You know you are growing old when you miss your own birthday by four days before you can write a post on growing old to mark the occasion. And as everyone knows, old age brings forgetfulness, confusion and each passing day makes the world a weirder place to live.
The weekend had gone well. Two days of festivities, with attending Durga Puja in the mornings and wonderful dinners followed by cultural programme in the evenings. I spent the nights at my cousin's house in Edison, since driving all the way to Newark from Plainfield seemed too much of a hassle. Then on Monday morning, I packed my things in my car and finally headed home. About an hour later, as I was nearing my house, I had this sudden urge to touch my phone.
A certain explanation is needed at this point about this urge. People who travel in crowded buses and trains in Kolkata know very well that unless they verify the existence of their valuables in their pockets every few minutes, the valuables are likely to vanish under their noses. This concern gives rise to the strange habit of feeling one's pockets every few minutes. Although some researchers suggest that this very habit helps in pointing out the locations of valuables on the victim's body to the pickpockets, I have always found it helpful. Even five years after I stopped commuting in Kolkata public transport, I still get these sudden urges to touch my wallet or my phone, and like all urges, they often come at a time when satisfying that urge is inconvenient.
On this day, this urge hit me as I was negotiating mid-day traffic on Route 21, and whatever feeling I could do without taking my eyes off the road told me that the phone was not with me. Since I had used the phone that morning, I had clearly left it behind in Edison. I focused on driving, fighting an urge to make a u-turn and head for Edison again. A quick calculation showed the cheapest way to get the phone back was to ask my cousin to bring it to office the next day where I could collect it from him. My heart screamed I could never live without my phone for a day, but my brain was able to convince me that it was just twenty-four hours, and I would still have the Internet on my laptop to communicate with the world.
So the first thing that I did on reaching home was mailing my sister-in-law to ask about the phone. She found it (in a walk-in-closet, if you must know) and switched it off as per my request. The next thing was explaining to the outside world this sudden loss of my phone, because although I would miss it for just twenty-four hours, they were not any twenty-four hours. It was Bijoya Dashami, the day when Bengalis all over the world call and visit each other to convey their regards and greetings. My parents would be expecting my call. And then, when the clock ticked past midnight, a bunch of friends would try to call me to say happy birthday. To complicate matters even more, half my friends were in India, so I would not have to wait till midnight to expect calls. So I sent a mail to my parents and sister explaining the situation and saying I would not be calling that night. I also put up a post on Facebook apologizing to everyone who tried to call me that day.
That night, I set up an appointment with my cousin about where I would meet him. I planned to meet the train he would be on, in Newark, and ride the same train into New York City. If I did not find him in the train, I would attempt to meet him at New York Penn Station. "Where should we meet each other? Do you have some landmark in mind?" he asked. I suggested in front of the Amtrak waiting room but he said it was too big. Then he suggested Dunkin Donuts, but I was opposed to that idea since there were several Dunkin Donuts stores in the station. Finally he decided on a store called Houlihan's. I agreed, because although I had not heard the name before, it would be easy to find since the name was unusual.
I was to remember this logic the next day when I was running around in New York Penn Station. For one full hour, I explored all three floors of the huge complex, discovered things that I didn't know were there for the last five years, and managed to make more than one policeman suspicious. I asked policemen, shopkeepers and janitors, but no one had heard of Houlihan's.
When the last gentleman I asked started asking around on my behalf whether anybody had heard of "Holy Sense," I decided it was time to change plans. So I gave up searching for Houlihan's and started looking for ways to call my cousin. Now, as the reader might recall, I had no phone, which was the reason for all this trouble. So naturally I had to look for public telephones. And finding a public telephone that works is another task that is really harder than it looks. After trying and rejecting four different telephones, the fifth one let me call my cousin for a dollar, though the writing on it clearly asked for half. When my cousin answered the call, the reason for all the confusion became clear.
"Actually, I made a mistake," he said sheepishly. "Houlihan's has closed down and has been replaced by T.G.I. Friday's. I didn't know that. So I waited for some time in front of that store and then came to the office."
The rest was easy. I went to his office and collected my cell phone, which allowed me to get in touch with the world once more. The battery, of course, didn't last the rest of the day, and since I was roaming around Central Park and Times Square until that evening, there was no scope for charging. That led to more confusions and communication problems towards the afternoon and evening, but this post is already too long and too late and too confusing to include that.