Call Me, Maybe by
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The time I almost lost my phone when it fell out of my pocket and went skittering down the storm drain.

The time I almost lost my phone when it fell out of my pocket and went skittering down the storm drain.

It was early September and, as we did for so many years, we had driven the 400 miles from Sacramento to Whittier to take Molly to college. We had spent a couple of days getting her moved into her dorm room, making Target runs to pick up things she only realized she needed after we got there, buying the books for her courses at the college bookstore, and generally getting her settled. Now, on the first day of classes, we were going to drive back home, but first we would take her out to breakfast at Mimo’s Cafe, one of our favorite restaurants in Whittier.

We parked the car in one of the diagonal spaces on the opposite side of the street. I was wearing a pair of shorts with fairly shallow pockets, and my phone was in my pocket. As I stepped out of the car, the phone fell out of my pocket and onto the street. I lunged for it, but not quickly enough, and it went skittering along the street into the gutter and then down the storm drain as I watched in horror.

I walked over and knelt down, peering through the slats. Yes, there it was, I could see it plainly, lying on a bed of leaves. This being Southern California, it hadn’t rained in months, so there was no danger of it getting wet. I reached my arm in, but it was way beyond my grasp. My husband and daughter both said guess you’ll have to get a new phone, but I said no way, it’s right there and I’m getting it back. My husband said it probably broke in the fall, so I told him to call it. He called and we could not only hear it ring, but we could see the face of the phone light up as it moved in a circle from the vibrations.

My husband and daughter were both hungry for breakfast and wanted to go across to Mimo’s, but I said I’m not leaving this spot until I get my phone. So they went, and left me there. But they did ask the people in the cafe if they had some kind of tongs that I could use to try to reach the phone. Meanwhile, I was figuring that I would probably have to make a call to the Whittier Sanitation Department to have them come and unlock the manhole cover and either send one of their own people down or let me go down to get it.

The owner of the cafe (who, by the way, looks a lot like Desi Arnaz) came out to give me his longest tongs, but they weren’t long enough. He left and came back with a broom, which was long enough to touch the phone, but couldn’t pick it up. He was out of ideas and had to get back to his customers. I needed to make some calls to find the right City office, but of course I didn’t have a phone to make the calls. And I wasn’t walking away from the storm drain because I felt that I had to keep my eyes on the phone at all times.

As I was kneeling there in front of the drain, a young African-American man came walking over with a push broom. I thought at first that he worked in the Cafe, but no, he might have been a customer, or just someone passing by who heard the conversation between my husband and the owner, and had an idea about how to retrieve the phone. He thought the push broom, with its long flat bottom, would work better than a regular broom, and he could sweep up the phone with it somehow. When that didn’t work, he went and got some duct tape and made loops of it, sticking one side to the broom and using the other side to stick to the phone and lift it up. That almost worked. It did stick to the phone, but wasn’t strong enough to pick it up. I was still kneeling there, watching him, barely breathing as he attempted each maneuver. I had basically not moved since first seeing it fall.

I still had in mind the idea of getting someone from the City to come and open the manhole cover. But the young man was not ready to give up his efforts yet. And his third idea was the charm. From somewhere he got a long-handled dustpan, stuck it down into the sewer, and scooped up the phone in that. Slowly he raised it up and eased the dustpan out, being careful not to tip it or else the phone would have slid off.

He extended the dustpan to me with a flourish! I was so relieved to have my phone back! And it didn’t have a single scratch on it! I was effusive in my thanks for his help. I may have hugged him in my exuberance. I offered him a twenty dollar bill, and I can’t remember whether he took it or not. I kind of think he didn’t. And then he just disappeared.

I finally had my appetite back. I crossed the street to Mimo’s and dug into the breakfast burrito my daughter had ordered for me. And it was still hot.


Profile photo of Suzy Suzy

Characterizations: funny, well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Great story, Suzy. Amazing that the young stranger was so creative and persistent in his pursuit of your phone and it worked! Also amazing that your phone survived its fall into that storm drain. They seem so fragile these days. That all seems random and certainly showed perseverance and kindness.

  2. John Shutkin says:

    Truly a random act of kindness, Suzy, even by my strict definitions. This young man was a complete stranger and had absolutely no obligation to you. (“Desi” seemed to be very helpful, too, but, of course, he was also trying to help a loyal customer.) This may restore my faith in human kindness, at least for the next twenty minutes (or presidential tweet, whichever comes first).

    And, almost as importantly as the intact phone was the fact that your burrito was still hot. Though even a cold burrito would not have changed the message of your story.

    • Suzy says:

      In fact, that last line was poetic license. The burrito was only hot in the spicy sense, not the temperature sense. But I added it to my story because it was the last line of Where the Wild Things Are, one of my favorite books (I even have a t-shirt of it).

  3. Laurie Levy says:

    What luck that the young man not only came along but also persevered to retrieve your phone. You truly were the recipient of random kindness, Suzy.

    • Suzy says:

      Yes, I was very lucky. I originally wrote this story for the Lost & Found prompt, then realized how perfect it was for this one, so I quickly wrote a new L&F story and saved this one until now.

  4. Suzy, I feel your pain, we’ve all had those lost-cell phone panic attacks! How lovely you had a good Samaritan help you get the phone out of the storm drain! And thankful for those dry CA leaves, if your phone had landed in a filthy NYC gutter you wouldn’t have been so lucky!

    (Love that your husband and daughter went on to the cafe, and that your breakfast burrito was still hot!)

    • Suzy says:

      Good point about how clean and dry the Whittier gutters/storm drains are, as compared to NYC. And as I just wrote to John, my last line was in homage to Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are.

  5. All the details you provided made it fun to read. Even though a reader had to believe everything was going to come out right in the end, you built tension , with the sequence of different attempts to rescue the phone. I also admired your real kicker of an ending–the burrito being still hot. Consciously (probably?) or not, your last line replicates the end of WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE by Maurice Sendak. In so doing it underscores that, like Max the protagonist of that story, you had been on an adventure that seemed like it went “in and out of weeks and almost over a year,” even though it all took place in a much more compressed time frame.

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks, Dale. I wondered if anyone would get the reference to Where the Wild Things Are, and I’m so glad that you did. When you know me better you will not even question whether something like that was conscious or not. And I love your analysis of how my adventure compares to Max’s. I wish I could post a picture here of me in my Wild Things t-shirt.

      • Oh Suzy I loved your Wild Things reference too.

        I had the great joy of hearing the amazingly gifted Sendak as keynote speaker at a librarians conference years ago, and then more recently attending a tribute to him at New York’s Symphony Space where one presenter read a Yiddish translation! of Wild Things!

  6. Marian says:

    Well, you had an anonymous savior, too, Suzy. Amazing how that nice guy appeared from nowhere and tried three times to get the phone. Love this story.

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks, Marian. It WAS amazing. If he hadn’t come along, and I had tried to get someone from the City of Whittier to come and unlock the manhole (personhole?) cover, I wonder how long that would have taken.

  7. Suzy, your writing is so vivid my hand was actually twitching to go get some duct tape to help you out…that would have been my first idea. Your hero was not just a good samaritan…I’m sure he enjoyed the challenge, and the triumph of success! (And this morning, I know the feeling…cheers!)

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks, Barb, I love that you were so involved in the story that you wanted to get some duct tape. I think you are exactly right that he enjoyed the challenge, otherwise he wouldn’t have kept trying. And the triumph of success is a wonderful feeling, as we all are enjoying today!

  8. Terrific story arc, Suzy! Everyone can relate to watching their cell phone disappear out of their cyber orbit. You captured the spirit of community that occurs when people pitch in to solve a problem.

    I liked the way you crafted the dance of the good Samaritans, from Desi Arnaz through the young guy with your great description of all the mechanics involved from tongs to duct tape to the magic dustpan, concluding with the happy ending of a warm breakfast burrito.

  9. Love this story! It thoroughly engaged me. Couldn’t wait to see how you recovered the phone. The ending was very satisfying. Truly a random act of kindness;-)

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