Monday, October 8, 2007

Beating Snake and Other Things That Matter - December 2005

A boy named Liam, now a tenth grader, was a member of our car pool until he finished eighth grade. He’s a very likable boy and I would like him except for the fact that he holds the high score for Snake on my aging Nokia cell phone.

Here’s the sad, sad truth: I have been trying to beat his record for three years. I regularly sit in my car waiting for Colin to come out of his riding lesson and try to beat Liam’s record. I’ve lain on a bed in various New York City hotel rooms – with nothing else in the world I’m required to do except show up in the lobby for dinner an hour hence – and tried to beat his record. No such luck. I closest I can get is about 275 to his awe-inspiring 656. (I recall that Nat, now a freshman at Bowdoin and also an erstwhile member of our car pool, held the record of 900-something but that was on his mom’s phone, thank God, and therefore outside my sphere of responsibility.)

Snake is a simple cell phone game whereby you press the north-south-east-west buttons (i.e. 2, 8, 6, 4) on the phone’s keypad to direct a little dot to eat another dot on the screen. For each dot you eat, the eating dot grows longer. If you hit one of the four “walls” of the screen or the eating dot’s “tail,” you die. Game over, man, to quote Bill Paxton, the whiny Marine from Aliens.

Here’s a second sad, sad Snake-related truth: Liam got his lousy 656 points in 12 minutes. Twelve minutes is about the time it takes to drive from the school to Liam’s house, where he would often say as we pulled into his driveway, “Darn! I died.”

“What’d you get?” a younger child would ask from the back.

“Oh, 577,” he’d say blithely.

How is this possible? Give me 12 hours, highly improved eye/hand coordination and considerably more ability to focus than I currently possess, and I might approach the 500 mark. But 656, come on. What are they feeding these children?

On Monday, I am playing Snake in the late afternoon darkness in my car in Topsham, waiting for Colin to come out of the horse barn where he takes riding lessons for occupational therapy. I suspect I am getting a new cell phone for Christmas so there is a creeping urgency to beating Liam’s high score before I part ways with this stupid phone forever.

Here’s another sad, sad truth: I am getting (I think) a new cell phone because this old Nokia won’t die. It is five years old, a veritable dinosaur in cell phone terms, and my sons want to send it to the Smithsonian. It’s black, it doesn’t fold and it doesn’t take photos. I was sitting next to a man on a plane from Chicago about 18 months ago. He saw my phone and said, “I used to have one like that,” then smiled and tilted his head in a way that said, “How quaint. You must be from Maine.”

Though I’ve been proud of my Yankee thrift and practical good sense around my mobile telecommunications needs – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – I finally started dropping hints to Scott that it was time to buy a new phone for me.

“Is it broken?” he asked.

“Its battery operates a little erratically,” I said hopefully.

“Is it broken?”

“Noooo,” I said, “but I hate it. It’s embarrassing at airports.”

Here’s yet another the sad, sad truth: I am embarrassed that I am embarrassed about my cell phone. I don’t want to be the type of person who wants a cool or even somewhat cool phone. I don’t want phones to matter. This is so dumb. This is so American. This is so true.

Living here in Maine, I guess I should just give up. There’s no way I can ever be cool. I can’t hold onto a pair of good sunglasses. I lose good pens. I wear shoes until they wear out. I forget to go to hair appointments.

Several years ago, Scott was the chair of the rector search committee at our church. He asked me to have coffee with a youngish clergy wife from suburban Connecticut who was interested in talking to someone with young children about what it was like to live in our small town. We met at a café by the river. I recall it was a beautiful day. From the café windows you could watch the boats at anchor and see miles downriver toward the Gulf of Maine.

“Where do you shop?” she asked when we got situated. She shifted her artistically arranged scarf in a casual manner.

“Reny’s,” I said immediately, (Reny’s is a Maine-based department store known for good deals), “or Beans.”

She smiled. Obviously I didn’t understand the question so she tilted her head in a certain way. “I mean, where do you shop for yourself?”

“Reny’s, “ I said immediately, smiling back, “or Beans.”

Her husband soon withdrew his name from the search process.

Back in the dark car in Topsham, I have a good game of Snake going. I think I might be approaching Liam’s record but there is no way to know until I die. Colin opens the passenger door and gets in.

“Don’t bug me,” I say, without taking my eyes from the little monochrome screen. “I’m playing Snake.”

He leans over to see the length of my tail. “Whoa!” he says and sits back in respectful quiet.

After a minute or so, I blow it and my score of 252 flashes before me. “Man!” I wail.

“What’d you get?”


“That’s pretty good, Mom.”

For a mom, I know he’s thinking.

“Thank you, son,” I say. “How was your lesson?”

“Caroline said that maybe next week will be better. It was hard to pay attention to what I was doing.” Big sigh.

I start the car and head toward home. A little way down the road, a hopeful voice beside me says, “Can we?”

Here’s one last sad, sad truth: On most Mondays, after his riding lesson but before dinner, I buy my son an ice cream with crunch bar and kit kat mix-ins at the Cold Stone Creamery in Brunswick. Not only am I an uncool phone owner and an inept Snake player, I am also a bad mother.

As he comes out with his ice cream, I see that he is smiling. The previous week he was a little short on cash and was very pleased when the person who waited on him sported him the difference. Today it is his intent to repay his debt.

“What happened?” I ask as he climbs in.

“I told him I only wanted eight cents back in change and to keep the rest; he was really surprised. He was also very competent. He could juggle the scoops.”

“Are you happy?” I ask as I start the car, realizing at last that the outcome of this question is the deepest, rock bottom concern of my life.

“Very,” he says, digging in. I can tell by looking at his face in the glow of the lights in that the dingy strip mall parking lot that what he says is true.

“Then that’s all that really matters.”

Heidi Shott
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