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Significant Others

By Jeanne Marie Laskas
Sunday, July 29, 2007

Ever since I dropped my cellphone into a large, piping hot cup of McDonald's coffee (with two creams), I've been hearing a lot of dunked cellphone stories. The thing is, I never get my whole story out before people start in with theirs.

Me: "My cellphone doesn't work because I dropped it into a large, piping hot cup of . . ."

Them: "Oh, did I tell you about when mine fell in the toilet in the restroom at the Guggenheim?"

Nearly all of these stories are impressive. Beer, wine, martinis, holy water, milk. Turns out, dropping your cellphone into a vat of liquid earns you entrance into a club of storytellers who promise to have tales more fantastic than yours. Tea, a fish tank, an ocean, a puddle that was supposed to resemble a lake at a miniature golf course, a bucket of dirty water during a car wash fundraiser for Special Olympics. The stories are complicated, filled with plenty of set-up material, funny plot twists, the big build to the big drop so as to underscore the physical, emotional and spiritual impact of the fall.

Them: "And so you can imagine how freaked out I was!"

Me: "Oh, yes! Wow. But getting back to my coffee drop . . ."

Them: "My brother dropped his in the toilet in the rest-room at Lincoln Center. Did I tell you about that?"

I have a question about the restroom drops. How come every lavatory in these dropped-cellphone stories is always a fancy one? Famous art museums, opera houses, various five-star hotels, a chateau in the Loire Valley. Do people not drop cellphones in more pedestrian restrooms? Olive Garden? A Sunoco station? Most dunked cellphone tales are, I have to conclude, wildly embellished with each telling, so as to enhance the reputation of the victim. My own drop happened in the parking lot of a McDonald's somewhere in Wretched City, Calif. I don't remember the actual name of the town, thanks to the important work I've been doing erasing much of this episode from my memory.

I arrived at about midnight, alone, after a long flight, at the hotel my travel agent had chosen for me. She had never, before this night, done me wrong.

The hotel was flanked by two liquor stores, both with signs emphatically refusing to cash checks. Adjacent to each liquor store was a 24-hour laundromat. I'd like to say I found the balance aesthetically pleasing, but the truth is I was more concerned about robbery, gunfire and sexual solicitation. It was one of those kinds of neighborhoods: nobody home, just booze and laundry and this hotel with no lobby. A buzzer outside a thick plexiglass window had a sign taped underneath: "Buzz hard because I'm eating dinner." I considered leaving. But I didn't know where to turn, didn't think driving around the outskirts of L.A. at midnight looking for a hotel was wise in my state of exhaustion. I would call my travel agent first thing in the morning for a revised itinerary. "You want the Jacuzzi room?" said the attendant who eventually answered my buzz. I told him I just wanted a nonsmoking room.

"All the Jacuzzi rooms are smoking," he said. "The people in the Jacuzzi like to party, have a good time. So you have to let them smoke."

"Uh-huh," I said. "Well, how about just give me the nicest room you've got."

"The nicest room?" he said, smiling. "The six-person Jacuzzi?" He reached behind him and produced photographs of the various Jacuzzi offerings.

It went on like this. I ended up with a key to Room 119, which was the safest distance from the highway, in my estimation. It featured, yes, a Jacuzzi: shiny black and lined on three sides with mirrors -- an entire stage that occupied well over half of the room. It was not clean. The bed was red velveteen, well past its prime, dirty and bruised with cigarette burns. I conjured many unpleasant images of Burt Reynolds and babes in 1970s movies and fell asleep in my clothes. In the morning, I went to the "coffee machine room," where, it was alleged, you could get a cup if you had exact change. The door was locked. Fine. In the distance I saw a pair of golden arches. It could have been a mirage. It felt like a rescue. I got in my rental car. I zoomed to the drive-through, bought the coffee, and was mixing in the cream when I reached for my cellphone to call the travel agent. I could not find my cellphone and began to panic. I reached over the seat to search the passenger-side floor and felt -- plop! -- the cellphone emerge from my shirt pocket, whereupon it landed in the coffee and died.

The end. I was stuck in Wretched City with all connection to the real world officially snuffed.

Thank you for letting me tell my story. No, it isn't a holy water basin in a Paris cathedral with nuns watching. But perhaps you can imagine how freaked out I was? Yes. Yes, you can. And by the time you have your own dunked cellphone story to tell, mine will be even better.

Jeanne Marie Laskas's e-mail address is post@jmlaskas.com.

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