Lost Cell Phone and Covid-19 Too

First thing every morning, I connect my cell phone to the charger. Sunday, as my wife and I were about to leave for our weekly drive around the county, I couldn’t find it. No matter. It would show up somehow. It always does. I find a different place to leave my phone almost every time I put it down. A few minutes retracing my steps, and there it’d be. I had done the same with keys until my wife placed a bowl on a table in the foyer where I eventually learned to drop them immediately upon entering. Curiously, I never thought the same strategy might apply to my phone even though I had plenty of evidence that doing so eliminated a lot of exasperation and saved me time every week. My phone and my penknife thrive unshackled nevertheless. They roam freely about the house.

No such luck on the morning in question, however. My wife, a very patient person, doesn’t like seeing me upset. She joined in the search. We turned my study inside out. The living room. The kitchen. The master bedroom bath. Then the third degree. When did I use it last? Where was I when I used it last? Did I wear a shirt with a pocket? Could it have fallen out of the back pocket of my jeans? Answers yielded nothing enlightening.

Bluetooth – A Salute to Millennials . . .

The plot thickened. I had changed the settings on my phone so it does not ring audibly. I wear hearing aids. The hearing aids connect with the phone through Bluetooth (whoever came up with that name was saluting the millennials.) When someone calls, my hearing aids chime, but that did not pinpoint the location of the device. The hearing aids rang whenever I was close—which turned out to be wherever we had searched thoroughly. Not much help, in other words, but at least we established that it was not stolen nor outside nor in one of the autos. What next? Call the phone company. Of course!

The phone company’s recorded greeting assured me that my questions would be answered more quickly if I signed on to their chat room with my laptop. Good, I thought. I tried to sign on. Wrong account ID. They could fix that by sending a code to my cell phone. Right. The lost phone. Next option. They could email a code to my email address, but to my dismay, I found they had the only email address I closed three years ago. They did not offer the option of using another email address. I use four different email addresses to handle my correspondence every day. That should have been a layup. But no.

I tried guessing at what my account ID was until, in their wisdom, the telephone company locked up my account. Banished from the gates. Last option, the one I avoided all along—calling the telephone company directly. They warned me through their automated answering system that I would wait between 12 to 18 minutes before my call could be taken. What the hell, I thought, so I listened as the telephone automated system went through its cheerful greeting and then asked for my PIN. (Years ago everyone knew PIN stood for personal identification number, but it now has taken on a meaning all of its own, divorced utterly from its more literate origins) My PIN. Right. Who knows what the hell his PIN is? This is simply a dodge to avoid taking the call and forcing callers to go to a local company store. Okay. They got me.

Strike Three . . .

I jumped in the car, weaved through traffic around our city’s sprawling shopping mall, and pulled into the suspiciously empty parking lot to the telephone store. The sign on the door said it would be closed for two weeks because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Strike three.

My wife met me when I pulled back into the driveway. “They have a store open on the other side of town if you want to drive way out there. It’s open. I checked on the internet.”

What other option did I have?

“They want you to call for an appointment.”

Screw that. It’s Sunday, I thought. “They surely won’t turn a person away who shows up at the door.” I took off again.

Twenty minutes later I pulled into the telephone store parking lot. Sales and service people were greeting customers outside. No one was being allowed to enter until they signed in with a representative and explained their problem. Gratefully, only one person was waiting. My turn came and I explained my problem. All I wanted was my PIN so I could get on the phone and talked to someone. The PIN, as it turned out, is not available to service personnel. It’s a way to protect the customer privacy. More disconcerting, the representative was not encouraging that a solution was possible. She asked me wait until an expert was available.

Whatever I Can Get . . .

Twenty-five minutes later, I was invited into the store. I was told they could not send a signal from the store to my phone to make it ring audibly and reveal its location. The best they could do is help me reset my PIN so I could call central operations and ask them to send a signal. Great. I’d settle for whatever I can get.

A request to change a PIN had to be verified by text to a phone. We used my wife’s. We called her. Her phone is an earlier model, and she could not text and talk on the phone at the same time. She hung up and then called us back with the code which we entered to change my PIN. Four digits. A PIN can’t be the last four to a social security number. Four discrete digits. No repeats. We input the code.

Twenty minutes later I pulled into our driveway, rushed into the house, and called the telephone company. The new PIN worked. I was told I needed to wait 15 to 24 minutes for representative to come on the line.Turned out not 24 minutes but 31. I timed it. Gratefully, during that time, I was not reassured again and again that my call was important. The first person I talked to said he understood but that he was not equipped to handle the problem. He said he’d transfer me to a specialist.

A specialist came on the line. “Please give me your first and last name,” she said. Square one. I repeated my explanation of the problem. She referred me to a website where I found the make and model of my phone displayed. I clicked on an icon of it, and a message informed me that a signal was being sent to create an audible ring for five minutes. My hearing aids picked up an intermittent signal.

My wife yelled, “I can hear it!” She was in the front room, through the short hallway from my study.

I pulled out my hearing aids, and I could hear it too. It was coming from the front of the house.

“It’s in the garbage!” my wife shouted gleefully. The garbage from the kitchen was on the front stoop in a plastic bag awaiting the next time I went out that way to put it in the collection bin at the end of the driveway. (My wife tires of reminding me things. She puts a physical reminders in my path. She finds that more effective.)

Cell Phone Garbage . . .

She opened the storm door to the stoop, took the binder off the plastic bag, reached into the bag, and retrieved my cell phone still chiming about its liberation.

Speculation ran rampant the rest of the evening and into the next morning as to how the phone got into the kitchen garbage. “It was in there overnight,” my wife observed. “The coffee grounds from breakfast were on top of it.”

I don’t believe I am any more forgetful at 81 than I was at any other age. That’s not saying very much. I’ve always been forgetful. But I sure as hell would not have thrown my cell phone into the kitchen garbage. That I would have remembered. The answer, we decided, was that I set the phone down with my wallet and watch on the kitchen counter next to the open garbage bin–my usual practice upon retiring for the night. Since it fell into the garbage, rather than the tile floor, nobody would have heard it drop, its fall cushioned by banana peels, soggy paper towels, etc.

The afternoon finally drew to a triumphant close. I returned to my study to relax. When I noticed the Minnesota Vikings won, I decided the entire universe was not against me after all. Capping everything, my wife appeared at the study door with a narrow platter just large enough to hold my cell phone. “Phone,” she had printed in large black letters with a black marking pen across the interior yellow base. Now, as with my keys, my cell phone has a place. I felt sure I could rise to the challenge.