The Verizon store is a dizzying first stop to make after returning home from two months spent slumming it in an impoverished Indian village.
I needed to replace my phone because it had broken in India. (Everything I owned broke in India. Even my passport melted into tar. My volunteer program failed to warn me about “monsoon season.”)
I stood frozen in the middle of the store, like a soggy, foul-smelling statue. My brain could barely process all the machines and lights and white people and lack of fly-infested garbage heaps. This store was at least three times as big as the house where I taught my Indian students—a house that was shared by three families. Also, I was seriously obsessed with this air conditioning.
“Can I help you find something?” a white man in a clean polo shirt asked me.
“I want the simplest phone you have,” I said.
He laughed, led me to a flip phone tucked away in the back corner of the store, and declared that it could barely do anything besides make calls.
“I’ll take it,” I said, heading toward the register.
“Now hang on,” he said. “Don’t forget to get a car charger.”
“What?” I asked, genuinely curious. “Why?”
“In case you run out of battery power while you’re driving. You don’t want to get stranded without a phone.”
Stranded? In America? Was that even a thing?
I shook my head.
“Well you at least need to pick out a phone case,” he said. “That’s absolutely essential.”
I glared at him. Today was the first day I’d worn shoes in eight weeks. Yesterday I’d been working in a village that didn’t have water.
I decided this man was certifiably insane. I paid for my phone, just my phone, and left.
That was two years ago. In those two years, I: discovered a newfound appreciation for washing machines, occasionally considered donating all my money to third world countries but always opted instead to go on extravagant shopping sprees at Gordman’s, only showed people the pictures from India that made me look hot (two months without eating meat was not a bad look on me—just saying), returned to complaining about things like air conditioning being a little too cool, and became a master T9 texter on my little flip phone.
Two months ago, it was time for a phone upgrade. And by “time for an upgrade,” I mean that my two best friends were pestering me on a nightly basis to get an iPhone so that I could share pictures with them on some App. I wasn’t even entirely sure what an App was, but the internet said I was eligible to upgrade to an iPhone 4 for free, so I promised my friends I would.
“What are you looking for today?” the Verizon man asked when I was literally half a step into the store. His nametag said Marcus.
“An iPhone 4,” I said.
“Oh, no.” Marcus shook his head and crossed his arms. “No no no no. Why do you think you want an iPhone?”
“Uh…” I was not prepared for this. “Because it’s what my friends have?”
“Ha!” he said. “Don’t friends so often lead us astray?”
I looked at my feet. “I guess.. sometimes…”
“That phone doesn’t even have 4G. It only has 3G.” He said “3G” with an air of disgust, like it was a festering wound.
I racked my brain trying to figure out what G could possibly stand for. Gigabytes? Grit? Gaydar? “What’s the difference?” I asked.
“With 4G you can download a song in about three seconds. With 3G it takes thirty.”
I inadvertently chuckled as I tried to envision a scenario in which I just had to hear a song within three seconds of having the thought.
“And if you try to watch a video with 3G,” he continued, “It’s going to keep saying buffering… buffering… buffering… buffering.”
I stared blankly. He must have sensed this was not computing.
So then he went right for my weak spot.
“No one has the iPhone 4 anymore,” he said. “I bet your friends won’t even have them in a couple months. They’ll all upgrade to something with 4G and you’ll be trapped. Living in the past as the world moves on around you.”
That’s when the heart palpitations began.
I became more and more apprehensive about limiting myself to a measly tri-G future as Marcus continued to produce increasingly ominous tirades against the iPhone 4 while leading me on a brief tour of all the better phones. But I was able to hold it together long enough to commit to the iPhone 4 because A) I had the good sense to know my friends would kill me if I walked out of that store without one and B) I was feeling a bit antagonist toward Marcus and didn’t want him to “win.” (He had to place a special order because “literally nobody wants these anymore.”)
But as soon as I got out to the Verizon parking lot, I had an existential meltdown.
“I’ve made the biggest mistake of my life!” I wept into my hands as I sat inside my car. “I WON’T HAVE ENOUGH G’S!” Suddenly G’s seemed more valuable than gold. G’s were like Everlasting Gobstoppers. G’s were like Pokémon; I had to catch them all. I texted my friends through tears: When are you guys upgrading phones? Are you going to leave me behind????
I got home to find Doug on his laptop at our kitchen table. “My life is in shambles!” I announced, dropping my purse to the floor and clutching my breasts as I tend to do when anguished. “I’m doomed to two years in which all my videos will be forever buffering because I opted out of the fourth G and I’m an idiot and I only have myself to blame! You might as well leave me behind too because THE REST OF THE WORLD ALREADY HAS!” He didn’t look up from his computer. He’s kind of used to this sort of thing. “Also,” I added. “What’s a G?” He didn’t know.
I went into the bedroom and dramatically collapsed onto the bed. I pulled out my flip phone and saw that I had a response from one of my friends: Calm down chica, we’re not upgrading. So excited about your iPhone—now we can have group texts and share pics- yay! Oh, right—improved ability to communicate with my friends. I’d practically forgotten the original reason behind this whole shit storm.
I flipped my phone shut and held it in my hand as I began to reflect on its life. It had been such a good phone to me. Friends had often made fun of its out-datedness and its inability to do anything besides make calls, but I always rushed in to defend it. Like a good mother, I had never wished it could be anything it wasn’t. (Here’s a secret: As long as everyone around you has access to a smart phone, you yourself never actually need one).
For the first time in two years, I thought back to the day I got that phone and how confusing it had felt to even be in a normal store, fresh off the plane from a place where nobody knew that carpet existed. I had been so convinced that day that the Verizon guy was the crazy one, and I’d never looked back. But here I was, two years later: crying big old American tears over my G’s.
I needed a reality check. I pulled out my laptop and did a quick Google search to find out how many people in the world even have internet access. The answer? Less than thirty percent.
There was a great sense of calm about me as I entered the Verizon store a few days later to pick up my iPhone 4. My calm did not let up, even as Marcus condescendingly shook his head throughout our entire phone-upgrading exchange.
“Thanks Marcus,” I said when all was said and done. “I’ll see you in two years for whichever phone is free by then.”