“Nice sandals, man,” my buddy Jeff said during his visit last weekend, and something in his tone told me that my insecurities were about to be laid as bare as my toes.
“Is something wrong with them?” I asked, looking down at the only footwear that might allow a grown man to maintain his self-respect while strapping things to himself with Velcro.
“No, not at all. Those are very sensible dad sandals,” he replied. Dad sandals. They’re like mom jeans you wear on your feet.
“Dude, these are not dad sandals. They’re hiking sandals,” I replied.
“Hiking sandals? That’s an oxymoron,” he said. He had a point. I’d never actually worn them hiking, on account of them being sandals.
“Whatever. These are not dad sandals,” I said, taking a moment to craft a mental defense that would highlight the newness and coolness of my stylish five-year-old hiking sandals, but it was already too late. Jeff had taken his phone out of his pocket and his thumb was swimming Facebook laps up and down the screen.
While I may get defensive when criticized by, well, anyone, I also appreciate the value of shame in a close friendship. Without being shamed by my friends, I’d probably still be wearing tightrolled stonewash jeans and Big Johnson T-shirts.
“Did you know we’re not allowed to wear cargo shorts anymore? Someone decided that,” I said, offering the only piece of fashion advice I could think of to lure Jeff back to our current time and place. I’d recently learned about the prohibition on cargo shorts when a distant friend shared a local news story on Facebook about an armed robbery captured on camera, in which the robber looked amazingly like my friend.
My friend’s defense? “It can’t be me robbing that store, because the robber is wearing cargo shorts, and it’s 2014.”
In response, I immediately changed out of my cargo shorts, never to put them on again.
“Oh, yes, that’s right. We can’t wear those anymore,” Jeff responded, briefly looking up. Jeff is the most recent practitioner of a trend we’ve noticed in our house, wherein visitors travel great distances to stare at their phones in the company of friends and family.
While it’s easy to malign people for forsaking their actual, real-life friends for virtual candy-crushing, acquaintance-stalking and farming activities, I find myself doing it, too.
“Maybe a high school acquaintance had another baby. Why don’t you check?” my phone will say from my pocket.
“No. People I actually care about are right here in this room,” I will reply.
“But maybe someone liked the photos you posted last night!” it will say.
“Well, okay, just for a moment,” I’ll reply, flicking through pictures of people I’ll never see again as my son takes his first steps in the next room.
Sometimes, though, our devices can bring us together with people we would have never otherwise met.
Shortly after wishing Jeff a good night in the guest room, and warning him to prepare himself for being awoken in the morning by a two-year-old jumping on his head, I was jolted awake by the house phone ringing.
“Hello?” I mumbled, trying to sound awake, so as to impress the person calling at 1am with my alertness.
“Someone from this number just called me twice. Can you tell me why?” a lady asked. I couldn’t.
After five minutes of interrogation, we left on better terms than we’d started, but we still didn’t have any answers.
The next morning, we found out that Jeff had used our house phone to call his cell phone to locate it, like Linus trying to find his blanket. He hadn’t dialed a 1 first, so it called a local number instead.
“You have to dial a 1 first? What is this, 1995?” he asked.
According to my sandals, yes.
You can pay half-attention to Mike Todd at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1 week ago