The rain has turned into a downpour, but we don’t care. We decide to take a walk in search of fun and food. We manage to find our way onto a path to the town’s main road, which we walk down for just five minutes before stumbling upon an Italian restaurant. The sign out front reads “Betuccini’s Pizzeria & Trattoria,” but they don’t look open. It’s dark all around the restaurant. We peer into the windows, but we can’t see much of anything. We cautiously try the front door, and it opens. It’s so dark inside we feel, for a moment, a little scared. The entryway resembles a cave with low clearance. Then, the smells of garlic and simmering sauces hit us, and we know we’re where we’re meant to be. The dim hall opens into a beautiful restaurant with a warm feel. We’ve discovered a wonderful secret—and all off-line.
When we sit down, I notice my first instinct is still to take out my phone and surf my apps while waiting for the server. No dice on this trip: Kristy and I must sit and look at each other and at the restaurant’s decor. We have to talk to each other. How weird!
When I think about how I might describe the feeling to someone younger, I hear myself saying, “Back in the day, we sat and looked at each other, and we talked.” Back in the day. For most people, when we talked to each other in restaurants means just ten or fifteen years ago—before smartphones. But those were drastically different times.
Pretend it’s 1995 and talk to each other. (taken from a chalk board sign inside a coffee shop, Inxpot, in Keystone, Colorado. “We don’t have WIFI,,,,Pretend it’s 1995 and talk to each other.”
Sitting in Betuccini’s with Kristy feels like playing an old board game that hasn’t been brought out for a while. We observe and discuss the artwork and the creativity it took to choose where to display each painting. I’m enjoying the conversation and the fact we’re noticing things we might otherwise ignore. With a smartphone to occupy the senses, who looks at decor?
Kristy notices some Italian words and phrases around the restaurant and asks me to translate. We are together: connecting and interacting. It is relaxing, and time feels like it’s standing still. Living in the moment is unrehearsed poetry. The romance is overflowing at our table, lit by candles rather than electronic blue lights. We are present.
After what turns out to be an amazingly delicious meal, we run back through the rainstorm to the bungalow, dodging puddles and laughing. We have no problem finding it anymore; what was hidden to us just a few hours ago is now easy to find. I love how that happens!
From what we can see—the restaurant wasn’t crowded, and there aren’t many cars in front of the bungalows around ours—the little beach community where our rented bungalow sits is pretty vacant. I guess it isn’t a peak time for tourism. We’re okay with that. There isn’t much close by as far as evening/nighttime activities either. With the rain coming down so hard, a nighttime walk on the beach is not very appealing either. What to do? What to do? Until now, our nights have been full of adventures into the wee hours; suddenly, we’re on our own.
We take a closer look around the bungalow. We have tequila from our hosts, beer from our cooler, games on the living room shelves. There is a wooden top with a string and mechanism to spin, nicely painted with brilliant colors and patterns. How does this contraption work? What is the best way to wind the string so it can be pulled out easily to spin the top? This is tonight’s to-do list. A short list; we master it after a few tries.
Next to the top, painted in the same style, are two wooden cups, each with a handle on the bottom and a ball attached by a string to the handle. This one we get right away: hold the handle with the ball dangling below, and swing the ball up to catch in the cup. After a few attempts, we seem to be getting it. Okay, so now we have a potential activity, and we have refreshments.
We discover these antique games in our beach bungalow.
Next, we challenge ourselves to come up with a way to use the two toys in one game. That’s easy. We take turns spinning the top on the floor, and, while it is spinning, count how many times we each can land our ball in our cup. We talk and play and count and laugh, too, at how easy it is to find alternative activities in a town with no nightlife, even without apps.
Being easily amused is a good thing.
Kristy has enough of me winning and is ready for the next big event. We resume our exploration of the bungalow, looking for more games and/or treasures. I zone in on the book I just bought in Las Vegas, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary.
“How about you sit on floor next to the fire and I’ll read to you?”
I barely finish my sentence before she sits, poking the fire and waiting. I’ve never read a book aloud to anyone before, and I like the idea.
I’m a big fan of audio books, especially those by David Sedaris. His over-the-top humor keeps me laughing out loud through most of his stories. When I listen in my car, his voice takes me back to my childhood. When he reads and imitates family members, it reminds me of how I grew up. Sometimes I catch myself looking in the rearview mirror, half-expecting to see my mother in the back seat.
I’m Italian, and my neighborhood friends were mostly Jewish or Italian. David Sedaris sounds like we sounded as kids when we imitated our mothers and fathers in their overprotective panic mode.
“What do you mean you didn’t make a reservation at the restaurant? Don’t you know David might starve half to death? Meshuggener!” my friends would mock.
Or, regarding my own life, I may say, “Don’t forget to call your father on his birthday! You know how he worries, and you’ll give him the agita.”
I wonder if my mother really believes he will become ill if the phone doesn’t ring, and I wonder how birthday well-wishes are somehow tied to my dad’s digestive tract. I think my mom probably does believe it. And yes, it is the agita, not just agita.
My mom is well trained in the panic arts, with a minor in worried phrases and demands. “Where were you? Why haven’t you called? I almost called the police looking for you!”
It’s funny how similar Italian and Jewish moms can be, at least in my experience.
I try my hand at reading to Kristy the way I think David would read it, complete with the inflections typical of our families. Kristy sits there, eyes focused on one spot on the wall. She looks like she’s seeing the events I’m describing, so I pause to show her the book’s sketches and illustrations. She smiles.
One of the stories involves a breakup between a squirrel and a chipmunk, and Kristy tears up at the end of this romance. This is how we pass our evening in a rainstorm in a bungalow on the beach in Mexico. The fire in the fireplace is the icing on the cake. About a third of the way through the book, something triggers us both; we begin talking at the same time, wondering together about life hundreds of years ago. We talk over each other and out of turn. We think we’ve discovered, or rediscovered, something important. A few more shots of tequila add to our conviction that we have significant advice to give the world, and we’re ready to spread the news that we can save everyone from becoming zombies.
“Let’s film our discussion on how we spent our evening and what has happened so far on our trip. We can share it later when we get back!” Kristy yells.
“How? On YouTube? It’s an oxymoron! It’s a paradox!” I holler back.
Beach Bungalow Brainstorms
A Play in Three Acts:
Act One: Tequila
Act Two: Beer
Act Three: Save the World
More beer washes down more tequila, and the debate intensifies. How can we film ourselves while staying true to our social experiment? And, if we do film it, how can we promote it? We have to use social media to warn folks about the overconsumption of such platforms while engaging in those very platforms.
“Fuck it! We’re doing it anyway,” I say. “The best way to reach the folks and show them is to plant this secret message right in their own social media habits.”
“Yeah, that’s it,” Kristy said. “We’ll be imposters in that world in order to bring them back to their own fireplaces! Maybe they’ll read this book by a fire!”
Not long after we return to app-world, we learn, along with everyone else, that Apple and others are now pushing apps to limit the use of apps. I found at least six apps that are designed to curtail app time. Some might call this new app category ironic. Others might call it hypocrisy and suspect it was generated more by PR departments than by a genuine concern about overuse. I guess I just call it reality, whatever the design motive. I mean, the kitchen timer or stopwatch would serve the same purpose, and I’m sure the new apps benefit the companies that produce them more than you and me; but, for now, I’d rather see people using the don’t-overuse apps than not.
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