The King of Herrings/48 Hours without an IPhone


Wikipedia Commons public domain image

I was a late adopter of the smart phone. I’ve had one for only a few years, but it has quickly filled my waking hours with nonsense, insinuating itself into every corner of time. Almost from the start, I fell into this siphoning off of otherwise useful minutes. I often sit down just to check a few things on its wee screen and magically it’s 20 minutes later.

The oarfish, also known as the king of herrings, is the world’s longest bony fish with an average length of 10 feet, but specimens have measured more than 50 feet. Rarely seen in its natural habitat deep in the ocean (it hangs out between 600-3000 feet), this long ribbon of silver is crowned with a red crest. A few photographs on the Internet show a line of twenty people or more supporting the massive dead specimen, as though posing for a Guinness Book of World Records photo.

The ribbonfish (another name for the oarfish) lives a solitary life. Like me, it has no swim bladder. Unlike me, it does not have teeth.

On Friday night I couldn’t find the phone. Usually this situation quickly escalates into annoyance, followed by phone anxiety (a precursor to phone panic, an all-new sensation with the rise of the smart phone where suddenly one pats one’s pockets, desperate to ensure that the gadget is still there – such relief when it is where it should be!).

But then, I contemplated 24 hours without the thing. What would that be like?

The gelatinous flesh of the oarfish is not edible, which is probably why it is not endangered. Like many fish, the round eye and down turned mouth give it the appearance of a shocked frown.

Friday night, no big deal. Saturday, I noticed twinges, much like a cigarette smoker’s withdrawal: at the gas station when my husband was filling the tank, at a restaurant, whenever my husband checked his own smart phone. If I had a few minutes of time alone, like a reflex, I thought to pull out the little general and just “check a few things.”

Oarfish spawn and are gone – their eggs float on the ocean’s surface and their larvae congregate there as well. A photo of a young one reveals it has the body shape of an adult and long skinny branch-like structures on either side behind each eye.

By Saturday night, I felt as though I were on vacation. There was nothing in the outside world that I had to attend to. I was experiencing the ultimate filter, and it was sweet. I decided to go for another day.

In the past two days I:

  • Rarely knew what time it was and did not know the date.

  • Ate at a restaurant that I did not know anything about beforehand. It was delicious.

  • Did not check email or facebook.

  • Was unaware what new movies might be available streaming on Netflix nor what programming PBS had to offer through its app.

  • Did not read blogs.

  • Did not make or receive phone calls. Even though we have a land line, I never thought to use it.

  • Did not price check or purchase anything with 1-click on Amazon.

  • Was unaware of the news. Did anyone famous die?

  • Did not stress about not marketing my novel.

Instead I:

  • Repotted plants.

  • Fixed a chair.

  • Went to a wine tasting though I think wine tastes bad. It was a beautiful day to sit in the sun. (I would have included a photo of the vineyard but, you know.)

  • Wrote.

  • Read The Art of Fiction by John Gardner, one of those “bran cereal” books that you read not because you enjoy it but because it is good for you.

  • Put on make up.

  • Went to the Freer. I was not inspired by the artist’s murky muted colors, but we did find this visually delicious poster book at the gift shop.

  • Took a much deserved nap.

I also thought about the recent and not-too-recent losses – both human and animal – in my inner circle, inescapable images of suffering and death. Like anesthetic, the distraction of the phone – including the accumulation of fascinating but somewhat useless facts about animals – had undoubtedly kept me from these unpleasant but necessary thoughts and the complex emotions that they stirred within me.

We’ve rarely seen the king of herrings – they come to the surface when sick or dying, and wash up on the shore occasionally in what must be a spectacular and sad sight. If undiscovered, I wonder how long it takes before the body is picked clean?

Vegetarians encourage meatless Mondays. I will attempt Phoneless Phridays. I am not evangelizing – but I did find the results interesting. Ascending from the depths, under any circumstance, is a welcome change.