Life’s Funny

Lost and Found

Hanging up on Expectations

By Maria Johnson

My cell phone must’ve fallen out of my bag between the tennis courts and the car.

I didn’t realize it until later that night when I wanted to take pictures at a family dinner, and I had to resort to a bulky black antique called a camera.

After dinner, my husband called up the Find My iPhone app, and sure enough, there was a blinking blue dot near the public tennis courts.

I grabbed a high-powered flashlight and dashed out the door with my 6-foot-3 son.

We retraced my steps. Street to courts. Courts to bathroom. Bathroom to courts. Courts to street. No phone. Someone must have found it and locked it in the office. I’d come back in the morning.

The next morning, as I reached for coffee, Jeff got a text from our cell phone carrier.

“You need to stop using so much data,” he said. “We’re almost over
the limit.”

“Huh?” I croaked. “I never use data.”

“Yes, you do,” he said, holding up a graph of my usage.

“When?”

He bored in on the graph.

“Uh-oh,” he said.

“What?”

“Last night between nine and one-thirty.”

“(Expletive),” I said.

“(Expletive),” he said.

“Let me see that map again,” I said.

He called up the finder app from the night before. I zoomed in. The dot was actually down the road from the courts, near a creek.

“Can you refresh it?” I said.

No luck. My battery must have died.

The morning was not going the way I’d expected.

I called the cell phone carrier, suspended my number and paid a small upcharge for a temporary data plan. Then I thought about what was on my phone. Recorded interviews. Notes. Photos related to stories. Oodles of phone numbers.

Were they backed up, resting on a storage cloud somewhere in the computing ether? Maybe. Maybe not.

But what if? What if the person who’d picked up my phone had stayed in one place until the battery died then chucked the phone in the weeds near the creek?

It was a long shot, but we would take it. Jeff and I jumped in the car. Of course we did.  We’re a journalist and a Scotsman. If you cost us an interview or an upcharge for data, we will find you.

“More that way. To your right. Closer to the creek,” Jeff said, using a map that showed the location of his phone against the last-known location of my phone.

“I’m almost to the creek,” I said

“Keep going,” he said.

“Hmm,” I said.

“What?” he said.

“Look at this,” I said, pointing to a sandbox-size structure covered with a blue tarp. Stones had been laid carefully around the edge of the tarp to keep it pinned down.

My mind wandered to everything that could be under that tarp. A person? A cache of stolen goods? A person with a cache of stolen goods?

Jeff stepped closer. Cats sprang from the brush.

He jumped. I jumped.

“That’s it,” I said. “We’re calling the cops.”

A few minutes later, a Greensboro officer was throwing off the blue tarps. Underneath were cat shelters, meticulously built wooden boxes with carefully sawn doors, and built-in storage bins. They were filled with wood shavings. Plastic containers of cat food were strewn around.

Someone with real carpentry skill had gone to a lot of trouble to build and maintain homes for these animals.

Not what I expected to find in the middle of the woods.

Jeff checked his phone.

“We’re still not on top of the blue dot,” he said. “It’s a few more yards in that direction.”

We crept through the woods.

“Aha,” I said.

It was the backside of a small homeless camp, an amalgam of shack, tent, clothesline, buckets, old bicycles, suitcases and boxes.

“You stay here,” the officer advised. “Let me see what’s happening.”

He walked to the front of the camp, out of
our view. We heard voices. Then raised voices. Then yelling.

As things escalated, I feared the worst. Over a stupid cell phone.

That’s not what happened. Thank God.

It was a difficult situation. The police were professional, polite, restrained. An officer delivered my phone at the end of his shift.

Later, after charging the phone and adding a security code, I looked at the Web history.

Yes, the homeless guy who’d picked up my phone had looked at porn.

And fast cars.

And pranks on YouTube.

And just before the battery died, movies.

Up the hill from a colony of feral cats that’d gotten expert help in the art of survival, he’d been watching movies. Romance movies.

Not what I expected. Not at all. OH

Maria Johnson is a columnist for O.Henry. She can be reached at ohenrymaria@gmail.com.

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