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Saturday, Dec. 8, 2007

WHEN EAST MARRIES WEST

Yes — I have a cell phone


"Hate" is a powerful word, and one that I would never toss around lightly, not even to such potentially worthy targets as the Tokyo Giants, Fox News and eggplant (blech!). But having said that, let me further say this:

I hate cell phones.

I hate the way they swallow so many seconds of their user's lives, whether those users camp on trains, stand on escalators or weave (not walk) down city streets. I hate the way users thumb frenetically over the buttons. I hate the various hums, beeps, rings and chime tones. I hate the way the phones yank you to speak no matter where you are, like a dog being claimed by its leash. I hate the way the ever-present phones with their gaudy straps have become but another blemish in an urban landscape already zit-creamed by endless billboards and neon. I hate the way people gawk at me when I say I don't have one.

Except I can't say that anymore.

Yes — I have a cell phone. It sits on my kitchen table like a dragon's egg. I wait for it to hatch open with some kind of hum, beep, ring or chime tone. But it does nothing.

"First, you have to charge the battery," says my wife.

Yes — I have a cell phone. Don't tell Mark Schreiber. My fellow Japan Times columnist zaps me frequent e-mails citing all the reasons why cell phones are undesirable — "undesirable" being a euphemism for how he really feels, feelings I share. Feelings compounded perhaps by life in Tokyo, where everyone lives in such close proximity that cell phone yakkers fall in the same annoying category as the neighborhood yapping dog.

Yes — I have a cell phone. I feel like I have betrayed my better nature, let a lone all that is decent and noble and pure. Let alone Mark Schreiber.

"Oh, stuff it," says my wife. "Let's charge it and call somebody. Anybody."

Truth be told, this is not our first such phone. Years before, in the months before she passed on, my mother-in-law had one that we propped by her bedside, as her weakened hands were not strong enough to lift a regular receiver. But once she left this world, I saw to it that the cell phone soon followed, no doubt to the opposite destination.

This new dragon's egg is not my idea either. My son got it and leaves it now, temptingly, on our kitchen table.

"Why, oh why," I screeched, "did you purchase such an accursed device? Think of your filial piety. Think of your immortal soul. Think of the mail from Mark Schreiber."

He gave me a version of the De Niro look from "Taxi Driver" — You talkin' to me? — then left. Left with the phone sitting there, with a smug grin on its case.

I remember as a boy, standing by my grandfather's side the day he first saw an escalator. "Goldurned thing" is maybe what he said. "What is this world coming to?" is maybe what he meant.

I don't feel that out of touch with my times, though my son may think otherwise. My life engine runs on words I'd never even heard a dozen years go — download, upload and an unending load of vocabulary more. My house creaks with all the hardware. And the important software — that's inside myself — has always sensed that somewhere a line had to be drawn. For me, that line has been cell phones. They have been my escalator of sorts, leading life down to a lower floor on which it was not meant to dwell.

"Oh rubbish," says my wife. "Let's just call somebody and get it over with. Then I'm gonna go get me one, too. It's time."

I take the dragon's egg in my hand, half expecting it to burn my flesh.

"Spawn of evil! In what heinous manner will you befoul our humble home?"

"Will you cut it out and make a call before I scream?"

"But . . . who do I call?"

Of course, there can be but one person.

Mark . . . I've done it. I've sold out. I've gone to the dark side. I've fallen before the whips of wicked Queen Consumerism and have joined her enslaved minions. I no longer have a soul. I am not a man; I am a number. My son did it, really. But we are a family, and as head of the unit, I take the blame. Like a captain, I am going down with my ship. I shall soon no doubt be texting messages like the rest of the damned in Davy Jones locker. Adieu. Remember me as the way I was, not how I have become."

My wife waits as I stand and listen to the response. "Well, what does he say?"

"I dunno. It still hasn't charged."

And, who knows, with luck maybe it never will.



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