I am sleeping deeply in all the blessed oblivion I have earned by long, late hours of watching movies. My dreams are as captivating as they are surreal; they even have butterflies in them. My blankets are warm, my mattress is soft, and my pillow is just cushy enough. In a word, I am in paradise.
Suddenly, every ounce of serenity is gone. In a magnificent jolt, my toes go taut, my hair raises, and my eyes spring wide open. On the table, not a foot from my bed, is a shrieking ghoul that I am powerless to stop. Shriek! Brinnnnngggg! It’s the kind of high-pitched cross between a wildcat’s scream and the cranking of broken machinery that every diabolical two-year-old longs for. It sounds exactly like (forgive me, gentle readers) a bottled devil.
Perhaps you have heard such phones. Sometimes, on more peaceful occasions, I like to daydream about maniac geniuses who sit around in antiseptic, sound-proof labs and concoct rings. I am sure there are some humane, intelligent, sensitive creatures among them. They are the ones who make sissy rings like “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” (Try saying that three times fast. Heck, try saying it one time slow!) or “Für Elise.” But there are other brawny giants who grin evil smiles through broken teeth, pull their ear-muffs tighter, and apply themselves gustily to creating instruments of torture.
“Well Todd, what do you think of this one?”
“I don’t know Bill. The little white rat in the box can still walk. Why don’t you add a few more jolts of that really dissonant tone?”
“Great idea. The fella can’t even open its eyes anymore!” Todd's evil laugh sits dead in the air like an insensitive remark.
You would think, in a day when cell phones are ubiquitous and new ring tones rarely cost more than seventy dollars or so apiece, that there would be no need to endure such aural agonies. After all, there's always a sissy tone available. But that, dear reader, would be an underestimation of human innovation. There are raving lunatics in the world who find every misery they deserve and heap it upon not only themselves, but their friends as well. They connive in back rooms and plot methods to torture the human ear. Yes, these misanthropes are a wretched lot, and you should do your best to avoid us. Yes, us.
Take, for example, me and a recent conference: I attend a conference with my parents and friends. The friends decide to do uncool things. The parents leave to watch boring workshops. I go to look at exciting vendor displays. The friends wouldn’t notice if I got eaten by a vendor monster, but the parents like to keep in touch. They call to check on me. I, having carefully set the phone’s mode to “normal,” ought to hear the ringer, but I don’t. They call again, I miss the call, and they conclude that I have been eaten by a vendor monster. Pretty soon I hear my name on the loudspeakers, on the list of casualties. Apparently, I am dead to the public address announcer.
So I do what any moron would do. I scroll through my ringtones and choose the loudest, most obnoxious ring I can find, one of those metallic nightmares that sound like a phone from the thirties. (People in the thirties must have been rather deaf, both as a cause and an effect of such ringtones.) Now when my phone rings, I feel like the frazzled executive in Spiderman 3 whose wife had a secretary vibrate his desk with a buzzer every time he got excited. A call comes in and—Brinnggg!—there is a bottled devil in my own pocket. I smile nonchalantly and check the caller ID. My friends gape wide-eyed and smooth their hair back down from its newly acquired upright posture. At this point, my friends would notice if I got eaten by a vendor monster. In fact, they would probably hold a party of celebration—provided the phone got eaten as well.