Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Stop and Breathe

At the top of the
list of
is the number
of breaths going
in and out each day.

The authorities say
we breathe
24,000 breaths
per day (15 per minute).

As you sit there
reading this
right now
right there
in your
for a
times the
air goes in

Then close your eyes
for a minute or two
and slow down
your breathing and
the way the cool air
passes through your
nostrils and fills your
whole chest cavity.

What a wonder it is
that we have
in order to live.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Ah, the telephone, made today to throw away...

By Camincha

A telephone in their homes, Alba remembers, was not a necessity during her childhood in Miraflores. The city was then very small. Everything was close by -- school, church, stores, friends, transportation. A message could always be delivered on foot. Also in her neighborhood for twenty cents, una peseta, you could borrow a telephone from the pharmacist, or from grocers and butchers. Sometimes they didn't even want to take your money.

At the time, of course, they had no idea that their quiet beach resort city at the edge of the Pacific, 20 minutes south of the capital city, Lima, would grow to become a garden city. And in time, futuristic, avant-garde. Famous for its restaurants, specialized boutiques,  five-star hotels, international night clubs. Elegant. No,  no idea. Not at all. 

Meanwhile, many families did have telephones. Some, like Marita’s family, even had telephone jacks in several rooms. That way, the one black telephone they owned could be used wherever needed. And the numerous members of this extended family could have privacy and comfort when sustaining long conversations.

Alba remembers it wasn't like that in her home. A telephone wasn't  considered necessary. Still, her frugal parents acquired one just to keep up with the times. One day at breakfast her father simply announced: every business man must have one. Easier, faster than using the services of a messenger. Then he smiled, we'll try it. We’ll see.

Shortly after that conversation Alba came home from school one day and there it was, a Candlestick
phone. The receiver on the side in its own hook. A desk top model. Slender, elegant. It was installed in her father's office  which was the first room to the right of the entrance hallway opposite the enormous living-room. All communications were short and to the point. Alba doesn't remember one single instance when her father or mother sustained a long telephone conversation.

Often, Alba thinks, what fun it would have been to see their reaction to the many forms, shapes, colors of the telephones of the 21st century. 

ALBA HEARS BEEPING. She listens. Is it the TV? No. The cute little redhead on the screen is promoting cereal. Feeding it to her teddy bear. Alba listens intently. The beep is coming from her new phone. She didn’t recognize the sound because she had just bought it. She wasn't used to the idiosyncrasies of disposable phones.  Phones that are made not to last. Phones that when broken can’t be fixed. She has been replacing phones every four, five years. Buying them from GOOD GUYS or CIRCUIT CITY  or  RADIO SHACK. They don’t last forever. Rather they are forever breaking down.

Ah, the new phones bear no resemblance to the black phones. Black phones were made to last forever and could certainly be fixed when broken.  She remembers the first one she owned when first arrived in California, a heavy black wallphone. The next one, also heavy and black, was made to sit on a stand in the hallway. It lasted many, many years and was replaced by an identical one in a lovely off-white color. Alba went to the trouble of buying two 25-foot cords so she could drag the phone all over the house until one day, suddenly it became embarrassing, May I use your phone? the car mechanic asked—he made house calls.

Yeah. Yes. Yes. Ahhh…just follow the cords.

So now said off-white phone has a secure place on the kitchen table and is not used very much since Alba finally bought a cordless and learned to use that instead. Then that phone broke so following her usual way of doing things:

At GOOD GUYS:  I just bought this phone. Five years ago.

What? clerk.

I bought it—five years ago. I was told Panasonic is a good brand. 

The young clerk looks incredulous.  What is wrong with this woman? He keeps his eyes on her face. He is searching for a flicker of sanity in her. Finally the words fly out of his mouth. In a rush. He is afraid she is going to say something. Repeat the same nonsense: Panasonic…good brand…five years. Picking up speed, encouraged by her silence, he becomes assertive. In one breath, stringing the words: Telephones-today-are-not-made-to-last!

She wasn’t convinced. She wanted that one fixed. She insisted. It turned into one long grievance procedure because for starters she had to buy a phone—they wouldn’t loan her one while they fixed the one she brought in.  They would take it back and return her money when hers was fixed. The three weeks she was told it would take to fix it stretched to three months.  Finally she got it back only after she complained to the GOOD GUYS’ District Manager.

Later on she bought a cell for emergencies. It got complicated. A friend told her that it had to be activated before she used it. She didn’t know what to do. She never does. So she asked for help.

She took it back to Radio Shack where she bought it. The Sprint rep on the phone had a heavy Indian accent. Alba couldn’t understand him. He couldn’t understand her Peruvian accent. She asked for help from the clerk: Ed, please help! Mike, the manager, also helped. Amused at her, they wrote down numbers, answered the rep’s questions, address, name, social security, income. And when they were done laughing they put the cord and phone back in the box. Sorry, ma'am, your accent got in the way. She could hear them laughing when she walked out of the store.

So now she has three phones. A black cordless at home. The off-white on the kitchen table after long just sitting in a drawer. And the cell that is great help in emergencies: like when Alba was able to alert Amy and Jerry that her bus was arriving half an hour late, saving them the trouble and frustration of a guessing game: Did she get on the bus? Did she miss the bus? The cell is also a great help when she writes down the wrong address. Arrives at the right city. Right Street. But, she tells the receptionist, I can’t find 2100. 

There is no 2100. There is no 2100. It was torn down to make room for the new freeway. We are at 3500.

Thank you. 

She does a quick U and parks in 3500 parking lot. Loves it. A building with its own parking lot. That’s why she chose a doctor in Burlingame. In San Francisco this doesn’t happen anymore, parking at the door. Ever. 

Enters 3500. There is no third floor. Third floor is an enormous cafeteria. Calls receptionist. Again.

There is a pause. A pause as in: not again. Receptionist tells her the suite number is 110 not  310. 

The cell has been a big help. Already paid for itself. What would they say?  Her frugal parents? 

Three telephones?!

Camincha is the pen name of a writer living in California. Her writing appears frequently at MyStoryLives.


Tuesday, September 02, 2014