Sunday, April 16, 2006

Celling out

Sometimes, my job requires me to be semi-competent somewhere other than my regular office. This was the case last week, when I took my show about two hours down the road for a conference, leaving my wife Kara to be the primary giver-of-raisins to the ferret for a few days.
Just before I left, Kara yanked me out of the Stone Age, putting us on a family cell phone plan so that, for the first time, we’d be able to keep in touch without the use of conch shells. I’d been mooching off of her phone for so many years, I’d gotten used to being the only person in the world without a cell phone in my pocket, besides maybe the Unabomber or the Quaker Oats guy.

I suppose it’s in my genes to be the last person on Earth to adopt new technology; my parents didn’t get cable TV until I was twenty-three, way too late to blame it for the erosion of my moral fiber. My buddies became part of the first generation to grow up watching videos on MTV; I spent most of my formative years wondering why Bob Barker was so intent on neutering my dog.

Kara spent a solid week wrangling with the cell phone company, in disbelief that starting a new plan required her to throw away her old phone, which still worked perfectly well, even though the camera function, which seemed so cool at the time, has seen less use than the bread maker in our basement.

“I spent over a hundred bucks on that phone less than a year ago. It still works just fine. Why can’t I keep using it with the new plan?” she asked.

“Because,” said the customer service person.

“Because why?” Kara asked. Surely, there was a good reason to force customers to throw away perfectly good equipment.

And there was a good reason: “Because we said so, that’s why.” So there you have it.

Now it’s clear to us why some of our friends have entire drawers dedicated to discarded cell phones. As soon as you make a change to your calling plan, what looks like a perfectly functional marvel of modern electronics turns into the equivalent, value-wise, of a used Kleenex. Any day now, 7-11 is going to start putting out “give a cell phone, take a cell phone” trays.

After it was all said and done, Kara decided to pay the few extra bucks to upgrade to a better phone. To me, that felt like playing right into The Man’s hands. Nobody’s going to force me, as a consumer, to make wise decisions. “I’ll just take the one that comes free with the plan,” I said. “That’ll be fine.”

When our new phones came in the mail, Kara’s arrived in a tiny little jewelry box, and was thinner than a slice of deli turkey. Mine came in a re-purposed refrigerator box. The phone itself requires its own backpack and a small operations crew to spin the crank while I’m talking. Regardless, it’s my phone, and I’m glad to finally have one.

The first call I made was to my old college buddy Tim, a guy who wears shiny shoes even when he’s not at work.

“Hey man! I finally got a cell piece,” I told him.

“Guys, Mike Todd just called his phone a cell piece!” he said, and roomful of laughter came through the earpiece. “Dude, nobody calls them cell pieces anymore.”

A lot can change in the five years since college. The transition from cool to uncool sneaks up on you, quietly, while you’re watching reruns of “Trading Spaces” with your wife.

“Well, what do people call them now?” I asked.

“Phones. Cell phones. Anything but cell pieces,” he told me.

So now I know. And I have a whole lot of anytime minutes that I intend to spend, loudly, standing behind you in line.

Mike Todd can hear you now online at


  1. I can just picture you as the "Can you hear me now?" dude....walking around testing out your phone. My husband desperately wants a flip phone but he admits that he's too brutal with the phone and those delicate tings wouldn't last 5 mins.

    Welcome to the 21st century Mike Todd!

  2. Congrats - are you taking bets on how long it will be til you get an RSI from texting?

  3. Jon and I just found our very first cell "piece"--sucker was as big as my first born, I think.

    We were a one cell phone family for quite some time, but Jon's new car has that OnStar thing and the sucker has a phone built into the car! I'm driving his car the other day and all of the sudden, the radio turns down and there's this ring...Neat little gadget, and it's a phone I know he won't lose! LOL

    Enjoy your new toy!

  4. Mike Todd...Even from miles away, you still manage to make me laugh at you. So, when am I going to be a lucky recipient of a phone call!

    Take care and tell Kara hello

  5. Sheri -- Good to be here! Thanks.

    Anna -- I don't even know what an RSI is. Is that like carpal tunnels?

    Marie -- You are hard-core, dude. I hope you don't lose your car.

    Dirt! You rule, dude. Awesome to hear from you. Now you will have to suffer through another phone call with me soon. Just as soon as I figure out how to make phone calls.

  6. MIke:

    RSI stands for Repetitive Strain Injury - similar to them tunnels, yup.

    On this side of the world, they're called mobiles. You can adopt that and give yourself a lil yurpeen flair.