This is an account of an old Chinese game, mah jongg, and new technology, cell phones. The two do not mix. The story is non-fictional, although the names have been changed to protect both the innocent and the guilty. Read on and be amused by the unexpected distractions afforded from devices designed for convenience.
Car on Call
When in San Diego, I play mah jongg weekly at a local community center. The parking lot is always full, so husband, Roger, drives me over in his screaming yellow German hot rod. The GT3 was the car on call for the day, and Roger was glad to deliver me to any destination in it. I should call him at home from my cell when I’m done playing.
I have settled in, even if temporarily, with a particular table of mah jongg players among the many convened for play this day. These ladies regularly play together, with an occasional irregular like myself joining the table as the fifth.
Doris is a nice lady from St. Louis. (One always starts conversation with where you’re from, followed by a short synopsis of how you got to San Diego, because nobody in San Diego is FROM San Diego.) Doris is straightforward, no nonsense, un-gossipy, pretty regular kind of gal. No unnecessary flutter, no hard edges, and socially sympathetic. She summered in San Diego then moved here permanently 39 years ago. I like Doris. I’d say she’s a native now.
Carolyn is a very slender dark-haired gal from Nu Yawk (this is Easternese for New York). Carolyn doesn’t say much and is a bit unsteady on her feet. She has a son my age (I’m a senior citizen), which explains why she’s unsteady on her feet. We talk about our sons. We all have sons. Carolyn’s only complaint about her son is that he’s not married to his girlfriend of 20 years. I voice the same complaint about my son, only that the numbers are smaller.
Helen is also from St. Louis. Her favorite color is lime green. You can tell. Her entire outfit was lime green, complete with a silver ring set with a lovely large peridot stone the same color–you guessed it: lime green–as everything else she had on. Helen is quiet and moves slowly, but her mind is quick as a whip. She plays mah jongg as if it were a walk in the park and quietly wins most games as if she were a stoic from Seneca.
Nadia was at our table. Nadia is a somewhat heavy set Rumanian lady. She’s smart and tolerates no baloney….choosing perhaps to eat it instead. “I whipped her.” Nadia was referring to Barbara, another large lady at another table whose weight always seems to be the subject of pre-mah jongg discussion. (There is no discussion of anything during mah jongg.) Nadia beat Barbara badly last week at mah jongg and apparently wiped her out of her supply of quarters, something Barbara usually does to others. Nadia has that heavy Rumanian accent so you can’t tell whether she’s whipping or wiping or what. I was not at mah jongg the week before, so I’m not exactly sure what went on, but whatever it was, there remains no love lost between the two big gals.
So, we’re playing along. The games go quickly. These gals are out to play mah jongg and anything distracting from that is dealt with in short order. TEE-unk. I’m getting within one tile of winning on several games. Close, but no cigar. I’m not as smart as these gals and I need to really focus on the game, but something keeps breaking my concentration. TEE-unk. I now realize my cell phone, buried deep in my deep pocketbook, is TEE-unking its low battery condition with that odd familiar signal. Excusing myself from the game for a moment (and risking the wrath of my avid play mates with an annoying game delay), I go to my bag and dig around for the offending device. Deep gropes find the friggin phone and I turn it off. If looks could kill, I would have been dead on arrival back at the table.
Play resumes and I’m still losing. TEE-unk. Wait a minute. (One cannot wait a minute as I just held up the game for a minute already.) I just shut my phone down but there’s something still TEE-unking. “It’s not mine, mine is off, I can’t do anything about it….let me just concentrate on the game” is what I’m thinking. Heaven forbid I should delay the game any more. TEE-unk. Heads down in concentration but eyes rolling upward, all four players at my table were now unable to conceal their annoyance.
“Shut tit TOFF.” Nadia’s Rumanian accent was unmistakable, not to mention comandeering. The demand straightened backs in their chairs as the announcement was made to the entire room, not just our table. All in the room remained motionless. Eyes peered above their reading glasses and a lot of blinking in silence went on. Nadia was not to be ignored, although everybody was immobilized with alert.
I humbly announced to the table that the TEE-unk was not my phone although it surely sounded just like my unmistakable low-battery TEE-unk sound does, but my cell phone was now off. More peering above the reading glasses around the room. No one seemed to know what to do or how to respond to Nadia’s general announcement. Complete silence rather quickly evolved to the quiet clicks of tiles resumed in play. Life would go on. Mah jongg would continue.
A couple of very ill-tolerated TEE-unks later, Barbara got up and checked her pocketbook. Out came her cell phone and delivered an unmuffled TEE-unk with clear-as-a-bell clarity, thereby identifying the offending phone with certainty, and glaring eyes signaling some real offense all around the room. Barbara put her phone back in her pocketbook, returned to her table, and resumed playing mah jongg. TEE-unk. Barbara mumbled something about not knowing how to shut her cell phone off.
Completely incredulous but uncertain of Barbara’s inaudible declaration, Nadia announced, “You dunt no how to shut tit toff…like you poot tit ton, but weeth za rrred butt ton.” It was not a question. It was a command. Delivered in a tone that required immediate action. By somebody. By anybody.
Unfortunately, Barbara was concentrating on her mah jongg, or pretending to, and her phone proceeded to TEE-unk. Nadia got up, uninvitedly went into Barbara’s pocketbook, shut off the phone, and quietly returned to the table to resume a now blessedly quiet game of mah jongg.
Everybody was relieved while nobody said a word. No thanks went to Nadia for shutting up Barbara’s phone, but you could sense the whole room was grateful that Nadia took things into her own hands and acted like the generalissimo you know she is. Barbara did not so much as look up but continued to play mah jongg in what must have been either complete humiliation or total oblivion. We’ll never know which.
Back at my table, Doris did want to know whether Nadia told Barbara explicitly that she shut off her phone. After all, Barbara might really be incapacitated now. Doris’s concern: “She might not know how to turn it back on.”
So, I lost my shirt at mah jongg that afternoon. But I got a nifty ride home in a nifty yellow hot rod, by a nifty man whom I can call my husband, whom I called on a phone I know how to turn back on.