The week that i moved into my first apartment was also the only week i’ve ever owned a cell phone. Actually, it was on loan from Drexel as part of my employment as a peer leader. Only two and a half years later and all that i can remember is working long days in our tiny cloistered room in The Armory, after which i would take a short but exhilarating walk back to my new home. Short to the tune of seven blocks, but exhilarating because it carried me off of the Drexel campus map and onto poorly lit residential streets that were known to host such threats as maliciously drunk frat-boys and the very occasional mugger.
In the beginning i would get so tense walking home from work that i would nervously finger the nine key on my company phone, as i had it set to speed dial the police. At the time i was new to the feeling of my own keys in my hand, and could not help but finger them constantly while my other hand readied for action, especially when i turned up the always-dark thirty-sixth street from Powelton. And, though I always tell prospective students that i’ve never been harassed or mugged for a reason i have the distinct feeling that neither my shiny new keys and tightly-clutched phone were that reason.
Walking down Walnut street tonight with Elise’s cell phone in my hand recalled the experience for just a moment, blogged-about but forgotten in the interim. Of course, now i am thrust into what actually qualifies as West Philadelphia rather than blocks of expensive double homes, and i am now typically as oblivious to any potential dangers the streets hold in store for me as i was trigger-happy on the nine button back in the day.
Oddly, i felt strangely alone out on the street — somehow totally out of place, as if i was being blue-screened onto a city block from the safety of a comfortably heated studio. As if a digital jaws or T-rex could snap me up as i rounded a corner, represented by your common Philly street thug. Or, you know, an actual screen-monster approximately as threatening.
Tonight was literally the first time i had a cell phone in my personal possession for more than a minute or two since those tense walks home in 2000; Elise had given me hers so i could call her to consult on Ben & Jerry’s flavors, but as the neon sign of the convenience store disappeared behind the slope of Walnut street i found the phone at my ear. Elise just a speed dial button away; I wouldn’t call her just because i was afraid, though. No, of course not.
What i would do, though, is have an embarrassingly loud one-sided conversation about themes of materialism and submissiveness in Moulin Rouge as they relate to modern feminism. Not exactly guaranteed to scare away muggers, but i suppose i was hoping to portray that any startled girly screams in the middle of such a heated debate would be construed as distress calls rather than me conceding that Nicole’s tuberculosis had nothing to do with damning her character as soon as she became more than a high class hussy.
But, really, i hated that movie.
When i finally reached my own corner the phone was still pressed to my ear with Elise only a hot key away, and i felt confident enough to finally relax my death grip on her tiny Motorola. However, it was then that i saw it.
A cat — my first assumption; fair, i think. It wasn’t as big as Elise’s dreadnought-sized house felines, but not unreasonable for a feisty-but-underfed outdoor tom. Upon a second glance i saw that the tail wasn’t right… not high and wagging like a cat’s. Not even right for being a bit damp and put out. In fact, more like outrightly straight, and tapered near the end. Not especially fluffy.
As i got closer the silhouette of its face began to resolve so that i could make out out not an adorable button of a kitty nose, but a snout. Yes, definitely a snout. At this point i upgraded my estimate from stray to opossum, although i had no guesses as to what an opossum would be doing wandering around on Walnut street at this time of year. Or any time of year.
At this juncture i idly pressed the call button on the cell so as to share my speculation with Elise. I had only gotten halfway into what i’m sure was a very clever introductory sentence about the migratory patterns of opossum when my quarry turned to face me and i discovered that it was not a cat, opossum, or even a deformed pan-handler. No, none of the above, not by any stretch of my overstimulated and sleep-deprived imagination.
Indeed, it was a rat. A rat that had grown so large that even seeing it full on i was tempted to believe it was a mutated house cat. Let me put that into perspective for you: big enough that it cannot be obscured by a single car tire; too menacing to beat to death with a flip-flop; large enough that it immediately evoked a fire-swamp joke after i was done screaming like a little girl at the top of my lungs at one thirty in the morning in the middle of a deserted West Philadelphia street.
I’m not sure if that scared away the muggers or attracted them.
The ROUS continued to stare me down while Elise casually dismissed my peril — i took her hanging up on me as an implicit refusal to rush down the stairs to arm me with a burning torch, large steak knife, or can of disinfectant lysol.
There we stood: girly boy desperately clutching a cell phone and two pints of Ben & Jerry’s and rodent … rodent and girly boy desperately clutching a cell phone and two pints of Ben & Jerry’s and rodent. After a bone-chilling minute where i thought i would be forced to lob a pint of Coffee Heath Bar Crunch at the thing’s head, it nobly retreated to the barely sufficient cover of an Accord tire so that i could breathless dart past it. My keys now added to the list of precious cargo clutched tightly to my chest, i was more urgently tense during those fleeting moments of escape than i ever was three years ago on the front stoop of my apartment building.
Moral: Cell phones cannot protect you from everything. At least, not unless you have the speed dial for Animal Control directly between the one for your unsympathetic girlfriend and 911.