From the Left



I Dropped My Phone in the Toilet

Susan Estrich on

It was in my back pocket. Not such a terrible place for a phone, until you start pulling down your pants at the same time you're sitting down. Nothing else was in the toilet, at least. Too much information?

I tried the rice. You put your phone in a sealed bag of uncooked rice, and the rice absorbs the moisture from your phone. I really wanted it to work. It didn't.

The "accident," such as it was, took place on the Friday of Fourth of July weekend. By Sunday, enough was enough. I just needed a phone.

One of my friends calls her phone her "leash" that leads her around and never lets go.

Ask a young person about being without a working phone for two days and you will get a look of shock and horror. I wasn't that bad. But I need my phone to text people who don't have an iPhone. And I need my phone in case somebody needs me, which could happen anytime.

This happened to me once before, a long time ago. I had been persuaded to buy a phone with a 200-page instruction booklet full of cutting-edge technology. The one thing my new phone refused to do was make a call. So I wrote a column entitled "All I Want for Christmas is a Cell Phone that Works." It made it to the top of the customer service folks, who did everything right: cutting my bill, offering a new phone of my choice, etc. They were very good, the proof being that I'm still with AT&T, even though it's a completely different company. For now, anyway.

I was right, as it turned out, that no one in a store could help me. My phone is insured by a separate branch of AT&T called Asurion. I know because I was transferred so many times and cut off twice (by a phone carrier!) and had to start at the beginning again.

It's a long road to a human voice, at least on the Sunday of Fourth of July weekend. Were there really more calls than usual, as the recording said repeatedly? Or were there fewer people working, fewer managers paying attention to dropped calls and fewer supervisors to be transferred to when the scripts ran out?

In a much-quoted Atlantic article, James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling of the Kennedy School of Government argued that laws prohibiting "petty" crimes -- like defacing a wall with graffiti -- should be enforced; that doing so would make the street seem safer, and that if it seems safer, it will be safer. The article was entitled "Broken Windows" because it drew on research that found that a car or an empty building might sit untouched, even in a dangerous neighborhood -- but the minute one window was broken, the car would be completely stripped, the building trashed.


In a new edition of his now classic book, "Broken Windows, Broken Business," my friend Michael Levine has applied the theory to businesses, arguing that attention to detail, constant vigilance and sweating the small stuff can make or break a business. A dirty bathroom, Levine argues in this new and updated edition, is a broken window.

When I finally found a human voice, she reassured me that I would get my phone on Tuesday.

It didn't occur to me to ask her if she knew that Monday was the Fourth of July.

I did ask the question I always ask on a call like that. Where are you? The last time I asked that question of a customer service person (not at AT&T), she told me she was from Detroit but did not know the name of the baseball team.

She told me she was in the Philippines.

My phone did not ship out on Monday, and it didn't arrive on Tuesday. It was a broken window that needs to be fixed before the whole house falls down.


To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

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