Call Me

John never felt the same in town. In the bush he felt free and open, but in town he felt confused and fictitious. He was not himself.

As a result of this he avoided going out. Not just going into town, but going anywhere. The best place for him was his cabin, where he stayed as much as possible. His dad used to say “An Englishman’s home was his castle”. The same held true for a Canadian’s cabin. He could build a glass room onto it, or kick it down; fill it with Swiss cheese, or start a sci-fi book club; butcher a goat and eat its raw heart, or make sweet love to a tattooed girl and then play Naked Twister. He was King here.

But the moment that he stepped out of the door, he felt different. It was subtle to begin with but strengthened quickly. And it depended on his direction of travel. Going up the Valley he felt no difference – still free and easy. But heading into town, the dread set in, and stayed with him until he got home, taking all night to dissipate.

One day John felt the dread still there in the morning. It made him panic – though the panic may have also been part of the dread. He went outside and called his friend Sham. There were five bars on his cellphone instead of the usual one. Wow, upgraded service! Despite this technological advance, Sham didn’t answer, so he left a message on his landline. He didn’t know Sham’s cell number. Then he did the stupidest thing imaginable. Fumbling with the ebony toilet seat, he dropped his phone in the bowl. It sank among turds. Fishing it out was a shitty business. It was dead alright.

Next morning John was out cutting firewood, and returned to find a package at the cabin. The phone company had sent a new phone. How did they know? He hadn’t told anyone. Maybe Sham, somehow? John decided not to open it yet, as additional charges were surely involved. His current phone may come back to life. Stranger things had happened in the Upper Valley.

John kept a good stock of oats, rice, and beans; he had meat in the freezer, plus a vegetable garden, but who can live without some processed junk? Driving into town that day for groceries, he felt free and easy. It was the strangest thing; no dread. The forests were shining; the river seemed miraculous; mountains gleamed with every colour, and pulled down the sky playfully; which replied with “Tag!”

Today, for the first time he could remember, John felt like King of the Village too, or at least a member of its Royal Family. But there was a problem – other Royals didn’t care for him much. They ignored him in the street, barged past him in store aisles, snarled at him at checkouts, and cursed him on the road.

He spotted Sham entering the deli. John parked the truck and followed him in. Sham sat among a group of sparkling faces, people he recognized – Upper Valley farmers. “Hey Johnny!”Sham called out. “King of Naked Twister! How goes it?” The farmers all laughed.

How could he! thought John. That wasn’t for public consumption. Some friend! But then he saw that people were laughing with him, not at him. They loved the thought of his playing Naked Twister. They may even try it themselves. They celebrated his sense of fun.

After a jolly lunch together, John thought he should clear things with the phone company. He asked to borrow Sham’s cell. “My friend, I beg your apology unreservedly,” said Sham with great exaggeration. “But, alas! I am not in possession of a mobile telegraph.” John looked at him confounded. “But I shall entreat our compatriots on your behalf. Sirs, in his time of greatest need, are you willing to loan Master John, Naked Twister, your mobile telegraphs?”

“No Siree!” said a farmer. “I am without telegraph.”

“Me neither,” said another. “I’m still awaitin’ on that Wichita Linesman.”

“Accept my apology, said a third. “But I can shout real loud, and so can my cousin in Strattus, and my brother-in-law in Squashy – though my sister shouts louder – whose voice may just reach the New City.”

“I’ll check the Sky Train times,” said a fourth. “If we can get his voice in before the doors shut – those commuters will repeat anything, and will carry it to The Phone Company, Inc. offices.”

They continued in this manner for many minutes, without “liking” or “sharing” anything, only a sense of fun, as if they had all the time in the world. John noticed that no one was rushing. No one was interrupting. No one was snarling or cursing. And what did these people have in common? They lived in the Upper Valley, true. But more importantly, they didn’t have cell phones.

This thought fired a synapse. After lunch he went to the library and asked for a good book on the brain. The librarian said, “It’s kind of crazy, but I liked this one.” She gave him “The Origins of Consciousness and the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind.”

Its hypothesis was that long ago, humans’ left and right brains were separate organs. The left brain was concerned with daily tasks. The right brain received divine inspiration – manifesting as prophecy, dreams, music, dance, and art. About 5,000 years ago, the two halves became networked and we became self-conscious. Our divine connection came to an end, and was, John realized, ultimately replaced by a connection costing $100+ a month, which also controlled our thoughts, and filled them instead with “news”, ads, offers, posts, updates, tweets, sound bites, comments, likes and dislikes, followers and “friends”.

John decided to return the package to the phone company, plus throw away the shitty cell. But before he reached home, the new cell tower – that had been switched on that morning, boosting his reception – managed to activate his new phone – still in the box –with countless new and enhanced features. His preference algorithms created a filter bubble. This ensured that it was impossible for his present impulsive self to resist opening that box.

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2 Responses to “Call Me”

  1. just about perfect, but I don’t understand “which replied with “Tag”.

    “Which” is selective. Just which one replied with “Tag” I wonder.

  2. javedbabar Says:

    “Tag” meaning the sky is meeting the mountain and playing tag. Maybe it doesn’t work…

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