Cellrunner

By Nicholas Belardes

Writing

I am a cellrunner. There’s no doubting my obsession and ability to plug in as I head out on a city bus to write and steal juice from the bent steel city.

Resembling a modern day sci-fi novel sub-character with my spiky mini faux hawk and buggy black square glasses, I look out the bus window into the urban juiced-up decay. I tighten my backpack and the laces of my dirty petroleum shoes. I’m hungry to step off.

The bus brakes wheeze. Neon surrounds the projects. Billboards light piles of bricks and bottles. Casinos shine on dirty streets and faces of addicts whose cheeks turn yellow in street corner lamplight. I can see it all as I step off the bus and fumble for the writer’s equivalent of a laser blaster converted to look like a suped-up .357. At least that’s what I imagine as I pull my iPhone out of a black pocket in my Vans backpack and text blast, forming paragraphs that don’t originate from pen and ink or a laptop.

My only problem? Battery power. Cell juice. I’m down to sixty-seven percent as my fingers work the touchscreen.

But like some old addict once told me who sat with steely eyes and neon rims: “Seek the juice and you will find it.”

No need to write and write until your cell battery drains. You’ve got to be obsessed with recharging, always have an eye along the gutters of the horizon line for a place to chargeto cellrun if you have to.

Go ahead. Stand plugged in and write like a madman while you’re taking juice. Electricity burns into your phone.

God knows I need it.

I take a walk down a melting city sidewalk, enter an outdoor mall with big fancy facades and valet parking and immediately scan for outlets. I find them on treescoiled and tied to the bases, hidden behind mall planters and along the walls where light-up signs should be plugged in. I see them in moviehouses where stand-up video games or neon-glowing kiosks used to stand. They’re obvious in most Starbucks, and hidden in some. They’re in casinos and fast-food joints, along strip mall walls and by stages in parksif you can pry a lid and get to the holy juice. Sometimes, if you’re really lucky, they’re right under your ass. Just look beneath your chair wherever you are.

I’m a writer and this is what I do: I take a bus or a long walk out into the juiced-up urbanscape. I have a cord and plug in my pocket. I have confidence and anxiety that in a world where batteries fail and diminish almost as soon as you charge them, I can juice up to one-hundred percent, fingers whizzing across the touch screen.

And then it’s magic, right? Words form. Paragraphs. Storylines. Characters. This mobility allows me my own inner escape velocity where I’m strapped into an iPhone rocket that soars where writers with cumbersome laptops have wet dreams of being free.

It’s no different than what Matt Baldwin wants to do: bust out some memoir for The Nervous Breakdown from an iPhone App. Probably from the top of a mountain. Or while harpooning the great white novel with a cellphone in his teeth. I tried and failed. But Matt hasn’t given up: “Yeah I’m going to email Brad and Greg about it. See what they say. Would be awesome if we could input directly.”

I can take my device to rocky crags on the seawall in Dana Point, where one slip is a smashed leg between tons of boulders. I tap out a novel chapter and watch the surf send maddening swells that smash fishermen against rocks. I sit by a Ferris Wheel in an upscale mall, plugged in if I have to, or walk down Las Vegas Boulevard and tap out a novel, knowing I can duck into a casino and maybe stand around in the lobby, connected to the very same juice that’s sucking money from drugged up slot junkies. They can’t get away from spinning video screens where even Trekkies pay homage to virtual Bones.

Laptop junkies are like cellrunners of a minor variety, sitting in libraries, airports, coffeehouses, restaurants, and car washeswherever they can get a free hotspotand surf the net and write their caffeine-buzzed B-movie scripts and novels. They can play World of Warcraft and eat a scone.

But they’re confined, and more addicted to pseudo-social environments and fancy paperboard cup holders with green logos. They want to check in on Foursquare, and Yelp about the barista, and gulp away their Saturday mornings before smoking out over lunch saying, “I wrote my novel today while some pretentious yuppie soccer mom gossiped about her kid’s perfect teeth and bloodlines. It was a bitch.”

A true cellrunner can take to the streets with an iPhone, a cord and a plot.

A true cellrunner doesn’t need anything but to get out of the house, to write on the go, and shove that cellphone in his pocket and look for the next outlet.

More juice, please.

He can walk and write and look up at jets and clouds and type a novel while walking down stairs and slipping in a doorway. People will think you’re texting your girlfriend that you don’t have. But you just keep writing.

I became a cellrunner in Las Vegas, starting in those very same Starbucks, sitting like another lonely writer masturbating to my own shitty prose along with twenty other desperate men in the same emo-run coffeehouse on Rainbow Boulevard that’s just like the emo-run coffeehouse on your street. I couldn’t write on my Samsung Instinct. Sure, I always wanted it charged. But I wasn’t cellrunning by any stretch of the word.

When I got my iPhone that all began to change. I wasn’t writing on my phone yet. Just texts and emails and worthless Facebook updates. But I immediately got obsessed with finding places to charge my phone.

My epiphany began on a lonely day at the movies.

I’d just seen some forgettable flicks at The Orleans where I moviehopped and sat texting as Jake Gyllenhaal forgettably swashbuckled his way through CGI Persia of the ancient world. I left the theater and spotted an outlet by a wooden bench. I didn’t think twice and jammed my plug into the wall, attached my phone, and sat there juicing up where some old Ms. Pacman game probably once sat sucking electricity like some kind of energy whore.

Afterward, I juiced up wherever I could. My sonnenreise was just as acidic and energy filled as a land of lemon blossoms. But this meant a new kind of fragrant awakening: real mobility and an addiction to seeking out juice when cell power reads only thirty fucking percent. Gotta keep it up. Gotta juice up. Gotta find the outlets when you can, where you can, and stay mobile and keep writing. In Las Vegas, Bakersfield, Irvine, Laguna Hills, Huntington Beach. And in Dana Point, where I asked a man who carried plastic bags filled with worldly goods if I could juice up under his seat in McDonalds.

He gave me a look of wonder then said, “Sure. I was just leavin’.”

“The worker said it’s the only outlet, man.”

“Oh yeah. That is the only one, guy.”

He looked like he hadn’t bathed in three years. But somehow he knew about the secret juice beneath his chair. He glanced at his friends and they all stepped into the coastal fog hovering outside the door.

I got on my hands and knees on the dirty floor, plugged in and started to write. When I was juiced up I continued to tap right into the fog and out toward the sea.

*NOTE: This piece and my last two posts have been written entirely on an iPhone.

Prior to being expelled from the team and subsequently the school for stealing Coach’s cell phone, deleting all of his contacts to conceal the stolen item, then turning around and selling said stolen phone to another player, Delonta was a college basketball teammate of mine.

Delonta was no taller than 5’6″ with shoes. He was, by all means, an unlikely candidate for the sport, particularly on a roster of towering trees on the hardwood. However, Delonta had freakish athletic ability evident in his lateral quickness, vertical jump, and uncanny ability to create sufficient space between him and the defender, which allowed him ample time to get off the open shot. He was a sharp shooter who lived mostly behind the 3-point arc, but once inside the paint lived predominantly above the rim gliding by and above defenders over a foot taller.

He had a shiny head that he shaved regularly, a bright smile, and hands the size of our starting center, Stanford, who was well aware of Delonta’s pilfering past and prior misdemeanor convictions.

“Keep a close eye,” Stanford had said when Delonta appeared through the double-doors on the first day of tryouts.

After Delonta made the roster and our first away game scheduled, I was in Coach’s office shooting the breeze about our potential for the season when Stanford moseyed in through the door. He folded his giant body into the lone chair beside me in Coach’s office. He slouched a bit, positioned his elbow on his knee, and propped his face in his hand.

“Coach,” Stanford said, “I don’t care if the locker room door is bolted shut with a logging chain and a 5-inch thick padlock, I’m not leaving my shit in the open for sticky fingers to snatch. I’m telling you Coach, your golden boy is a thief and will pick the pocket of more than just the opposing player.”

Coach was The Redeemer in a way. He was all about second chances. No one was flawed in his opinion, only misguided, and could be put back on the straight and narrow with the proper mentor—someone who could identify the struggles of the individual and help them overcome it. One way of doing that was to be part of a team, an interconnected group of individuals whose success depended on the whole of the team and not on one individual. It was a way for a kid turned sour to turn good again. He could play basketball as well as earn his degree, and with an education came a better future and more open doors.

“I’ll pay close attention,” Coach responded, trying to appease Stanford. “But give him a chance, will you? People change.”

Stanford rose, sort of shook his head a little and unwillingly agreed to give Delonta the benefit of the doubt—for Coach’s sake.

For the short time I knew Delonta, he was a likeable guy and could tell a story with the best of them. On our third road trip that season, Stanford sat in the back of the bus with his headphones in, nodding along to the music in his ears. His left leg was stretched out and straightened in the aisle.

The entirety of the team went through their pre-game road rituals.

Jerel began freestyling.

“I like that,” Chris said in response to Jerel’s freestyle before beginning his own.

Then Buck jumped in.

Then Juan.

Keshawn Pickens sat beside me and Bird Owen and Palmer to the right of us.

My ritual consisted of reading Larry Bird’s autobiography, Drive, every road trip—a habit that, more than anything, grew out of superstition.

“I think you’d appreciate this,” Coach had said to me, handing me the book prior to one of our away games.

That night I went out and scored 19 points, grabbed 17 rebounds, and dished out eight assists in a win. Therefore, as a rule of superstition, it became a necessity to read Drive every trip while twiddling a crumpled Dennis Rodman trading card between my fingers for hours on end as I read.

Delonta initiated his road ritual that day, a ritual that would only last approximately two more games before being banished from the basketball team for good.

“I have a story,” Delonta began. He licked his lips and rubbed his thumb against his heavy eyebrow, a habit of his that accompanied the onset of a brief narrative.

“When I was in first grade, I was a good speller,” he started. “So I’m standing up there in front of the school in the auditorium. The year-end Spelling Bee. The Big Finale. It’s just me and another kid. We’re the only two left. Everybody else has been knocked out. Kids sitting down, still crying ’cause they missed a word ten minutes ago. One boy had to be picked up and carried offstage by two people because he was so upset he lost. Me and this other kid are going back and forth; the judges trying to make one of us slip up. My moms is in the front row, smiling. Proud of me.”

“‘Bicycle,’ the judge says.”

“‘B-I-C-Y-C-L-E,’ I respond. My moms gives a big thumbs up.”

“‘Hydrant,’ another judge follows.”

“‘H-Y-D-R-A-N-T,’ the other boy spells.”

“We’re neck and neck. It goes on like this for a solid two-three minutes. Neither of us falters.”

Delonta pauses. Jerel has stopped freestlying, as have Chris and Buck. All eyes are on Delonta except Stanford. He’s still in the back of the bus. Sleeping. Leg stretched out.

“Then the judge says, ‘Crayon.’ My smile gets this big.”

Delonta smiles from ear to ear.

“You stupid,” Bird says to him, laughing.

“So I’m thinking, ‘I got this Bee.’ This kid doesn’t have a chance. I’m taking home the gold today. ‘Crayon,’ I respond. ‘C-R-A-,'”

Delonta pauses again.

“‘C-R-A-Y-O-‘”

“I’m picturing my crayons in my hand, coloring. My favorite color green. I’m smiling. I’m gonna win the Spelling Bee. My moms is smiling. Everybody in the auditorium has their attention focused on me. The principal is looking at me. My teacher.”

“‘C-R-A-Y-O-L-A, Crayon.'”

“‘I’m sorry, Delonta,’ the judge says. ‘That is incorrect.'”

“‘C-R-A-Y-O-L-A,’ I spell out again.”

“‘I’m sorry, Delonta.’ He looks at the other kid as if to give him a chance to spell it.”

“‘Crayon. C-R-A-Y-O-L-A. Crayon,’ I say, crying. My moms is up from her seat, walking hurriedly toward the steps to the stage. The principal is nodding his head at the assistant principal. The auditorium is in complete silence. The kid who had been crying for ten minutes because he spelled a word wrong ten minutes ago has stopped crying. He’s looking at me.”

“‘That’s how they spell it on the box,’ I say to the judge.’That’s how they spell it on the box!'”

“At this point, my mom has whisked me from the stage and taken me behind the curtain. Her hand is over my mouth. My feet are dragging the ground.”

“‘Crayon,’ I hear the other kid say, ‘C-R-A-Y-O-N, Crayon.'”

“I’m throwing a temper tantrum, protesting to my mom and telling her they are cheating. My mom is whipping my ass behind the curtain. And everybody’s clapping for the other kid who just won the spelling bee.”

Less than a month after telling this story, Delonta was expelled from the team after Coach’s cell phone went missing and was traced to another player on the team who it had been sold to. Whether or not Delonta’s failed attempt at winning the coveted Spelling Bee championship in 1st grade after being robbed of the crown on account of corporate branding and product monopolization was the result of his descent into a life of crime and kleptomania is anyone’s guess.

Nevertheless, his theft did result in his banishment from the basketball team for good; and though Delonta may have been a kleptomaniac, it was never suspected he was a pathological liar and had made up the Spelling Bee story. Stanford would later transfer on scholarship to an apprentice school in Norfolk and be zapped by a high voltage of electricity while working as an apprentice in the shipyard. He would be okay.

Fin.