James lay lengthways on the small brown couch in the middle of his tiny studio apartment, his head propped up by the armrest. He thought to himself as he stared at the ceiling. His eyes focused on the imaginary patterns one finds when staring too long at a blank canvas. Noting the ridges and bumps amidst the sea of white paint. He had begun to count the tiny bubbles to pass the time but gave up somewhere around six hundred when he started feeling his eyes close from mental fatigue. He had forgotten how intricate the world could be when taking the time to examine it thoroughly. Breaking his train of thought, he heard keys rattle against one another as his roommate Mark fumbled with the lock. Though his blissful contemplation was disturbed, James had been looking forward to a break from his thoughts.
“How come you still haven’t responded to my text from this morning?” Mark asked as he took his first steps on the welcome mat.
James sighed. “My bad, man; I thought I mentioned to you last night I was taking a break from the phone for a while.”
Mark thought for a moment as he closed the door. “Right yeah, why are you doing that again? You were kind of rambling last night at the bar”.
James sat up, placing his elbows on his knees and clasping his hands together, now looking Mark in the eye. “It just doesn’t feel right anymore; I feel burnt out. I miss thinking and remembering everything I do. Now, I’ll watch hundreds of ten-second videos a day, and the only one I can remember is some guy covering himself in peanut butter”.
Mark rolled his eyes as he headed to the kitchen. “I think you’re just hungover. I’ll make some coffee.”
“That might help. I’d love some coffee,” James said, smiling as he laid back dramatically.
James felt a bit better as he sipped his coffee across from Mark.
“Have you done anything today aside from turning into the Unabomber?”
James could only smile at his friend’s dig at his appearance. He looked particularly disheveled because he still hadn’t changed from last night. “Already mailed my first package,” he retorted.
Mark giggled to himself as he took a sip of coffee. Then, after a deep breath, asked in a concerned tone, “So explain it again to me. Why now, all of a sudden, are you deciding not to use your phone?”
“Something I saw last night. Remember the two people sitting at the bar?”
“I think so…the two lovebirds?”
“Right! That’s what I thought! I watched them the whole night and-”
“Why were you doing that?” Mark asked, a bit concerned.
“I don’t know. You were talking to Mike about crypto for like two hours, and they were directly in my line of sight”.
“So you just tuned me out to creepily watch people flirt?”
James cut him off before he could get annoyed. “Not important. Anyway, they were really hitting it off because the bartender introduced them, but as soon as he left, they both went on their phones and didn’t talk to each other again. I watched as the man looked up to say something to the woman but saw she was pretending to be busy on her phone and gave up. Then the woman did the same thing after that, but the guy was on his phone!”
“Maybe they were just shy?”
“I mean, they were definitely shy, but it got me wondering how many interactions, friends, and experiences I may have missed out on by staring at my damn screen out of awkwardness!” James said, impassioned. “I may have missed out on best friends, soulmates, and life-changing adventures just because I forgot it’s okay to be awkward.”
“I wouldn’t lose sleep over it. I always think if it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be. I don’t like forcing situations. I’ll let them come to me instead.”
“Such an adventurer….” James said mockingly.
Mark thought for a few seconds. “Alright,” Mark said, resting his empty coffee on the table. “Why don’t we test your theory then?” He was excited to prove his point.
“What do you mean?” James asked.
“I’m done with class, and you’re off today. Let’s walk around the city and talk to strangers. We can see if we find our soulmates, friends from a past life, or whatever you’re looking for. I think you’ll agree with my life philosophy by the end of the day”.
James actually liked the idea. It was like a sparring session between two different philosophies they could witness first-hand. Hopefully, he could prove Mark wrong if he got a phone number or two. “Let’s do it. Good excuse to stretch the legs anyway”.
“First, take a shower. That beer stench might put off your hopes of making friends.” He said, now walking over to watch tv.
James hurried over to the bathroom. “I was going to do that anyway; give me fifteen.”
Mark sat on the couch and turned on the tv. “Timer starts now.” He called out as he heard the water start running.
The two had decided to bike to Central Park to increase the likelihood of people giving them the time of day rather than yelling at them to leave them alone. They knew New York wasn’t a friendly place to people who intended to interrupt someone else’s day. It was springtime, and many people were on the Great Lawn. They agreed to take turns talking to people to test their individual theories. After James’ initial two attempts failed to acknowledge his presence, they decided to go together.
“This guy seems cool,” Mark said as he watched a skateboarder roll up to a stop in front of the pathway they were headed towards.
“Yo, what kind of trucks are those!?” Mark called over to the skateboarder.
The man turned around. He was close to their age but dressed as if he was homeless. “Thunder hollow lights!” He called back.
“Are those better or worse than indies?”
“Never tried indies, dude, sorry,” He said, annoyed at the attempted conversation as he hopped back on his board to get some distance from Mark and James, who had picked up their pace.
“What’s wrong with that dude?” James asked.
“It’s the city, James. People don’t have the time of day for one another. I think you’ve been watching too many old movies.”
“Back home, I could always talk to strangers and avoid the awkwardness. People are so much friendlier in smaller towns.”
“I’m used to it by now. You can’t take it personally”.
After a few more attempts by the both of them to spark a conversation, Mark’s philosophy had James’ on the ropes. Everyone they tried talking to either had headphones in and completely ignored them or exchanged a few cordial words and then seemed to have somewhere better to be than talking to them. A few hours had passed when Mark whipped out his phone.
“You brought your phone!?” James asked, surprised at his friend’s betrayal.
“I know you don’t know your way around the city, and I had to make sure I knew how to get home. We’ve wandered far from the part of the park I’m familiar with”. James responded self-assuredly, inspired mainly by the day’s events going in his favor.
“Just put it away for now.”
“No. We tried, man. Let me get us home”.
James had already accepted his defeat about thirty minutes ago. So reluctantly, he agreed.
Mark led them to the bottom corner of the park and waited to cross the street. James had been mostly silent for the walk. His spirits were crushed, and yesterday’s epiphany seemed delusional at this point. From James’ periphery, he could see Mark was checking his Instagram feed, not the directions.
“I thought you brought the phone to get us home?”
“Just quit it, James. I think I’ve won the right to check it at this point,” He replied sharply, not even looking up.
Mark was a few paces ahead as he began to cross the street, and James stopped, looking at the sunset, which had started to creep below the horizon between two skyscrapers. It was encouraging that only he could see it while Mark looked down at his phone. He realized how selfish it was to keep the sight to himself and turned to share it with Mark… but he was gone.
“Mark?” James called as he searched around the corner of the street. “MARK!” He screamed as his eyes began to process the neon red hand staring at him across the street. Mark turned around, shocked at the tone of his friend’s voice, when he felt the impact of James’ shoulder in his gut as he was tackled to the ground. The cab’s tires let out a deafening screech and came to a halt a couple feet away from Mark’s head. Realizing what had happened, he began to search his surroundings, now seeing how close he had come to getting squished from where he stood in the street. The cab driver jumped out.
“What’s wrong with you!” He screamed in a fit of pure rage at Mark’s incompetence. “I would have killed you! The light is green, you moron!”.
He hurried back in his cab, and the boys could see him mouthing apologies to his stunned passenger as he drove away. The two sat there, out of breath and adrenaline rushing through their veins.
After what seemed like forever, James reached for Mark’s hand, helping him get to his feet. Mark had begun to stop hyperventilating when James decided to break the silence.
“Holy shit, that was close.” He said, completely out of breath from sprinting as fast as humanly possible across the street”.
“You-you saved my life,” Mark said, almost shedding a tear.
“I just reacted, man. I don’t even remember doing it.”
After getting to their feet, the two stood facing each other. They hugged and began to walk home.
“That cab driver was an asshole,” Mark said, now shaking out of his daze.
James thought for a second before answering. “Some people just don’t have the time of day.” He turned to Mark and saw a smirk forming from the corner of his mouth.