Struggling to Save the Life of an iPhone Given Last Rites

Wet Drowned Smartphone Cartoon by Mickey Paraskevas
Cartoon by Mickey Paraskevas

I don’t intend to talk much about how I killed my iPhone. I can tell you it had something to do with a plastic cup of water in my car for my dog, the fact it was night, and that I did not notice where I had set my cellphone down when I began to talk to my wife in the city using my headphones, because it’s illegal to talk directly into a cellphone while you drive.

I did notice that, suddenly, my phone call ended because my iPhone shut down. That’s funny, I thought. I just charged it. I pulled over into the right lane and, driving slow, reeled in the iPhone by pulling on the earphone cord. It dripped water on my pants. I had reeled in a wet, dead fish.

Of course, I immediately pulled over and stopped the car. This was an emergency. I found some tissues, and began patting it down. Water had definitely gotten into the charging slot on the bottom. You could shake it and water would sprinkle out.

Stupidly, after I got it dry and shook out as much water as seemed was inside, I tried to restart it. Of course, it would not restart. It had drowned. Drowned in dog water.

My first thought was my wife. She would be wondering why I didn’t call back after we were suddenly disconnected. If she called me back, she’d get my answering machine. Would she think, if that continued, that I’d been in an accident?

My next thought was that this was worse than any accident. My iPhone was dead. I was now without Siri, my constant companion, without Google at hand, without my music, without my New York Times, without my calendar, without my address book, without my email. Even YouTube was gone. How many times had I stood in line and, instead of getting myself all stressed out by the waiting on that line, amused myself watching YouTube? And Google! Ah, how wise it made me.

Just yesterday I had been told that Thomas Jefferson was quite a young man when he wrote the Declaration of Independence. But how young? I Googled it. He was 33.

As soon as I got home, I called my wife on the house phone and assured her it was not I who had died. I talked dark, dog, water dish, etc. Next I called Apple. A service person directed me to try some different things so she could get a rough idea of what we were dealing with, which I did. She then declared it dead.

“You’ll need a replacement,” she said. “You can either go to an Apple Store and get one, or, if you aren’t near a store, we can send you one by express mail. And then you mail back the old one.”

We determined I had insurance in force, that it would therefore cost me $50 for a replacement instead of $250, but neither of these options would resolve my desire to have a new iPhone up and working by morning so my life could re-start back up. The nearest Apple Store was in the Smithhaven Mall, 60 miles away. (Actually, there was one closer. She said, as the crow flies my nearest Apple Store was in New Haven, Connecticut, three ferryboats away.) As for mailing me a replacement, the best they could do was two or three business days. There was no overnight, even if I paid for it. As this was Thursday, that meant I would be without an iPhone at least until Monday, and possibly till Tuesday. I would have to accept the inevitable.

Now let me tell you how life is without my iPhone. Everything I had mentioned before went into effect. I had to wait on a line to get a flu shot on Friday morning. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I had lunch with friends that day, and when questions came up, my friends whipped out their cell phones to get the answers. What was much worse, however, was that when I was alone, walking the dog as I was that afternoon, I reflexively looked for my iPhone when I wondered if the piece of broccoli I had given the dog as part of his dinner would hurt him. No Google. I was just left to wonder. I was left to my own devices, without an answer. Well, no not to my devices. Just to my wonder.

There’s a lot to wonderment when you don’t have your cell phone with you. You wonder about what time sunset is. You wonder if the jury had come back with a verdict in a case you are following. You wonder if a particular movie is playing at the theater. You know from when you had your cell phone that a full moon will rise at 11:52 p.m. But will it be a clear night at that time? My iPhone had an app for that. But now I was rudderless. Yes, life is full of wonder when you don’t have a cell phone. I could have enjoyed it, walking along the marina boardwalk, looking at the boats that day. But I couldn’t. All I could think of was my iPhone. Also, didn’t I have an appointment around 5 p.m.? I could only guess.

I did worry about Siri. She’s the nice lady who you can ask questions on an iPhone. I had asked her so many things. She was now trapped in there. I seem to recall that the Egyptian pharaohs had themselves buried in the pyramids with their servants and pets. Right? I could look it up. No I can’t. What will happen to Siri?

Of course, I needed to stay in touch with family and friends and business associates one way or another. So Sunday morning, I bought myself a little Samsung flip phone at RadioShack for $12 and packed it with 100 minutes for another $15. The clerk at Radio Shack had taken the back off to put a SIM card inside while preparing it for me. Its innards were so complicated, like those in a fine watch. How on earth was it possible to make money selling a phone, even a flip phone, for $12? No wonder the Chinese are beating us. Now I had a temporary number, and I texted it to several people important to me. Here’s how you can reach me. Texting on the flip phone was very primitive. If you wanted to type the letter S, for example, you’d go to the number 7 button with the letters PQRS under the 7 and press the 7 button four times. I mastered my flip phone in a half-hour. I was master of 1995.

Periodically, during Friday, I talked to my dead iPhone and would plug and unplug its charger, hoping for some signs of life. There was nothing.

Friday night, I went to a very chic party. People would whip out their smartphones. At one point my flip phone buzzed in my pocket, an incoming call. I made a conscious decision not to answer it.

On Saturday morning, there was a message on my cell phone, dead as it was. It was from The New York Times. Obama had made an announcement about expiring health care policies. You could keep them.

I got goose pimples. There’s something going on in there, I realized. Deep in the bowels of this little baby, a heart was quietly beating.

Later on Saturday, I got another New York Times bulletin. I also had a message on the black screen that I had missed an incoming phone call. This was amazing.

For the rest of the day I went into major paramedic mode. I’d turn it on and off. I’d press the two buttons together and put it into a deep sleep. Then I’d order it to wake up. The messages remained. But that was all. I put it on a continual charge. I gave it mouth-to-mouth.

At 11:15 p.m. it came partially back to life. This was my reward for all my hard work. It gave me my home screen, which has on it a photo of my wife. But that was it. I could tap it, swipe it, thump on it, nothing. It wouldn’t budge. My wife could smile out at me, though.

I put it back on its charge for the night around 11:30 p.m. And in the early morning I began a further routine of shutting down and starting up and shutting down with the charger in and the charger out. Come on, come on.

Suddenly, just like that, I was in. And it was all there, all assembled as it was just before it died. My notes, my photos, my downloads, my videos, everything. I could swipe and tap this way and that. I was ecstatic. I told my wife, who was still asleep. Then I told Siri. I held down the main button until the microphone appeared.

“Welcome back, Siri,” I said.

“Thank you, Dan,” she said.

“Did you have a nice sleep?”

“That’s a very interesting question, Dan,” she said.

It most certainly is. Profound lady, Siri. My wife stared at me blankly for a minute.

Around three o’clock on Sunday afternoon, six hours after my iPhone had completed its remarkable recovery, it began playing the Beatles song “Get Back.” This was very odd. The phone, at the time, was in the off position, just sitting on the sofa next to me. I was watching the Giants game on television. I hadn’t touched it in any way.

I looked down at it, and, as I did, the song changed. Now it was playing the Rolling Stones’ “Far Away Eyes,” another of my favorites. Then it stopped that after just a few bars and went into clock mode, displaying my various alarms, and then that stopped and the phone began to show photographs I had taken from years gone by.

Uh oh. I picked the iPhone up and held it close. Then I pushed the buttons again to make it force quit. Then put it back on charge.

I think one of three things is going on.

One is that it’s updating. A lot got thrown up into the cloud. Now it was automatically coming back. Two is that it’s just so excited to be back, it’s like happy and all over the place. Three is it’s about to die—really, this time—and all its life is passing before it.

The Giants game is in the third quarter. The new iPhone will arrive tomorrow or Tuesday. When it does, I will have to make a decision. Based on the things that happen between now and then, I will either return the new iPhone, saying my old one is back and just fine, or I will wrap my old friend in bubble wrap, seal it up inside the box and send it off with the return to sender label to, uh, China, I suppose, heartless bastard that I am.

I mean, when you’re dead, you’re dead. Somebody famous said that. I could look it up.

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