pending on that word) and I got a very, very small flip phone since back in the aughts, we were determined to have small cell phones. If you don't remember that, then we can't date because you are too young for me. But today's memory is not about that. We'll have to discuss our relationship another time.
Anyway, it was an exciting time for me...I was 23, I was living in Manhattan on a bookseller's salary and I was now able to use my teeny phone to call roughly half of my friends who also had teeny phones and tell them to order me a margarita at Tio Pepe's on West 4th because it was two for one night and I was on my way.
During this time, one of my friends, Bridgit, had been living in Brooklyn, studying for her PhD in Queens and, just for giggles, joining choral groups that gave concerts in Manhattan at places like Lincoln Center.
She would always give me tickets and invite me to see these concerts and the first time her group sang at Alice Tully Hall, I felt like I should rent a fur coat and a silver cigarette holder. Lincoln Center, fuck, the entire Upper West Side lived in my mind as a place for 1930s rich people to drink champagne. Needless to say, I was excited to attend. It was a packed house and we had nosebleed seats, optimal for people watching and seeing the stage. I didn't see any fur coats or meet anyone named Chauncey or Bitsy. As it turns out, regular people attended shows at Lincoln Center, too. Because of Bridgit, I felt like I was “with the band.”
Choral music lends an air of the sacred to any space (I wonder if any choruses have ever recorded anything in a subway station…those could use some benediction. And a broom.) I tend to feel like composers and performers open the door to the other side and that music is just a brief glimpse we are allowed before the door shuts in our stupid faces. The atmosphere was reverent and solemn and it put me in a state of reverie. I wish I could remember what was being performed that night but alas, it was 16 years ago. I distinctly remember it had a gorgeous adagio section and the reason I remember this is because it felt as though all the air was sucked from the room and the audience sat still and attention in awe of the sweet sounds from the stage. Oh, and also, my fucking cell phone went off at that very moment.
The phone was on a setting that when it was receiving an incoming call, the ringing would begin faintly, in long drawn out beeps and gradually get louder and louder, like a petulant child being ignored by its parent. It would only stop beeping if I manually opened the phone. TECHNOLOGY. Because I was so involved with listening to the music, it took me a solid minute to realize that it wasn't some other moron who neglected to silence their phone. No, the CALL WAS COMING FROM INSIDE THE BAG...AT MY FEET.
Here I was inside this historical musical landmark at Lincoln Center, frantically searching for my complaining, miniature phone in the cavern of my purse as it got louder and louder by the second.
My mortification was tangible. The other audience members were petrifying me in place like a hundred Medusas. At last, I found the phone at the very bottom of my bag (of course) and silenced it. I contemplated throwing it to the ground and stomping it to death, envisioning three cheers for how wonderful I was for destroying the enemy but instead I whispered a lame "sorry", only to be shushed Tammy and Chadley, cousins to Chauncey and Bitsy.
The me of right now wishes I could go back, take my own hand and whisper to myself of back then that, a scant 16 years later, people will talk openly about their yeast infections on the subway in detail within earshot of dozens of strangers and in the grand scheme of things, the outsized ringing of this phone at this time, was as small in relevance as it was in size. But, I can’t do that. I simply have to live with the memory of my cell phone beep echoing through the past.
I am only able to relax into a performance if I treat it like I'm on the ascension part of a roller coaster ride wherein I obsessively check if my seat belt is tightly fastened and the shoulder straps are locked into place. I will take my cell phone out over and over until the lights are dimmed to assure myself that it never happens again. People might think me strange, but as god as my witness, I will never interrupt a performance with my phone again.
I have to cut this memory post short now because I have to call my OBGYN while on the subway. Bye!