I remember the moment exactly. My brother-in-law’s phone rang, playing AC/DC”s “Back in Black.” I’d heard the ring a thousand times before, but for some reason, this time was different. Swift and sure, the realization washed over me: If Ray could have his own personal, identifying ringtone, so could I.
I just had to figure out how.
Knowing my obsessiveness, I should have walked away right then and there. Instead I started fucking with my phone. I pushed each and every key, both individually and in combination with every other. I don’t remember exactly how long it took me to locate the Verizon Deluxe ringtone screen. Forced to guess, I’d estimate anywhere between 3 and 5 hours. (Not all my fault. At one point Ray grabbed my phone and programmed in “Me So Horny.” That took a while to rectify.) Eventually, though, I figured it out. And at that moment, my life was irrevocably altered.
Viewing available ringtones was like looking through a portal into infinity. Do you know that Monty Python fans can purchase anything from “Bring Out Your Dead!” to “It’s Just a Flesh Wound?” Elvis lovers can receive calls to the tune of “Heartbreak Hotel” or “Blue Suede Shoes,” and Madonna officianados can hear her catchy claims to be “Like a Virgin.” Unless you’re looking for the sounds of a cow giving birth to an elephant, the world is your oyster.
The overwhelm was my undoing. Something got tripped in my brain. My delight and fascination crossed the line into raw obsession.
My ringtone, I decided, could be nothing less than perfect. Something that would reflect my distinct tastes and personality. Determined, I previewed every possibility. Several rings made the short list: U2’s “Where the Street Has no Name,” Blondie’s “Rapture,” and David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance.” But in the end, the theme to Charlie Brown, lighthearted and familiar, captured my heart.
A week later, I was forced to admit my error. I loved the Charlie Brown ringtone, but its first few seconds were jarring. Every time my phone rang, my cat and I jumped halfway to the ceiling. I was back to square one.
I’ll spare you the triumphs and tribulations that have marked my ringtone career. Suffice it to say, over the years, my obsession has flared up periodically, exposing and confirming my unbalanced, adolescent self. Whenever I get a new phone, those closest to me know exactly what’s coming. They pack up fast and get out of town.
Presently, my ringtone is the theme to “Get Smart.” I waited years for it. For a long time it was only available for purchase online; I had concerns about incurring hidden fees, throwing my finances off for decades to come. (I’m lazy about balancing my checkbook. Oblivious, I could have ended up on the street, inviting lectures from my parents and friends.) But that’s all over now.
Whenever my phone rings, I envision Maxwell Smart walking, face first, into that steel door, and want to chuckle. I imagine myself as 99, smooth and svelt, but wearing slightly less mascara. Sometimes I wonder if the real 99 kept up with laundry and the dishes. A part of me hopes not. An even larger part of myself wishes I had a phone that looked like a shoe.