My least favorite invention of the modern era is the cellular phone. With regard to cell phones, I am a luddite. Not that I don't own one, or use it as an alarm clock. But unless you're my lady friend, I may not answer your calls for weeks at a time. I apologize. I enjoy solitude, I suppose, but I think it has more to do with keeping focused on my surroundings. I like to concentrate on the person I'm talking to, the book I'm reading, or the fishy-flavored eggplant I'm eating. Answering the phone, for me, is like making a Monty Python scene jump: and now for something completely different ...
In China, I have come close to pitching my phone in the lake. If you were to browse my contacts list, you would find five or six good friends, two or three coworkers, and upwards of forty people I have no recollection of whatsoever. They have names like Hill and Lemon and Eros and Pumpkin and Circle and Dynasty. These are the names of Host Country Nationals, in peacecorpsspeak, who at one time or another approached me on the street for English lessons. I am much too polite to deny anyone my phone number, but if I were to answer all of their calls, I would turn into an itinerant pro bono English-teaching hobo. Unfortunately, my aloofness often comes back to bite me in the ass, as was the case with my most recent stalker. We'll call her Sunshine.
Sunshine got my number by interrupting last Monday's Mandarin class to ask for it. She then followed me for several blocks and waited for my tutor to leave so she could ask me for English lessons, and so on. Over the next week, she called me fifteen times a day, starting at 7:30 AM and persisting until ten at night. I had managed to avoid her until yesterday, when she materialized in the street and followed me and my tutor on our after-class walk. She didn't say a word, just lurked behind us, waiting. After parting ways with my tutor, I ran into the Mennonites. We exchanged fist pounds. Then Sunshine made her move.
"Excuse me," she said to the Mennonites. "I want to be Keith friend, but he never, never, never pick up he phone!"
The Mennonites chuckled.
"Yeah," said Phil. "He's a shady fella when it comes to phones."
"So, I don't want to be Keith friend anymore. I want to be you friend."
She asked them when they were free to teach her English and somehow, in their smooth West Coast way, the Mennonites dodged her. They invited me to dinner and, already having a Daniel Plainview afternoon, I politely declined.
"Thanks. But I think I need to get back to my apartment," I said, "and away from these ... people."
I took ten paces in the opposite direction before I heard my name.
"Keith, do you have free time now?"
It was Sunshine.
"I think I'd better go home and rest," I said.
"How about tomorrow?"
"Tomorrow I have class."
"How about after class?"
"Perhaps," I said.
"You had better pick up your phone."
But I didn't, I haven't, and I won't. It sits there on the desk in front of me, rattling and jingling and buzzing its way towards the ledge, where it looks like it might drop into the trash can if Sunshine calls again. And there she is. And there it goes. Nothing but net.