Problem Solving Can Be Tricky. A Situational Existentialist Story.
| A Text-Message
I got a Text-Message from my wife. It said: "We have text messaging now. Call me back."
I am very surprised. I have never received a Text-Message before -- Or sent one. When we finally got a Cell-Phone plan, we didn't get text-messaging, because we knew we would never use it, or need it for anything. We were of the opinion that life was entirely too complicated, and that technology was just making it more so. I was even annoyed when my wife decided to get Cell-Phones.
I have been doing a lot of traveling lately, and I will admit that my Cell-Phone has come in handy a few times, but now, this! I'm not sure how I'm going to cope with this! Text-Messaging, of all things.
Well, my first message says, "We have text messaging now. Call me back", so I suppose I should. Luckily it says, call me back, and not text me back. I have no idea how to send a text message.
I'm currently on a pleasure trip in a small town that I've never been to before. I have come here on the bus and I'm trying to find the hotel where my wife made a reservation for me.
I seem to be developing cognitive difficulties. I haven't told anyone about it yet. I've been coming up with little coping mechanisms, little hints that remind me what I'm supposed to be doing.
Now, I have to get that paper out of my pocket, with the address of the hotel on it. That Text-Message has distracted me. I forget that my Cell-Phone is in my hand, and when I slide my hand into my pocket, my Cell-Phone slides out of my hand and lands on the sidewalk. I pick up my Cell-Phone and look at it. It doesn't appear to be broken. I flip it open and look at the blank screen. Maybe it is broken. Nope. I forgot I turned it off. I push the button that turns it on and the screen lights up. Whew, I say to myself. I don't know what I would have done if my Cell-Phone was broken.
Now, I remember I was going to call my wife and find out about this Text-Messaging predicament, so I sit down on a nearby bench and punch in the number. This is a very comfortable seeming little town, I think to myself. Blue Sky - Not too warm - not too cold. Friendly people around. I can tell at least some of them are friendly, because they nod and smile, when I nod and smile at them. Some don't though, but that may be because they haven't noticed me smiling and nodding at them. Some kids on skate-boards. Some dogs, some birds, and a cat over there watching me.
I look at the phone in my hand and realize it's not doing anything. Maybe it rang and my wife picked it up and said, Hello?, and when I didn't say anything she hung up. That's probably it. She probably assumed the connection was broken and she is waiting for me to call her back. So, I punch in her number again and listen to the Cell-Phone - Nothing is happening. This is a conundrum, I think, or I'm in a quandary. Sometimes I forget the meaning of words, but I don't suppose that matters when I'm just thinking, or talking to myself; I know what I mean. As I'm looking at my Cell-Phone, trying to discover the problem, I realize there is something on the little screen. I have to turn it around just right, so the sun is hitting it just right, so I can see the little screen through the glare. "No Service Available". That's what it says.
I am just having quandaries on top of problems, like orange juice on top of cornflakes, which I don't like either. I guess I should just check into my hotel, calm down and relax, maybe take a warm bath, and determine what my problems really are. Now - If I can re-find that address - There. I yawn and stretch, making sure my Cell-Phone is securely in my pocket, and continue my stroll toward the hotel, nodding and smiling, and asking for directions.
"I'm sorry sir, but I can't find a reservation for a, ahh, Mr.___. Do you have your confirmation number?"
"My wife made my reservation for me, over the Internet. She just gave me the address. I would have thought she would have given me a confirmation number if I was going to need a confirmation number." The lady at the reservation counter seems annoyed with me. I try to be as polite as possible. I realize I can catch more reservation ladies with honey than with vinegar. "My wife might have a confirmation number. She keeps exceptionally good records of everything she does over the internet. In fact she keeps a very good record of everything she does, period.
The reservation lady gives a vinegary sigh and speaks very slowly, as if she is talking to someone who is confused, "Can...you...contact...your...wife...and...see...if...she...has...a...confirmation...number?
"My...Cell-Phone...does...not...have...any...service." I'm becoming annoyed. A line is beginning to form behind me. Reservation Lady asks me if I will step aside, while she takes care of the other customers, and not in a very polite way. I'm tempted to demand to see the manager, or dump a pitcher or vinegar on her head, but I do as she asks. Honey doesn't work. Maybe next time I'll try agave nectar. While I'm waiting for Crabby Reservation Lady to reduce her line, it seems to be moving right along, I guess these people don't have conundrums to deal with; I decide to try calling my wife again on my Cell-Phone -- "No Service Available", but I notice that I have a new Text-Message. This one doesn't say who it's from. I find the right button to push to read the message, and I'm proud of myself for not deleting it before I can read it.
It says, "Don't you wish you knew." What the ______,___,___? I accidentally use some foul language and some people frown at me. Don't I wish I knew? It's not a question in the Text-Message, but for all I know Text-Messages don't use question marks. Don't I wish I knew what? I certainly wish I knew what is going on. Maybe that's what the Text-Message means, but who is asking the question. If it is a question. I almost wish I knew how to text back, "YES".
Reservation Lady has gotten rid of her line. She's looking out the window and seems to be tapping her pencil on the counter to the rhythm of some clock, or invisible metronome, or something, in her head. I'm shaking now. My head is filled with spooky Text-Messages. I hope I don't have a panic attack. I walk over to Reservation Lady.
She says, "So, you're still here."
"Yes. Have you found my reservation yet?"
"No, Mr.____. As far as I can tell you do not have a reservation. Have you found your reservation confirmation number yet, Mr.____?"
"No, Lucille." I just noticed Reservation Ladies name tag. Her name is Lucille. "My Cell-Phone still says it doesn't have service; I have been getting some strange Text-Messages, and I don't know anything about text-messaging; I'm subject to panic attacks; I'm in a quandary, and I'm afraid I might have a panic attack, so can I please use your phone to call my wife to see if she has the confirmation number for my reservation?"
Lucille gives me another of her sour sighs. "OK. The phone's back here. What's the number? I sure don't want you panicking all over the carpet. The manager would make me clean it up." She thinks she's funny. Or maybe that expression means something else.
When I get like this, I have a very difficult time remembering things, especially numbers. It would be ten numbers, including the area code. Lucille gives me an odd look, (and sighs, of course), as I hold up my hands and look at each finger. No luck.
"Umm......Lucille? Would it be OK if I come back there and punch in the numbers myself? I think my finger remembers the number, but my head doesn't right now. You know, like muscle memory."
She sighs and motions me through the little swinging gate in the side of the counter. She does have good posture. She is standing very straight and I can clearly see that she is balancing a bottle on her head. The label on the bottle says: VINEGAR -- 'Lucille's Patented Sighs' - It is probably my imagination. I easily dial the number when doing it myself. Five rings - No answer. Ten rings - No answer. After 25 rings I hang up. Maybe I dialed the wrong number, so I try it again - Busy signal.
"No luck, hunh?", Says Lucille, the Reservation Lady.
"No. My wife's phone must be broken." I think about my options. I'm getting that feeling in the pit of my stomach that I get sometimes. Like terror worms, trying to bore their way out. I take some deep breaths. This isn't the time for a panic attack. "Lucille", I say, "Since you can't find the reservation that my wife made for me, and I can't find a confirmation number, how about if I just make a brand new reservation?"
"Sure", she sighs, "When you want to make your reservation for?" I think I see a few drops of vinegar dripping out of the corner of her mouth.
"I would like to make a reservation for tonight, tomorrow night, and the night after."
Reservation Lady, Lucille, pokes some keys on a computer, looks in a drawer and takes out some papers. Then she puts the papers back in a different drawer, straightens to her full height, puts her hands on her hips, sighs, with vinegar dripping off her chin and says, "We're filled up for those days."
I react as expected. I panic all over her carpet, figuratively, which entails, turning, staggering, and collapsing in an armchair next to a large potted plant of some sort.
Apparently some time passes. When I realize that I exist again, I see that Lucille is no longer at her post. There is now a Reservation Man, or, I should say, Reservation Boy; he looks like a teenager. My Cell-Phone is in my hand and I have a new Text-Message; it says, "I told you." I mumble, you told me what? "I told you , you wished you knew", says my message. So you told me. It wasn't a question after all. What do I wish I knew? "Everything", says Message Man. Everything, I mumble. I'm not sure my lips are moving. Yes I do. I want to know everything. Who are you? "You can call me Message Man, and you should realize that you can never know everything."
I glance up. Reservation Boy is looking at me strangely. "Can I help you sir?". I tell him no, I think - something like that. I walk out of the lobby onto the dark sidewalk.
It's a busy night. This must be a popular part of town. People seem to be enjoying themselves. I look up into the sky and see a small moon. I imagine signals bouncing from the Earth, through the dark sky, then hitting this small moon, bouncing back and being sucked up by devices. These people, walking the streets enjoying themselves. Talking on their phones, talking through microphones, fingers flashing across tiny keyboards, wires connecting fingers to mouths. Everyone, so happy, walking the streets, nodding and smiling. I nod and smile back, but they can't see me.
I'm tired. I find a bench and have a seat, relaxing now. I don't seem to care about anything anymore. It's a nice night, a warm night, a friendly night, but I feel cold. I assume all these people playing with their devices will be going home. I can sit on my bench, alone under the moon. I like being alone. I can sleep right here, on this bench, for as long as I wish. I don't need a reservation.
An old man sits next to me. He doesn't seem to have any electronic devices, just a bottle in a brown paper bag. He says I can have a few swigs of his wine for a dollar. I say, sure, and I give him a dollar. I take a swig and it tastes like vinegar. I think of Lucille. I want to spit it out, but I don't; that would be impolite. I don't take a second swig. I was hoping the wine was sweet, a light sweet wine that would remind me of my wife. I start to cry, and doze off.
When I wake up I have my Cell-Phone in my hand, with a new Text-Message, from Message Man I guess. It says, "I told you so." Yes, I guess he did. I also have a voice message; it's from my son. It says, "Dad, where are you? I've been trying to contact you. Something happened to Mom. Call me back."
I stand up. I close my Cell-Phone, and I throw it just as far as I can................