When God decided which attributes to grant my character and countenance as I was knit together in my mother’s womb, I believe it went down like this:
Omnipotent one: A sense of direction? Nah, this one doesn’t need that. Why don’t we give her the uncanny ability to remember useless animals facts no one really needs to know instead?
The result of his/her decision, declared in the royal we? I can literally get lost walking around the block, like I did in Vancouver, Canada when I was 17. But did you know kangaroos have three vaginas and a group of rattlesnakes is called a rhumba?
I’ve mostly learned to live with my incredibly poor sense of direction. For example, when I used to drive in San Francisco, I realized all you have to do to get in and out of the City is find Market, Van Ness or Geary. Find them, follow them, and eventually you’ll know which way to go. It might take forever, but who’s in a hurry? But if I strayed out into the Sunset, and somehow I often did, then I was in trouble: No Market, Van Ness or Geary in sight. What’s a girl to do?
Landmarks also help. When I first lived in Berlin, my best friend lived on Raumer Straße in Prenzlauer Berg, and Fernsehturm was the landmark I used to find my way to her apartment.
These days, Prenzlauer Berg is full of pretentiously urban, upwardly mobile families, with dads well over 50 pushing around 3,000 euro baby buggies, the tots inside dressed in brightly colored organic cotton clothes from some Scandanavian-sounding brand, while they slurp coconut water from their sippy cups and snack on vegan, carob-covered beet chips. But back in the early 2000s, Prenzlauer Berg was the place to be, although I was never all that crazy about the neighborhood.
But I digress. In 2001, when my friend lived in Prenzlauer Berg and Prenzlauer Berg was still full of hipsters before hipsters were called hipsters, Fernsehturm was my friend.
When I got off the U-Bahn near her place, all I had to do was walk towards Fernsehturm, take a left at the second Schwarma stand and a right by the cafe with plush vintage furniture that smelled like musty old man, and voila: Raumer Straße.
But then one evening, I got off the U-Bahn and Fernsehturm was nowhere to be found. The sky was blanketed with a thick fog, and so was my mind. Although the walk to my friend’s place should have taken me ten minutes, without my trusty Fernsehturm, it took me almost forty-five.
Landmark orientation can also backfire in other ways. Blue buildings are sometimes unexpectedly painted yellow, trees with unusually shaped trunks are sometimes cut down. The graffitti artist who sprayed a cross-eyed cat holding up a fish skeleton on an off-white apartment buiding in Wedding might have also sprayed the same figure on an off-white building in Neukölln, making me seriously durcheinander.
By the way, did you know naked mole rats are actually related to porcupines and have a lifespan of up to 30 years? That’s a long time to live for a whole lot of ugly.
Although I know I could impress you with my extensive array of animal facts—just wait until you hear what I know about sperm whales and giraffes—if you heard more of my no-sense-of-direction stories I can guarantee you’d also think, Now here’s a girl who surely praises the day cell phones got GPS.
But this is what my phone looks like.
Over five years old, the phone is “smart” in that you can touch the screen to do things, but it’s not connected to the Internet; when people text me emojis, they look like this: I never did figure out how to get that sleeping Dalmation stock photo off the screen, but I do know deafness runs in the breed.
Yes, folks, I am what you’d call a stubborn late adopter. I didn’t get the Internet at home until 2007 and didn’t get an iPad until last year, but only because I found out a Mac device or Android phone was the only way I could use iRealPro.
It’s not that I don’t like gadgets or the Internet (I looovvvee the Internet), it’s more that I know I’ll like them too much. I avoided getting the Internet all those years—which was possible at the time because Neukölln had an Internet cafe on nearly every block—because I thought if I could go online at home, I wouldn’t read as many books. I’ve had the Internet at home for ten years now, and guess what? I definitely read less books.
As for my iPad, my daughter yells at me all the time for what she calls my overactive “iPad touching.” Mama, stop with the iPad touching, she tells me. I’m trying to talk to you.
Do I really need to add an internet-capable phone to the mix, one I actually connect to the Internet? Not really.
Yes, people do laugh at me when I take my battered little white Samsung out of my pocket, especially if I’m in the U.S. But when they do, I always tell them,
Seriously. Do you know how ridiculous you guys all look? Staring at those little screens everywhere you go, scrolling, swiping, scrolling, swiping…
I went out to dinner with my sister when I was California last fall, and I swear she couldn’t go for thirty seconds without checking her phone. I got so annoyed I finally asked her to put it in her bag. She did, but I could tell her finger was still itching, craving the cool smoothness of somewhat greasy glass. “Fine,” I said after about ten minutes. “Put it back on the table.” Of course she did, and eagerly. Like so many people, the poor thing has a Mac monkey of her back. I simply couldn’t watch her suffer anymore.
Stubborn late adopter I am, but I have still always “adopted” in the end. And I have to admit, I have recently been thinking maybe it is time for a phone with Internet, emoji reading capabilities, a working camera, maybe even that little blue GPS dot, guiding me out the fog of my inherently jumbled mind.
If I did have one, I could have taken a picture when I was riding through Tiergarten the other day and the clouds opened up, sunlight sparkling on the golden angel atop Siegessäule and Fernsehturm’s silver dome, the cloudless sky so crazy blue it looked God just upped the color saturation. Seriously, it was a major case of postcard porn, and I didn’t have the technological capacity to capture it.
But if I do cave in and join the cult of Android or iOS, I’ll still never turn on the GPS when I’m riding through Tiergarten, not even if I’m running late for an appointment. Sometimes getting lost—and I always do—can be the most beautiful thing in the world.
When else would I find the time to ponder the magnificence of cephalopods?