Revisited: Using your cell phone as a defensive weapon

Now that I’m trying to maximize my up-and-down hip movement as part of the corporate stepping competition I wrote about last week (, I’ve started tacking an evening walk onto the end of each day’s physical activity. The pedometer I wear on my belt is somehow recording only about 11,000 paces per day, and I want to report more without cheating.

We have a neighborhood that’s theoretically nice for walking, with little vehicular traffic, huge canopy trees and a nice flat terrain. The animal life that might otherwise be tempted to bother us is fairly well-controlled. Most of the neighbors with dogs have installed “invisible fences” to shock their animals into civility. There is some wildlife – mostly squirrels, rabbits and the occasional field mouse – and I haven’t lost enough weight yet to worry about being carried off by hawks.

The reason that reality differs from theory in this walking wonderland has to do with the other people who are out on the street. Many of them are more interested in using the stroll as a pretext for socializing than as a get-healthy regimen. I don’t mind nodding my head and offering a friendly grunt as we pass other groups in the street, but too often we slow to a stop and begin a trivial conversation that’s burning virtually zero calories.

When my wife asked me to join her on a post-dinner stroll the other night, it was exactly the time of day when almost everyone else was out and about. I feared there’d be very little walking and way too much talking.

“Just keep going if someone tries to stop us,” my wife suggested. “I like to talk. I’ll just catch up to you later.”

It sounded like a workable idea, until I thought it through and realized how strange it would be if we encountered another husband-and-wife duo. The standard procedure seems to be that all four begin the chat session together, then one wife will bring up a subject (fallopian tubes, for example) that the men won’t care to discuss, so the two husbands pair off and talk about lawn-mowing, sports or lawn-edging. How could I walk away from such a scenario without looking like a complete jerk?

Then I had an idea. There’s still one fully acceptable reason to behave like an ass in polite society, and it involves the use of the cell phone. What if I carried the phone with me during the walk, then flipped it open to accept an incoming call at the exact moment an oncoming group is spotted? If I acted early enough, it wouldn’t be seen as rude. Instead, I could be viewed by the neighbors as one of those terribly important individuals who can never be off the grid without widespread societal collapse. You know, like every twenty-something motorist you see.

The secret to success, I figured, would be to have a number of different scripts prepared that could be used on the variety of audiences I would encounter. I would be like the well-prepared telemarketer who alters his selling approach to address any arguments of resistance in his marks (Call recipient: “Can’t talk now; I have to go to the bathroom.” Telemarketer: “Just go in your pants; this wireless offer is too good to miss.”). First, though, I had to figure out which lines would work best on each demographic. I wanted to project an air of importance while at the same time instilling a certain fear, and I knew the same communication would not work on everyone.

For the elderly retirees from the neighboring assisted-living center, I could say: “Yes, Health and Human Services Secretary Sebelius, I agree we should support that amendment to allow those over age 65 to eat at cafeterias for free before 5 p.m. Just make sure that clause about cat food is carefully worded.”

For the numerous dog-walkers leading their pets through the greenway adjacent to the road, I could say: “Commissioner Goodell, we have to face the reality of the situation. Michael Vick will have every legal right to return to the NFL as a quarterback, but that doesn’t mean we have to use the hides of his dogs to make footballs.”

For the kids riding their bikes and scooters down the street, I could say: “Miley, Miley, Miley, I know you’re eager to take on more adult roles, but your public just isn’t ready to see you yet as Paul Giamatti’s promiscuous Aunt Hildie in the next Spiderman movie.”

And for the middle-aged couples, I could say: “Listen closely and carefully to what I have to say, Mr. President. If we don’t launch that preemptive strike on Paraguay, we’ll all be crispy tostadas by this time tomorrow.”

We started our walk, and as I practiced these lines quietly to myself, I noticed my wife walking farther and farther ahead of me. That’s fine, I thought, this will allow me to scope out the lay of the land for potential ambushes ahead. My biggest fear was the local drama professor from the nearby condos. He was known to improvisationally explode from behind a hedge with stories of his upcoming vacation and questions about when his son could come play with mine. (They’re 17 years old, for crying out loud). I fingered my trusty Razr as we passed the location where he was reportedly seen only yesterday.

The street remained clear for almost a quarter-mile until an oncoming SUV wheeled into a driveway about fifty feet in front of us. Cars and such aren’t usually an issue for the walkers but because this one had come to a stop so abruptly, I flipped open the phone and mentally rehearsed the scene I’d trained so thoroughly for the past ten minutes. A woman about our age erupted from the passenger side of the vehicle and ran straight toward us.

“Beth!” she yelled, which I suspected was a local war cry and, also, my wife’s name.

This turned out to be Michelle, an old college friend we had occasionally spoken to during our 15 years in the subdivision. She was on us in an instant, remarking how nice an evening it was, asking my wife questions about her freelance editing business, and asking how her son who wants to work at home now that he and his new wife had their first baby, and her daughter-in-law was going back to work because she had the good insurance but Bobby wondered if he couldn’t make some income online.

Everything seemed to be moving in slow motion. Following behind Michelle was her husband and their college-age daughter, both smiling menacingly. We stood there like the Dave Clark Five, but even more awkward.

Fortunately Beth and Michelle did most of the talking while I smiled and shifted my weight back and forth, hoping that it would register on the pedometer. I heard none of the telltale clicking I had noted earlier; only the friendly conversation and the pounding of my heart.

I momentarily considered hurling my cell phone to the ground, because I’m pretty sure that Motorola diversified to a hand grenade division a few years back and maybe this model offers fragmentation features as well as email access and high-resolution video (I never did read the manual). At least it would be enough to distract our accosters long enough to make our escape.

In the end, though, we found ourselves having a very nice conversation with the Roths, who may be joining us for a picnic when the weather gets warm for good in a few weeks. Al gave me a few tips on how he keeps his yard so nice, the daughter is already looking forward to her junior year at Duke, and Michelle’s ovaries never came up. They’re a very pleasant family, and I regret having wanted to slay them.

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2 Responses to “Revisited: Using your cell phone as a defensive weapon”

  1. fakename2 Says:

    Your neighborhood sounds virtually identical to mine, with the exception of the part about waiting a few weeks before it gets warm. Also, the squirrels here have banded together into roving attack squads who strike without warning. So, be on the lookout. The movement probably just hasn’t reached South Carolina yet. On the other hand, maybe it has, but your squirrels are too busy having sex with exotic Argentinian squirrels to whom they are not married.

  2. Preston Weddingcake lll Says:

    Solution: trade in your Razr for an iPhone. Then you could employ the app entitled “Fake Caller”. It can be pre-set and configured in a variety of ways, and even will flash a photo of the “caller” onscreen. Very convincing to the uninitiated.

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