Tuesday, October 11, 2005

I recently did the unthinkable: broke down and got a cell phone. I didn’t really want to, but in our modern mobile world, cell phones have become a necessary evil. I found a no-frills phone and a simple pay-as-you-go plan that fit my pocketbook. The one thing I failed to consider was that a phone is no longer simply a phone—it’s an accessory every bit as vital to your identity as that Sox cap on your head, the Starbucks mug in your fist, or the chihuahua on your arm.

What clued me into this fact was the cache of preloaded ring tones. What came standard? A hip-hop sample called "krunktone". I could not imagine replacing the old “give me a ring” with “give me a krunk,” whatever that is, so I set about searching my phone for a "ring-a-ding-ding" or even "ring-a-ling,” to no avail. Instead I found other ring tones with names like "creepy," "evilpizz," "galloping metal," "low rider," and (of course) "more krunkness." Nothing even remotely resembling a "ring" as we once knew it. I tried to picture myself at a restaurant with a friend, and "low rider" sounds from my pants pocket. Or being on the T and answering to "evilpizz." Or teaching a class and hearing the sounds of "galloping metal" coming from my backpack. It’s just not me, I’m afraid. The search for a ring tone continued.

I soon discovered a treasure trove of ring tones online, at a minimum of two bucks a pop. I was amazed at the inventory of noises: bicycle bells, church bells, car horns, police sirens. Bleating, belching, mewling, howling. Everything from Brahms’ “Trio, opus 40” to Britney’s "Oops, I did it again!" But nothing that was not a statement, serious or satirical, about who you are or would like to be perceived to be. I contemplated Beethoven’s Polonaise in C but when I had downloaded it and my phone rang it was like someone screaming “snob!” from my pants pocket. It seemed to say: I think I'm too good for "Krunktone," too righteous for "low rider,” too sophisticated for "evilpizz." But that’s not it at all. I don’t even know who or what “krunk” is. It’s like those people who get a Chinese character tattooed on their arms, thinking it means “power” when actually it could say “muttonhead” for all they know.

It’s more work than I wanted to put into a device I could do without were it not for the irritating exigencies of modern life, that’s for sure. But I couldn't possibly go on with "Krunktone" as my theme song. When finally I stumbled on a phone-like sound among the menagerie, I realized that even a simple ring is a statement of a sort. There was no avoiding it. It’s nostalgia, sure, but at least I can still tell my friends to “give me a ring.”

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