Ever felt like you’re an uninvited visitor into someone else’s life? I never did until recently. It all started when I dropped and broke my cell phone. It was a blue and silver flip phone that I’d had for about two years. Yes, it was outdated (at least by today’s tech-crazy standards), but it was easy to use, compact, and I could slip it into the tiny side pocket of my favorite jeans.

So a few months ago when my mother-in-law was gracing us with a 3-week long visit, I dropped my beloved little phone as I was rushing down the stairs to fetch her a magazine or a cup of green tea or something else beyond recollection. The thud of phone crashing against wood floor was sickening. I lunged at the phone, grabbing it in desperation - as if the “five second rule” applied not only to dropped food, but also to electronic devices. I flipped it open to examine the damage and found exactly what I had feared – the display screen was pure white and completely, utterly blank.

After a few frustrated attempts to fix the phone (involving a nail file, ballpoint pen, and kitchen knife), I realized that my lifesaving attempts were futile. I decided to ask my significant other for help. “You can have my old blackberry,” he said without hesitation.

So began the period in my life that I like to refer to as “blackberry hell”. The so-called bells and whistles on the two-year old Blackberry started to drive me closer to a nervous breakdown than I care to admit. The phone would repeatedly redial friends without my knowledge if something pushed against it in my handbag. I would constantly turn the phone off by mistake. And, perhaps worst of all, for some odd reason it would never allow me to erase voicemails (“You have 119 saved messages,” taunted the computerized female voice when I would call to check my voicemail).

“I hate this phone,” I would complain to my husband, who seemed far from sympathetic.

“What’s wrong with it?” he replied. “It’s a lot better than that old one.”

I begged to differ, of course. I finally decided to take matters into my own hands. In a fit of irritation (and fueled by two-and-a-half glasses of two-buck chuck), I logged onto eBay late one night and typed in the make and model of my old cell phone in the Search box.

Several phones popped up, all appearing identical to my old phone. I quickly scanned through the listings and found one in Kentucky for only $5.00. The description of the phone was simple: “I just updated all of my family’s cell phones. Phone is used but works fine.”

A few hours later, I had the winning bid - the phone was mine for just $12.50 plus $4.50 shipping and handling. Call me a fool, but I was on cloud nine. I waited in eager anticipation for my “new” old Kentucky phone.

Five days later, a package arrived on my doorstep. I opened it and there was my phone! At least it looked like my phone. Then I opened it and realized that the previous owner had neglected to erase the phone’s memory. There was a photo of his grinning face greeting me.

And so began my little journey into someone else’s life.

For starters, there was the address book. I scrolled through the 25 or so contacts. It was slightly disturbing to know that one wrong push of a button would almost instantly connect me to “Boodle Brown” or “Bobby Ray”. Or the local “Applebees” in the previous owner’s small Kentucky town.

Then there were the photos. Nearly a dozen of them - a smiling baby, a lone duck in a murky pond, someone’s scruffy-looking dog, a high-school football game. Snippets of life in a small southern town. It was charming and unnerving at the same time. Who were these people, and why were they on my phone?

And then there were the ringtones, a virtual treasure trove of country music. I took the phone to work and played some of them for my co-worker from Lakeside, thinking she might be able to identify them (I know, I know, not everyone in Lakeside is a redneck, but hey, it was worth a shot…). “That’s Kenny Chesney,” she said with a sigh, exasperated at my complete lack of knowledge of country music.

Rather than automatically delete the ringtones, I decided to give them a try. I kept the phone set to the one it had when it arrived, a jaunty little number called Summertime – by Kenny Chesney, of course.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention perhaps the most notable reminder of the phone’s previous owner. The grime. There was a thin film of some sort of greasy mixture all over the display screen, and caked in grime in surrounding every little nook and cranny of both the buttons and the screen. It was obvious that this little “feature” had been years in the making.

Now I’m far from a germaphobe. In fact, I’m probably the only person at my workplace right now that doesn’t have a jumbo-sized bottle of hand-sanitizer on their desk. But this, well, this was just plain gross.

I decided to call my dear old dad for advice. He had, in his younger years, spent time in a local prison teaching inmates how to refurbish old computers.

“You just need rubbing alcohol, a paper towel, and some sharp scissors,” he explained. “That’s what we used to use to clean the dirty keyboards.”

So after about 45 minutes of picking and poking, with a paper towel-covered, alcohol-soaked scissor blade, my Kentucky Fried phone was about as clean as it would ever be.

As I admired my handiwork, I tried to picture the sheer magnitude of greasy southern food that had been consumed while the previous owner simultaneously ate and gabbed on the phone. It wasn’t a pretty thought.

As visions of greasy chicken, gravy, and French fries danced in my head, I was snapped back into reality by the loud sound of the Kenny Chesney ringtone.

“Hello”, I answered, noticing that my voice seemed to be taking on a strange southern twang. It was ever so slight, but undeniably there. Would my friends notice? Was it my imagination?

“You sound funny,” said my sister on the other end.

“It’s my new phone,” I said.

“Oh,” she said, and was silent for a moment. Then the conversation carried on as normal.

Later on that night, I was out with a friend and my phone rang. She gave me a funny look when the country music began playing loudly from my handbag.

“What the hell?” she said. “Are you into country music now?”

“Maybe I am,” I said, feeling slightly offended. To be honest the country music was beginning to grow on me. I was actually starting to like this stuff.

So I decided to keep the phone just the way it is, country music and all. For some weird reason, it makes this stressed-out California girl feel happy-go-lucky and carefree. I may have started out as an uninvited visitor into someone else’s life, but I think I like it here.

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CuddleFish Oct. 3, 2009 @ 9:58 a.m.

Very good, very subtle. Thanks for the read. :)


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