Why I Don’t Have a Smartphone

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Zack Morris had my phone a decade before I did.

As the proud owner of a flip phone, a relative dinosaur of a device with—gasp—no Internet access, apps or media players, I’m often asked when I’m getting a smartphone. 

And as I look up at these curious souls, whose faces are already buried in their own phones, I want to counter by asking, “When are you finally going to get a life?”

Instead, I laugh and make a well-placed Zack Morris joke.

You see, most of us have adopted the belief that “smart” is “better,” and “better” is “better life.” If you have the option to buy a smartphone, why pick anything less?

Again, I ask, why not pick something more?

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At what point in your life did you feel the most free?

For me, it was the college semester I spent studying abroad in England without a phone. I was never on the cutting edge of technology—my parents had dial-up until my senior year of high school (2004); I bought my first CD player the year prior—but I had spent the past three years texting my friends and calling my mom on a daily basis. I could reach and be reached at any moment.

When I landed in Bath, I deboarded and disconnected. I used Skype to check in with my parents and sent emails to friends, but I couldn’t call them overseas without racking up an outrageous bill. So, I left my LG in the States and explored the United Kingdom without a technological lifeline. Just me, myself and I.

The initial freedom was frightening. What if there was an emergency, what if my housemates wanted to meet me at a pub, what if I met a guy who asked for my number?

Or, what if lifted my head and actually looked around?

For the next four months, I did just that. And I could tell you how (literally) eye-opening it was, how that trip sparked my soul, but it’s not something that can be communicated via text or email or tweet. It’s something you have to feel for yourself, though not with your fingertips.

I’d like to say I came home that summer and tossed my phone out the window, but of course not. To pretend I no longer love—and often rely on—many forms of technology would be hypocritical and untrue. I check Facebook obsessively at work; I met my boyfriend through a dating site; I spent one thrilling summer rising to the top of the leader board in online Family Feud.

Which is to say that I’m already overly connected, overly stimulated. I will no doubt own a smartphone at some point in my life, but right now I have a computer at work and a laptop at home. The rest of my life—the best of my life—doesn’t require Wi-Fi.

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As Apple so famously put it, “there’s an app for that.”

If I had a smartphone in Paris, I would have Yelped the restaurant we went to on our final night. I would have known what chitterling was (pig intestines—in this case, spoiled). I would have saved myself from the most foul-tasting meal of my entire life.

I wouldn’t have watched my friends’ faces as they tasted a bite, laughing until our own intestines hurt.

If I had a smartphone in Arizona, I would have Google mapped directions to the top of Sedona’s Cathedral Rock. I wouldn’t have gotten lost on the hike; I would have made it to the top.

I wouldn’t have stumbled upon a mysterious set of hieroglyphics on the “wrong” side of the mountain—carvings you’ll never find in any guidebook.

If I had a smartphone on a bike ride last summer, I would have checked the weather when I saw that first storm cloud. I would have seen a massive thunderstorm brewing. I wouldn’t have gotten soaked 10 miles from home as sheets of water made it impossible to see. I would have turned around.

I wouldn’t have started laughing—then started crying—during a seemingly insignificant moment in which I suddenly felt so inexplicably happy to be alive, wet underwear and all.

So please, stop asking when I’m going to get a smartphone. You may have high-def videos, hundreds of pictures and hours of entertainment stored on your iPhones, but I have a lot more stored in my soul.

And there will never be an app for that.

Crazy In Love

The cast of Listen To Your Mother, where I read this essay.

The cast of Listen To Your Mother, where I read this essay.

If you’re not willing to look crazy, you don’t deserve to be a mom. My own mother taught me this by example.

*****

When I was nine, my younger brother, Chris, and I were taking a walk around the neighborhood with our mom. A car pulled up next to us and the driver began to roll down his window.

“RUN KIDS!” Mom suddenly screamed. “RUN!”

“What’s going on?” I cried, looking back and forth between Mom and the man in the car.

“Run!” Mom repeated, trying to get her own feet in motion.

Chris bolted up the hill in front of us, never bothering to look back and make sure his sister and mother were still alive.

I, on the other hand, was crying half a mile ahead of Mom, who was struggling to move quickly. She tasted blood whenever she tried to run, so this safety plan wasn’t working out so well for her.

“Mom, hurry up!”

Shaking her head, she motioned for me to keep running. “Just go,” she yelled. “Don’t worry about me.”

We all made it back to the house that day. Turns out the man in the car only wanted directions.

My mom—well, she only wanted to save us.

*****

When I was 10, I shit myself in a movie theater.

My family was vacationing in Deep Creek, Maryland, and wanted to break up the lake activities with a trip to the movies. My parents decided it would be OK if we split up—Chris and I seeing “Jungle 2 Jungle” and the two of them catching a Barbara Streisand flick in the neighboring theater.

But 40 minutes into the movie I started to feel sick. Realizing I had approximately 10 seconds to make it to a bathroom, I shot up out of my seat.

Unfortunately 10 seconds turned into that very second, because as soon as I stood up, I pooped my pants.

“Chrisssss, go get Mom,” I cried, before running out of the theater.

A few minutes later I heard Mom call my name in the bathroom.

“Where are you honey? What’s wrong?”

“I’m in here!” I sobbed, locked behind the third stall.

“It’s OK, don’t worry about,” Mom assured me. “Just hand me your underwear.”

“Mom! I’m not handing you my underwear.”

“Lauren, just give them to me. I’m going to wash them out and put them under the hand-dryer.”

It was no use arguing. Heaving uncontrollably, I carefully handed my soiled underwear over to Mom, watching in horror through the slit in the stall door as she carried them over to the sink and turned on the faucet.

Scrubbing and grunting as she worked on my previously white pair of Hanes, Mom finally shook her head and tossed them into the trash.

“I’m sorry, sweetie,” she said, “they couldn’t be salvaged.”

I rode home from the movie theater that day sitting on a plastic grocery bag in our teal mini-van. We were all disgusted that Mom used a public sink to wash a desecrated pair of underwear.

She didn’t seem bothered in the least.

*****

When I was 14, Mom choked on a garden salad.

“It’s the vinaigrette,” she gasped. “It’s ta-king my breath a-way!”

“Stop talking while you’re choking!” Dad yelled, as the rest of us sat around the dinner table at the beach. “And stop getting vinaigrette dressing.”

“I know, but I love it,” she said, wiping her eyes before a second wave of dry heaving commenced.

Mom choked on a lot of things—vinaigrette, mozzarella sticks, church incense—for no apparent reason. Chris and I always waited until she was out of the woods before we began laughing. There was an unspoken agreement that we were allowed to make fun of her choking habit when she was no longer in danger of dying. There was an unspoken agreement that we were allowed to make fun of her for anything, really.

She was our mother after all.

But as Mom reached for her throat, this particular choking incident was getting less and less funny.

“Mom, are you OK,” I asked, dropping my fork and completely losing my appetite. Chris kept eating.

Reaching the point where she couldn’t even gasp for air, Mom and Dad made a beeline to the bathroom across the hall. Behind the closed door we could hear him attempting to give her the Heimlich.

Eventually, Mom started to cough, then blow her nose, then clear her throat.

Peeking her head out of the door, her face was covered in sweat and mascara was smeared around her eyes. She looked like Tammy Faye Baker.

“Keep eating, kids,” she said with a smile. I’m fine, just enjoy your dinner!”

*****

Like I said—if you’re not willing to look crazy, you don’t deserve to be a mom.

I used to marvel at women who looked so put together when raising children. Now, when I think about my mom—the best mom—I realize that motherhood isn’t about having it together.

It’s about turning a lost driver into a murderer and washing the shit out of your daughter’s underwear and wanting your kids to enjoy their dinner while you’re choking to death.

It’s about being crazy in love.

I Dreamed A Dream of Food Gone By

The Sweet Baby Jesus.

The Sweet Baby Jesus.

Sometimes I cry when I eat.

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The Cap’n would lose his @#$% over this French toast.

Not machine-gun type sobbing, but just a slight glistening of tears when I eat something that makes me grateful to be alive. Such displays of emotion are generally reserved for pancakes and French toast.

So when my boyfriend and I went to Baltimore yesterday to see Les Mis, our first stop was a no-brainer—the Blue Moon Café, home to the famous Cap’n Crunch French Toast. The waterworks were inevitable.

After waiting for over an hour and a half to satisfy my obsession with syrupy breakfast items, we were seated in the tiny rowhome-turned-restaurant. I already knew what I was getting, but then the waitress threw in one additional special for the day—Cocoa Puffs-encrusted French toast with nutella sauce and bananas.

Faced with a real Sophie’s Choice, I took a moment and weighed my diabetic options. After a very intense internal battle, I followed by heart and stuck to the Cap’n.

Fortunately, my gastro-senses did not lead me astray. The triple-stack of deliciousness was the perfect combination of textures, and the fruit pieces on top made it healthy. An apple a day, perched atop 3,000 calories of fried bread and syrup, keeps the doctor away, no?

Miraculously, my tear ducts did not go into overdrive as my palate was overwhelmed with bite after bite of French toast.

Working my way through the dish, I finally came up for air.

“What do you want to do for dinner?” I asked, mouth full of lunch.

After agreeing to focus on the food in front of us, Steve and I ate what we could, said our goodbyes and walked around the Inner Harbor.

Three and a half hours later, it was time for dinner. We had a little over an hour before we had to go to the theater, so we decided to get some drinks and appetizers at a real authentic Baltimore mom-and-pop place—Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.

We were seated outside overlooking the water and waited patiently for them to bring out our sangria and margarita. But 45 minutes later, we were still waiting for our shrimp appetizers.

“These people are moving at the pace of Forrest Gump’s thoughts. What time is it now?”

“5:55,” Steve said.

“And we have to leave by 6:10…at the latest.”

Moments later the waiter stopped by our table.

“I’m gonna be honest, I did not put your order in. That’s on me.”

Yes, yes it is.

“We do have a show to get to,” Steve politely explained.

“Could I offer you a free dessert?”

This was similar to the time my mother nearly choked to death on a piece of wire that ended up in her Olive Tree spaghetti bolgnese, only to be offered a piece of complimentary carrot cake. For the record, a slice of cake is not an acceptable olive branch.

“Well, we don’t really have time for a dessert,” Steve explained further. “We need to leave in 10 minutes.”

“I really do feel bad about this. I’m just so busy here today and there’s a lot going on.”

As a former waitress, I could empathize with the hustle and bustle of a restaurant, but enough with the chit chat. Fantine wasn’t going to wait for us to get to the theater before dying of some sort of prostitute disease.

“Just the food will be fine,” Steve said. We didn’t have time to shit around.

A few moments later our food arrived. “Could you also bring us two to-go boxes and the check,” I asked, taking a deep breath before attacking my 2/3-pound of shrimp, assembly line style.

When the waiter came back 4 minutes later, my plate was empty.

“You ate them already? Wow! I guess you don’t need the box.”

Looking up, fingers coated in Old Bay, 17 shrimp halfway down my esophagus, I thought about how we had envisioned our dinner panning out.

So different from this hell we were living.