By Nicholas Belardes


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.

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NICK BELARDES is illustrator of NYT Best-Selling Novel by Jonathan Evison West of Here (2011), author of Random Obsessions (2009), Lords (2005), and the first literary Twitter novel: Small Places (2010). An author, poet, and screenwriter for Hectic Films, Belardes turned TV/online journalist overnight after blogging his way to success. His articles and essays have appeared on the homepage of CNN.com and other news sites across America. You can find Nick on Facebook and Twitter.

190 responses to “Cellrunner”

  1. Teresa Pori says:

    Yeah someday they will make longer lasting batteries for the Iphone and the blackberry. lawls! Favorite quote, ” . . . if you can pry a lid and get to the holy juice. Sometimes, if you’re really lucky, they’re right under your ass.” Had me in stitches! Nice work, Nick.

    • Thanks Teresa! Awesome, you’re the first to comment. You know, I really don’t understand why smart phone batteries can’t last longer. I hear Kindle batteries last about a month. So unfair.

      I’m glad I made you laugh with my twisted battery charging obsession.

  2. Matildakay says:

    Who knew there were so many hidden outlets lurking about in public places!

    Love the title. I picture you as a modern day Bladerunner seeking juice every where you go.

    I will now look around for some place to plug in when my battery gets too low.

    Loved the descriptive prose and the pace of this piece. I felt like I was Cellrunning with you.

    • I want to blast some replicants with my cell phone. I can do it, right?

      We can all stay charged if we just seek the juice. Gotta be careful though. In one casino I was asked to unplug. The rats!

      I bet there are bazillions of untapped outlets just waiting for cellrunners to tap in and juice up so they can write…

  3. This is why I live in my car. The juice! I must have the juice! My phone is my GPS Navigator – her name is Wanda the Wonder Navigator, and she sucks power faster than a, well, I’m sure you can find an appropriate, if indelicate, analogy.

    As usual, a well-written piece. I really felt the constant urge to juice, write, repeat.

    BTW, are the comments counted per original, or do replies to other comments count? Cause we can all just have a grand chat here and reach your goal in no time.

    • Replies count too. So the grander the chat the better. I love grand chats!

      You know, Matildakay, who is a few comments up calls her GPS Phone Navigator “Nav-bitch.” I laugh every time she says that. But I also love “Wanda the Wonder Navigator.” There’s something cheap and dirty in that. I think GPS voices can only be called cheap and dirty things.

      And I live by my little iPhone GPS. I use it to find out where the heck I need to get off a bus everyday. I can’t tell by just looking out at the streets when I have to pull the bus cord. So I wait for the little blue dot to blink just right.

      It’s all about the juice isn’t it? We have to have it!

      Thanks for your kind words as always.

      • In my former version of GPS Navigator, Wanda was joined by her drunken sister, Justine. Wanda would say, “Prepare to turn left in two hundred yards on -“, and Justine would slur, “Shee-aye WON thurdee shiksh.” Wha-huh? I’d have to look at the display to see she was saying “CA 136.”

        I guess Verizon decided it just couldn’t enable Justine anymore.

        • Justine is certainly a drunken sister name. In fact, I bet a lot of folks have drunken sisters they want to name Justine.

          “Shee-aye WON thurdee shiksh” is something I have heard in many a bar.

          And who knew these GPS nav bitches had so many personalities?

  4. Connie says:

    I visualize you walking down the street writing your novel on your IPhone and completely missing the opportunity to smile at a pretty lady, missing out making a personal connection with a soul mate.

  5. Joe Hanley says:

    Great piece, Nick! Shades of William Gibson and “jacking in.” Now you need to figure out a way to carry around a retractable extension cord or something to extend your bounds. Just remember to wear rubber soles. I wouldn’t trust some of those old outlets. God forbid you come across some ancient direct current jobber or a 220 volt disguised as a standard jack.

    It’s funny how need spawns invention which in turn spawns further need. As the complexity of systems grow, so must our ability to adapt I guess. And when it comes to our gadgets we keep redefining the parameters of need and it’s bleeding over into desire. Apple is really good at that with the sexy packaging. Me? I think I’m ready to give up. Cocktail napkins can be found wherever cocktails are served and fit neatly into any pocket. Perfect for grocery lists or manifestos.

    You’re well ahead of the curve my man. Did you ever read Abby Hoffman’s Steal This Book? This could be the beginning of a new preface.

    • That is a scary thought: getting fried while jacking the juice from an ancient outlet. The ones on trees always freak me out. Am I stealing the life from the tree? Is the tree getting a buzz when I juice up? Will the tree fall on me?

      I so agree with adapting to techno environments–even the most basic of tech like a napkin. I’ve written many a manifesto on a napkin. I remember writing the lyrics to a pop punk hockey song in a Chinese restaurant. My kids later performed it at a minor league hockey game!

      Now I need to read “jacking in” and Steal This Book. I’ve read some Gibson, but no Hoffman. I will look both up today on the net for more cool info…

      I love writing on napkins. It’s taking that and rewriting that’s the thorn in my side.

      • I read Neuromancer back in the 90’s. It was so depressing I wanted to throw myself off the balcony, but I threw the book instead. Then I forced a bunch of my friends to read it to see if I was missing something. They won’t take my calls anymore.

        • That’s hilarious! I mean, the book throwing part. I’ve never gotten through all of Neuromancer. So I don’t blame you, though I recognize the book’s importance.

          Been meaning to ask what you are writing lately. So, what the heck are you writing lately? A new mystery?

        • Yes, the second of my mystery series is finished – I’m editing right now. As a matter of fact, I’m distracting myself with these comments because I have to do severe alterations to a chapter and I’m dreading it.

          I’ve also put together a book of my weekly humor columns that I’m in the process of self-pubbing through Amazon’s Createspace. It’s called “What Would Erma Do? Confessions of a First Time Humor Columnist.” I wove the columns together, memoir-style, detailing how I got the gig and what happened after I signed the contract.

          And then, there’s the weekly column…

        • Oh wow! I would buy that book! If you need an intro or a foreword or a backword or a sideword, let me know. I attest to your incredible sense of humor! The title is great too.

          The dreaded rewrite. That’s always tough to do. OK, on my next paycheck I am ordering book one. I need to read your novel. No more excuses from me. I get paid on Friday.

          What’s the title of the second book in your mystery series?

        • The second one is (tentatively) titled “Hit or Missus”. My P.I. is doing surveillance on a possibly cheating wife and finds herself on the other side, as the hunted, by the wife’s group of BFFs.

          The first one (Freezer Burn) is available for your iPhone. Only $2.99, I think.

        • Oh that story sounds good. I’m thinking I can easily afford the $2.99 too! I will get it this Friday for sure. If I have problems finding it will hit you up on Facecrackola.

          I like the funny idea of someone being hunted by rabid BFFs. heh.

        • Joe Hanley says:

          I wouldn’t have interrupted this thread even if I could but I had to jump in and say I completely agree about Neuromancer. I’m a sci-fi junkie and I had to force myself to slog through the book just to see why it’s so popular. I don’t believe I am on speaking terms with the person who recommended it either.

        • Well, that makes three of us against the world. Great title though. I think. Crap. I don’t know.

  6. Jeannie says:

    This is fun. It reminds me of the mobile phone written novel craze in Japan a few years back. It is fun to see the temporariness of it all. Jumping from one outlet to another trying to stay juiced up on life, our connection to the world. Fun topic man.

  7. Jon Lachonis says:

    Great stuff, Nick! It’s challenging to bring anything fresh to tech-culture essays, you do it effortlessly. Bravo.

    • Thanks Jon. I was really excited to write this piece after I started analyzing what the heck I was doing while writing and juicing my phone constantly.

      Dude, I love your avatar!

      I never asked if you are bummed Lost is over?

      • Jon Lachonis says:

        You know, I am one of the fans that thinks it ended late. I really think they missed the opportunity to have it be a well formed story, and instead had to figure out how to wrap their intent over a larger frame. They wound up spending too much time on things that weren’t central to the story, and then not having enough time to fully express them in the final season. So yeah, not one of those clingy fans. 😉

        • I think I was becoming a clingy fan. I didn’t watch for the last year or so. Then I watched them online, allowing myself to get sucked in regardless of the storyline. I think it could have all moved to a moonbase and I would have kept watching. Heck, maybe that will be the surprise season. What’s your show of choice now? I need a good recommendation. I am not watching anything.

        • Jon Lachonis says:

          Oh, there are so many. I like Fringe, because it is telling some really intense character stories that completely rely on the fantastic scenarios; so not as side-show-bob about the whole thing, although it is plenty icky when it wants to be. The Event is a tasty mystery, but it’s shtick is all about perfecting the tease and denial. Hitchcock would be frustrated. Old shows I bet you’ve already watched: The Prisoner and remake, Nowhere Man, the updated version of BBC’s Survivors; current ones worth catching up on: Breaking Bad, Dexter. I just watched the first three eps of Dexter’s new season (I get screeners) and it is as engrossing as ever.

        • I keep hearing good things about Dexter. I wonder if I can watch them all on Hula or Hulu, or whatever that one site is. I haven’t seen any episodes, but I bet I could get into that show. I saw a few episodes of Fringe. Maybe that’s a good one to dig into as well.

  8. Joyce Kennedy says:

    Your a real hot-line power junky, Nick. You sound like an addict that has to keep his fingers twitching, with a need to share all those thoughts that race through your head. Do you ever suffer moments of silence? I’m sure that would jolt your world. Do your fingers keep right on twitching as you sleep like a pup having a chasing dream? Next comes the talking out loud as your fingers cramp from texting so fast. Do you ever itch to see all those words lined up on clean white paper? Now wouldn’t that be awesome sight? I think people call those –“books.” After you’ve traveled down every dirty street, in every dirty part of every dirty town, what do you plan to write about? Keep tapping those fingers, we all want to know where you’ve been, and what you saw there.

    • Oh I love this comment. It’s my favorite of yours ever. It’s the line “hot-line power junky.” I have to steal that phrase and put it in a story somehow.

      I haven’t noticed my fingers twitching as I sleep. But then I’m sleeping. Maybe I look really funny twitching all over the bed!

      Books! I love books. I want to be in books the people want to be in movies. But you know that. haha.

      I have been thinking what to write about and think I will tell maybe a few more current Vegas stories and a few old ones from when I lived there before. Then, I’m not sure what. Just whatever theme I come up with next I guess. Maybe just some general essays of sorts. Maybe hold another contest for RWW!

      • I used to be the (Big Emphasis – THE) typist for a very small, very local weekly newspaper in Decatur, Illinois (hometown). I typed so much copy, that when I watched TV at night, my fingers would twitch when the credits rolled – I was “air-typing” them. Glad I got out of that business and became a computer operator on a farm.

        What kind of stories can you tell from Orange County? The streets don’t seem dirty, or mean, enough. That’s part of the reason I set my mysteries in Placentia. It’s kind of funny, to think of murderers in our sleepy little town. Although it’s better than Cabot Cove – we’re in the middle of southern California, and there’s a train track through town. I can kill off a lot of strangers before anyone gets suspicious.

        Oh – if you want somber stories of tragic lives, move to Decatur. It’s chock full o’ pathos.

        • Well, I’m finding that Laguna Hills is covered in ants and there are coyotes in the hills outside where I live. And no one is supposed to go into those hills. But I suppose I could, with my iPhone, and write with the coyotes.

          Dang, Gayle, you put a lot of thought into killin’ off suckers who pass through town.

          I just wish my fingers would twitch enough while I type to make me half a typist.

          Where the heck is Decatur?

        • Decatur’s in the middle of Illinois. Factories surrounded by farmland. I left as soon as I could afford a car that could take me away from there.

        • You sure you weren’t in Bakersfield?

  9. Very fucking cool, Nick. Having never ready anything remotely sci-fi in my life I’ll say instead that the flow of words reminds me for some fantastic hardboiled crime stuff I read – Chandler and the likes. There’s almost a little Burroughs in the weird darkness of it all. Very gripping, very powerful, very dark, very entertaining.

    • Thanks David. I was hoping you would get this piece and tie it to the mobility Kerouac always alluded to. Being a big fan of the Beats I couldn’t help but see some sort of postmodern linkage between his mobility and my own. Flying by the seat of my pants on journeys and writing like a madman, even about the journey of writing.

      I always forget about the crime angle. I should write some cop stories since I know a few.

      As always, your compliments give me the energy to keep writing.

      • Maybe it’s a matter of perspective. I’m so constantly moving (off to Taiwan in 2 weeks) that it’s hard to note mobility in anything else. When you’re moving so much sometimes it seems like everyone else is constantly moving, too.

        I never really read crime fiction, but I had a great course in university all about it. What stood out was the way some of those guys and gals wrote. I really thought you’d been on a crime fiction kick or something before reading this.

        Keep flying by the seat of your pants… it’s the best way to go.

  10. Sara says:

    An interesting turn, Nick. Excellent writing as usual with wonderful description. A good ss on its own or as part of a longer SciFi piece. Keep up the good work and hope your fingers don’t get tired.

    • Hi Sara. Thank you so much for the description compliment. For now I am lumping this piece into my Vegas series. But I can definitely see writing a novel-length fiction piece about some dude, his iPhone, and a dystopian world of seeking juice.

      As long as I turn the phone sideways my hand doesn’t cramp.

  11. Lee says:

    The entire time I read it I was loving the “heroin addict” feel of the piece. Gotta find juice. Gotta find juice. Nick on his hands and knees on a dirty floor looking to mainline juice to his iPhone. I should take a sabbatical sometime and do what you’re doing. I love the cinema verite edge to your writing. I love the injection of venom here and there.

    • It’s that influence of the Beats. Kerouac, Burroughs, Ginsberg. And people like Trocchi, who wrote Cain’s Book. And a smattering of other novels and stories and films. I think we all get addicted to stuff, and I think only by showing those addict tendencies could I properly describe how to keep a phone’s cell battery filled with enough electricity to write, and especially, to have that kind of mobility where you don’t need a backpack, or a case to carry a laptop. You just go go go and find the juice along the way to keep it all happening… and take risks, and plug in where society’s unwritten moral tablet says, “You can’t tap in there.” Yet I do it anyway, because I need the juice. Because those darn phone makers made the batteries these constantly dying things…

      Did they not realize how addicted we would become to iPhones?

      • Lee says:

        I definitely think you’re tapping into a new mode of composition. I’m not yet ready to make the jump to the cell phone world of composition largely because it’s inconvenient (ironically) for me. Your search for juice also reminds me of the greenies that are all hot and bothered about electric cars that go 75 miles and DIE unless they are hooked to the grid for a shot of “heroin”. Electricity both figuratively and literally is an ever-precious commodity. Your piece nails that concept perfectly.

        • I know the Japanese have been doing text versions of novels on phones. I just don’t know if they have better ways of writing out longform and finding cell power. Probably some cool cellrunners in Tokyo I could learn from to better steal juice from sushi bars!

          Electricity. We all depend on it, have to pay for it. But it’s out there for free on some levels too!

      • matildakay says:

        I have to agree with Lee that the “cinema verite edge to your writing” that you say is the influence of the Beats, Kerouac, Burroughs and Ginsberg etc., is exactly what has drawn me to your writing all these years. I really need to read more Beat stuff. I have a feeling I’d love it the way I love your writing and story-telling.

        Am I in danger of becomming addicted to an iPhone too once I take the leap?

        • I don’t know if you will like the Beats. It’s their energy and some themes I try to emulate anymore. Not the style. That was wrong of me to do when a starry-eyed young novelist in my youth. Although, “Howl” the movie is going to be out this weekend. Brenda Knight is speaking at the premiere in Frisco she told me on the phone a bit ago.

          Yes, once you have an iPhone you will be addicted… to Words with Friends!

  12. J.M. Blaine says:

    You know I’ve wanted to ask the writers here
    an elemental question
    for awhile now
    How do you guys do it?
    I get screen fatigue
    & eye strain
    within an hour or so
    these days.

    • I’m always battling fatigue. If I could put a plug into my own arm I would definitely do that. Have you seen circuitbenders? I’ve known one. A Vietnam vet who puts circuits under his skin. Real cyber stuff. Badass. And crazy.

      I don’t know the best way to battle fatigue. Coffee? Or only writing at peak wakefulness?? That’s tough. I just go go go. But my energy comes in spurts.

      I thought about drugs. But hell, man, I can barely afford the coffee!

    • Lee says:

      Coffee and lots of it

  13. DCR says:

    So good. Love the very edgy stream of consciousness style — bold. Bugged, wigged, plugged. Cellrunner — did you coin the term? Great ride, always pushing. Thanks.

    • Hi DCR. I thought what I was doing needed an edgy term. I’d thought of juicerunner or juicewriter. But those didn’t fit. Finally a few days later I thought of Cellrunner. It fit. So, I don’t know if anyone has used that term before. But I did create it just for this story as a sci-fi reality piece. You just never know when you’re affecting pop culture. Everyone should give it a try. “Bugged, wigged, plugged.” I like that. Thank you. And I’m glad you like stream of consciousness stuff. I’ve been a fan ever since reading James Joyce as a young man.

  14. Matt says:

    This piece reads like your brain gave birth to the digital lovechild of William Gibson and Phillip K. Dick, with your iPhone serving as midwife.

    I’ve yet to really use my iPhone for any serious long-form writing, mostly because I’m still wrestling with that damn app….and, I admit, a personal fetish for using writing implements and paper. Fun fact: about 80% of the roughs for all my TNB posts were written entirely by hand.

    However, I am going on vacation this weekend, and I think I may attempt a phone-only essay while in transit.

    • Matt, that’s an incredible feat. I type too slow to want to transcribe from hand, though I still do it. You have a rare collection of handwritten pieces though. That’s awesome. I should write some like that too for my own personal archives! Handwritten stuff is just so awesome to peruse.

      I love your analysis: “This piece reads like your brain gave birth to the digital lovechild of William Gibson and Phillip K. Dick, with your iPhone serving as midwife.”

      That’s totally what I was going for and how I saw myself constantly plugged in. Paolo Bacigapuli’s book The Windup Girl was also inspiration as it’s all about seeking that energy and creating products from it, organic even. I think these pieces I have been creating are being created from a unique sort of energy add-on to the usual brainpower we have to commit.

      I hope you do experiment a little with writing on your phone and finding out if it is as liberating for you as it is for me. Thanks for letting me include you in this piece. You are always an inspiration to me!

  15. Cynthia Hawkins says:

    I. Love. This, Nick Belardes. Our sci-fi future is now! This whole piece has such a great rhythm and sense of grungy dystopia-ness (is that a word? now it is!) to it. Example: “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.” I wish I was still teaching CW so I could show this to my students and we could discuss all the many ways this is applicable to their writing-in-the-modern-era lives. Instead, I’ll pass it on to all of my CW professor friends so that they can 😉

    • Cynthia, you give me the ultimate compliment. I’m fighting back the watery eyes since I’m such a baby. Thank you.

      My last few pieces I busted out pretty quick. This one took me a little longer. At times I got frustrated because I didn’t think I was expressing myself clearly. I wrote it while walking, while riding a bus, while lying on a bed, while walking down the street, while on a pier, while near a carousel, while sitting on a bench and in a work lounge…

      I do think “grungy dystopia-ness” like “cellrunner” is a real word. We make them up because we see the world suddenly needs them.

      Thank you for wanting to pass this piece on. Thank you thank you thank you. I was really hoping someone in the literary community like you would find value in this piece enough to want to share.

  16. Patty Wonderly says:

    Hey, I just get my Macbook Pro…finally feel like I’m part of the ‘real’ writing culture, and you have to go and write a piece like this that makes me feel like I’m a dinosaur. No, really, Nick, this piece is another example of how your brain soaks up all the images and sensory detail and blends it together into something never done before. You Rock!

    • hahaha. I was purposely trying to be a little pissy about laptop owners (myself included). I’m a hypocrite. Cause you know what I own! But yes, push the future of writing I say. Both oars in the water!

      Patty, I hope to breeze through your chapters this weekend but may need printouts sent to me cause I have no printer access here.

      How are you and the mighty Peter?

    • matildakay says:

      Patty, I don’t even have a Macbook Pro! And it really hurts when Nick kicks our butts in images and sensory detail blended into something that really rocks doesn’t it! Especially when he has the audacity to write the piece on his phone! That’s why he’s the teacher and we’re the students.

  17. Last year a friend of mine in Ca tweeted “Stuck in traffic. Wi-jacking off a coach 3 places back.” I thought that was pretty Gibsontastic.

    One of the wireless networks in my building’s called (in caps) ARENA OF THE UNWELL.

    At my local bike shop/café there’s one called GOD.

    • I love that. I never see such unique names in wifi hotspots. Arena of the Unwell is the best ever. I still need to get over to read your piece. I’ll be commenting by tonight. Always enjoy your posts and love to read about hipsters in the world and people’s take on them.

      • I originally thought ARENA OF THE UNWELL was something to do with the long-disused children’s hospital next door, which has been a bit less spooky since the last guttering fluorescent tube finally died. Turns out it’s from Withnail and I – “Even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day, and for once I’m inclined to believe Withnail is right. We are indeed drifting into the arena of the unwell.”

        I hope you like the video. Those people really know their stuff.

  18. Michael Lee says:

    Shades of Gibson and Dick, set in the reality of the life Belardes. The best of the iPhone pieces, yet!

  19. I would not be able to create what you have created here. I am iPhoneless.

  20. Zara Potts says:

    This is great! The energy in this piece makes me breathless!
    So many great, raw lines and images in this.
    Well done! More please!

  21. Funny piece, Nick, and I can totally laptop-relate. Also, I pictured you as the Daryl Hannah character from Blade Runner pretty much the entire way through this….

  22. Maura says:

    You are a genius ! I realize that I am not caught up in this cell world and I like it ahahah You make it sound like a horror show . I lost my cell phone for 4 days and didn’t even know it was gone….. Found it buried in my car detretis…by accident ;o) Great writing job ,Nicky

  23. Gloria Harrison says:

    This is the best run on sentence I’ve read in a long time:

    “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’ve said it before, Nick. I’ll say it every time: I love the rhythm of your writing. I want it read aloud and playing in my ears if I ever decide to become a train-hopping hobo. That just seems right.

    I don’t know anything about the iPhone – except that you and Matt are obsessed about writing your magnum opuses on them.

    • I pride on fluid long sentences that aren’t quite Faulkner but then aren’t quite V.S. Naipaul in their structure. Ok, that was a bunch of BS. I just write and like you said: try to capture rhythm. Many of my pieces are read aloud to myself (not in hobo gear) and if I feel like the rhythm isn’t there, I edit.

      I’m only sad that you’d have them read aloud if you were a train-hopping hobo. Not really sure what you mean. But I will take any compliment I can get even if I have to pay top dollar for it.

      What about Bridget Jones in your piece? I hear a lot of people like those books. I never read them, but is she heroish? Crap, I need to go comment that on your piece. I will cut and paste!

      • Gloria says:

        I’m not sure what I meant either, except that as I was reading this piece, I was thinking, “I love the beat,” which led me to thinking about beatniks, which led me to thinking about Jack Kerouac, which led me to thinking about Dean in The Iron Giant, which led me to thinking about the scene where The Iron Giant gets smashed by the train, which led me to thinking about the trend in the early 20th century where hobos were a thing and they would hop trains, which led me to thinking about the fact that the word hobo is short for Homeward Bound, which led me, once again, to thinking about Kerouac and On The Road – all of which took about a nanosecond.

        So, you know, it was a free association compliment.

  24. Sara says:

    I wish I had a funny cell phone story, but I don’t. I don’t have or use one. You see, I am a fossil. My first three books were written on a Smith Corona, LOL. I take my hat off too you for not being “blinded by technology,” like some of us old fogies. When I was reading your story, I got Blade Runner flashbacks whilst reading. I love that movie, with all its beautiful textures and sound track that complements it. Keep up the good work. It is interesting how you place yourself in the thick of things, then write about it!

    • I have written several really long stories on electric typewriters. And I remember using a manual typewriter too. I just suck at typing though. Always have. Only recently have I been able to not constantly look at the keyboard while I type. 🙁

      I will continue to immerse myself in strange places just for you.

  25. megan says:

    Jesus Cristo, you wrote this all on an iPhone? That’s an accomplishment of patience. I noticed the recurring theme of juice – energy, power.

    I loved: “They can play World of Warcraft and eat a scone” and “forgettably swashbuckled”

    • Your comment made me bust up laughing. I don’t know why. Just imagined you suddenly yelling out: “Jesus Cristo!”

      I’m an impatient person, so I guess it is an accomplishment of patience for me.

      Thanks for adding me on linkedin. I need to go write one of those recommendation thingies for you over there…

  26. Robin says:

    So, it’s like this, man. All the good comments have already been taken! I dawdled and everyone took all the good comments, my friend.

    Like I said before, I don’t know anything about this sci-fi stuff, but this piece was great. I loved it. I’m glad to see that everyone else liked it, too.

    I really don’t have any good cellphone stories, either, so I’m at a loss here for a decent comment. I love the way you wrote the story. It’s so very interesting the way you describe every little detail around you, and I have no problem visualizing the way you run around for outlets, because I know how often you are on your phone. It would be interesting to watch you roam around searching for outlets. I think you may be a little bit addicted…

    Ick. The reason I have a BlackBerry is because my old phone had a five-minute battery life. I don’t go anywhere and don’t talk often, so it’s not a big deal, but if I ever seriously had to go somewhere on my own, I would have been worried about it. So I settled for a BlackBerry that my dad had gotten but couldn’t use anymore. Lame. But its battery lasts for a decent amount of time, so now I can talk to a friend for over an hour and not worry about it.

    • I don’t know why you think you have uninteresting things to say. I always find your comments fun and engaging. Which means, your comment is just as good as all the rest! Not sure you would want to see me standing around stealing electricity. You’d probably say, “Dude, you look dumb standing there by that trash can,” or “Dude, why do you gotta steal the juice from that perfectly good tree?”

      Blackberry? Throw that thing in the trash before it’s too late!

      Thanks for your compliments. I do try to recall details that I think people would find interesting. Like today, I saw so many interesting details. But the one that grabbed me the most was a strand of red-brown hair glistening in a spider web.

      • Robin says:

        Thanks for being nice enough to lie to me. Ahaha! 🙂 OK, instead of following you around and watching you steal battery power, I will just stand there from a distance to laugh. OK, maybe not. Really, it’s brilliant. I would never have thought to bring a plug with me and find outlets to use along the way as I roam around, but then I’m not one to roam, so…yeah.

        Yeah, I know my BlackBerry is evil, but I have no other options. Someday…

        Seeing the world from a very detailed perspective is such a wonderful thing. I love it.

        Well, I’m out of comment material again. Dang.

        • I always have this little crowd of people, usually those who know me the best, who really enjoy laughing at me. Especially when I slip and fall, get hit in the head, smash an elbow, or fumble at public speaking. I’m thinking I can lump you in with that select group.

          You really should try roaming. Don’t your pet buffalo roam? We can learn from buffalo, you know. Or did you guys already make burgers out of them?


        • Robin says:

          Glad to see you’re at the top. How long does that usually last? You’re getting closer to 200 comments, too. Sweet.

          You and I would get along so very well. I am so awkwardly klutzy that it’s embarrassing. I’m prone to running into things, falling, etc. A lot. I wouldn’t be there laughing at you, because I’d probably be on my butt in pain right there next to you. My family and friends do the same. Instead of being sweet and offering to help, they sit back and laugh it up like there’s nothing wrong.

          Yes, I know. I should try to roam. It would be fun. I’m working on it. Someday. No, the buffaloes haven’t gone to the freezer yet. Thank goodness. They’re still roaming in the pasture.

        • I think it’s ten days that a post stays in rotation. So if you don’t jump on seeking comments right away, you miss your chance at temporary TNB glory.

          Gotta love family.

          Send a buffalo burger. Has to be better than cup of noodle.

  27. Jill Bernstein says:

    Fabulous. Love the imagery, concept and pace. It feels a little 21st century Chandler. Now you need a mystery to elucidate.

  28. Judy Prince says:

    Loaded with addictive enthusiasm, Nick. You’re so on a roll with batt juice!

    Back to my fountain pen (yes, truly!) and spiral notebook paper……. 😉

    • I’m going to steal that endorsement, Judy: “Loaded with addictive enthusiasm.” I like that. I’m sending out an email today to try to get a little more attention to the piece. There’s nothing like a kind and fabulous take on a bizarre tale like “Cellrunner.”

      • Judy Prince says:

        You’re right, Nick, it’s bizarre of the best order, your Cellrunner post. The juiciest of juice tales.

        • I’m glad you think it’s bizarre. And that I’m bizarre. Oh wait. You didn’t say that. heh.

        • Judy Prince says:

          Nick, you are definitely bizarre. Erika Rae is bizarre, too. I aspire to bizarrity, but can’t always manage it.

          Congrats on marrying Gloria (labia AND battery power)! Can it get better than that?

        • I think we got divorced already. Story of my life. Can’t keep a woman longer than I can sneeze.

          I’ll marry my iPhone.

          Yeah, Erika Rae is really bizarre. Crazy woman. Part caveman. Part berzerker.

        • Judy Prince says:

          You and Glorious divorced already, Nick? Y’all put new meaning in the term “Vegas wedding.”

          Was it the ketchup packet writing? The tree hookups?

          Ah well, you can look forward to hobo bonoboes (they’re not the sharpest bulbs in the drawer, as monkeys go, but they do have a certain je ne sais quoi which means “I don’t know what,” I think, in French, but possibly Nathaniel and Gregory would translate it differently).

        • I used to live by a wedding chapel when I lived in downtown Vegas years ago. Boy were those weird days. I walked by the old house recently. It was gone. Poof! demolished by the broken economic machine of Nevada.

          Hobobonoboes? I’m so lost and I can’t say that word very fast. And I’m not even drunk. Hey, did you send me your one-act submission yet?

        • Judy Prince says:

          Nick, I just said hobo bonobos bcuz I like the sound of it.

          It’s Dok and Bim, the orangutans, that most fascinate me, especially this bit: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/7797776.stm

          I’ll be sending you a 10-minute play before the 30 September deadline. Had left them in the States, so have to write from memory, still trying to decide which one to write and send.

        • They trade favors? Awesome. I want a monkey token!

          Looking forward to your submission. Pick the one that is the weirdest!

        • Judy Prince says:

          I can just see you tapping your index finger on my pile of tokens for you to get a banana, Nick. 😉 I love that monkey business!

          Re the play, thank God you said: “Pick the one that is the weirdest!”


        • I was sitting at work yesterday in a coma trying to do research for some stuff by going through endless pages of the interwebs… And I got this email notification. I yawned and read, “I can just see you tapping your index finger on my pile of tokens for you to get a banana,” and suddenly busted up laughing…

          Thank you!

        • Judy Prince says:

          Fair enough, Nick. You’ll get your banana.

  29. Erika Rae says:

    I think, Nick, that you are one of the most driven people I know. It wouldn’t matter what medium you held, you would produce the written word and you would produce it in style. Seriously. I’ll bet if you were all out of battery on your phone and someone handed you a fistful of ketchup packets you’d be blasting out novellas all in red.

    Under trees! What a great idea…

    • I still can’t stop laughing about that sandpeople video. You meet the greatest people and seem to have the most wonderful times.

      I don’t think I’m any more driven than you. But then, I think I could write a few paragraphs with a carrot dipped in ranch dressing.

      If you’re referring to outlets on trees I have seen them recently. I should have taken a photo of one for this piece.

      • Erika Rae says:

        I want to see a TNB post in ranch dressing!

        Oh, that video. Even my kids have been watching it obsessively. So, so funny. They did not even rehearse that. Slade, Richard and Megan rock.


        And the trees – that’s such a great idea. Just find ones that have lights on them. Brilliant.

        • I will be sharing the video with my kids tonight. We’re all star wars geek as you know. Can’t wait to get their reaction. I think I watched it three times… lol!

          Yes, lighted trees! Would look kind of funny if it was at night and I unplugged a lit tree and like a whole street went out. lol

          Yes, TNB in ranch dressing~! ha!

          I do have some funny flash fiction posts i want to do… maybe we should talk on email. lol

  30. Sara says:

    Thanks, Nick. I could never really type, either. My head would anticipate letters in the future and type them before necessary, LOL. A very frustrating typo party ensued every time–30 wpm was the best I could do. Yet, as the years went by, a “funny” thing happened. My head slowed down to match my fingertips, and after three 400 page books, I can now type, kinda. I HAVE moved on to a computer keyboard, but drag out the Smith Corona from time to time, anyway. It is interesting, about your immersing yourself: I often find myself in the middle of doing something I really don’t want to do, just so I can WRITE about it later. The thing is something I would never have even considered doing, or an experience I really don’t want to have, yet it is a possible writing topic so I keep going. I guess we may all have this “problem” if we write, huh?

    • Hi Sara. I couldn’t agree more. I call them “literary moments.” We recognize when we’re in them. Sort of an out-of-body experience for the attentive writer don’t you think?

      Typing is hard. If I consciously think about it I turn into mud fingers and my hands slop all over the keyboard and I can’t write even one word that doesn’t have a typo. But if I have a clear head, then I can do it. Also, the keyboard makes a difference. At work I have the crummiest, stickiest keyboard. Can’t write anything on it without being typo filled and slow at doing it.

      I should have taken a typing class though I think I’m around 70 wpm on my macbook pro when I really want some speed. Which of course is nothing like Kerouac’s speed or my old mentor. He could type 200wpm.

  31. Nice one, Nick. You’re doing for the iPhone what Kerouac did for the long, scrolled piece of paper. Cheers.

    • Rich, you just gave me one of the biggest compliments of my life. Did someone pay you to write that? Hell, I’ll pay you anyway. Meet be behind the 7-11 for some Pop Rocks. Apple flavored.

  32. Patty Wonderly says:

    I saw on twitter that Dr. Laura likes your piece! Congratulations! Coolio!

  33. Angela says:

    I love it. I am on the run a lot too, and I find myself choosing where to go based on outlets. I have not been below hanging out in a public restroom for 15 minutes while my cell phone got a little juice hook-up, haha.

    I agree with Matildakay– love the pace, feels like we’re running along with you, searching, where is the juuuuuice??? haha.

  34. Angela says:

    Have you seen those solar power “cases” for iPhone? I don’t know how well they work or don’t work, but I saw some at this computer convention. I wanted a big one for my car– “Take that Prius! You get juice from braking? I get juice from hanging out in the sun!”– but alas, I am not an electrical engineer.

    Of course if you had the silly looking solar case, we wouldn’t have had this brilliant piece. 🙂

    “People will think you’re texting your girlfriend that you don’t have.” hahahahahaaaa….

    • You’re such a jerk. But that just means I need MORE comments from you. Hey, I would use one of those solar cases in conjunction with the cord so I could spend less time at outlets. BTW, you’re killing me at Words With Friends. But I refuse to give up.

      • Angela says:

        I just thought it was funny like you wanted people to think you were just texting someone when really you’re working and writing. Like “hey, I’m not a nerd, I’m just texting this chic…”. 😉

  35. Susan Reep says:

    Some day, far into the future when we are being excavated and analyzed, I wonder where the demarcation will be that classifies the type of society we have. Will it be between typewriter and computer, or laptop and desktop, or phones and phones? I think mobile communication will demarcate some kind of turning point. Our cell phones, the future’s artifacts, will be examined and the extraction of each text or document will cause scientists to exhale in wonder and begin to put together an ancient language.

    • Hey SNAC, I will personally be excavated with my iPhone and because of my obsessive efforts there will still be one percent of energy left on the phone for the Indiana Jones of the future. Of course they will be so excited at first, only to have the phone die in their hands and turn to ash…

  36. Susan Reep says:

    Before it turns to ash, they will look at each other in awe and reverence, and say, “It’s The Belardes again.”

    • Susan, are you suggesting that I could cause trouble for thousands of years? Cause that would be cool.

      • dwoz says:

        In a thousand years, they’ll be looking through landfills for the “Device Prime” that was the origin of Belardes word-stream.

        Like today, coming across an old Underwood typewriter and finding the words “property of Samuel L. Clemens” etched into the undercarriage. Who knows, did he just type up his grocery list on it, or write “The War Prayer” on it?

        • Oh man, I’m going to etch “Device Prime” on the back of my iPhone. That is a killer idea. I wonder who would engrave that? Trophy people maybe. I’m serious. That’s a great idea. Then if my novel were ever a hit I could sell the phone on eBay for a kajillion.

        • dwoz says:

          Any jeweler can do engraving. Probably not mall jewelry stores though.

  37. dwoz says:

    And the anthropologists are saying that the hunter-gatherer is extinct.

    Nick, you’re the new hunter-gatherer.

  38. Lea Allen Wankum says:

    Nick, Wow! A plug in your own arm? This is serious….your story wore me how. I was huffing and puffing as if I ran miles. I will never look at my cell the same. I never knew about all the juicing places and now I’ll have to search for them out of curiousity. If you ever get to juicing, writing, juicing, writing and you can’t stop the frenzy, just call and we’ll all come hold you back until you return to normalcy. 🙂 Kidding…kind of.

    • Lea Allen Wankum says:

      “wore me out.” 🙂

      • Lea, I always love to hear from you. And I still have my Vegas coupon. I swear I’m going to frame it one day as the jackpot that got away.

        Yeah, electricity and writing on my iPhone is a weird obsession of late that I almost liken to my obsession of chocolate old fashioned donuts.

  39. D.R. Haney says:

    This piece takes on added significance for me in light of my recent problems with my cell-phone battery. I have a Razr phone, and I can’t begin to afford a replacement of any kind, though my battery now has to be recharged every thirty minutes or so. In fact, Nick, it gave out recently, when you and I were talking, and I’ve been meaning to call or write with an apology ever since. I suppose now I’ve finally done it.

    • I knew your phone died. I tried to call back and figured, “Duke’s phone died again.”

      I think you should steal an iPhone from some kid, hijack a phone account, and write Banned For Three Years: The Prelude on it.

      Cell energy sucks. Phones should come with a cord that attaches to pedals that you attach to your feet, lie on your back, type and keep pumping your feet in a circular motion. Energy for energy.

  40. Simon Smithson says:

    Was it Tesla who had the idea for broadcasting power through the atmosphere, wirelessly? It was probably Tesla.

    It was always Tesla.

    Then again, I’m not exactly sure what that would do to our brains, organs, or testicles.

    Nothing good, I bet.


    Until then, Mr. Belardes, represent! Fight the power and surf the invisible wave of current that washes through the streets.

    • Oddly, Simon, I live near a street called Tesla. In fact, when I ride my bike to work I zoom down Tesla, and I think about energy and giant coils and mad scientists animating apples into real creatures with legs and arms. I don’t think Tesla did that. But I imagine those sort of weird things. Who knows, in the industrial sector along Tesla, and all of its industrial automation factories and gizmo-making towers, there could be an entire army of tiny Tesla apple people just waiting to chase me on my bike.



      He messes with my imagination daily.

  41. dwoz says:

    Well, you know…if you just stick a piece of metal up into the air, and attach a voltmeter between it and ground, you can measure volts. Where there’s volts, there’s power. Maybe not an awful lot.

    I’m going to have to try that today, see what actually measures across a regular-sized tv antenna.

    • I mentioned to Duke: “Phones should come with a cord that attaches to pedals that you attach to your feet, lie on your back, type and keep pumping your feet in a circular motion. Energy for energy.”

      Imagine people lying all over the streets, charging their own phones. Or them sitting in coffeehouses, kicking chairs and each other, and all the “excuse me, sir” we would hear, as they obsessively try to get their phones to the century mark.

      What a lovely sight.

  42. laura says:

    Great piece. Edgy. It bristles with the restless energy of life with technology.

    • Thanks for coming over and commenting, Laura. I didn’t want your comment to get lost on Twitter. This way it stays archived with all the others.

      Living close on the fringe of what technology is certainly restless and I think carries over into my subject matter as of late.

  43. Life encased in the iPhone. Love your descriptions:
    “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.”

    I’m old fashioned. I’m a pen and paper toter.

    • Joanne! How are you?

      You caught onto an interesting segment of this piece. I was inspired by military historian John Keegan in the past. In his memoirs of roaming across America he speaks of sonnenreise. I’ve always loved that word and try to sneak it into explaining my epiphanies when I have them. Roaming across America for the first time I had a serious sonnenreise. This exploration with technology marks my second. The question is, will I have a third, fourth, and so on?

      I’m still old fashioned too, to a degree. And to think I got my writing start on a manual typewriter to where I am now, is probably worth an essay in and of itself.

  44. Tom says:

    Great piece. I got totally caught up in the hunt for the juice. And love the idea of working anywhere in the world. But I can see how that kind of freedom might feed the obsession for the juice: as the juice goes, so goes the freedom. I’m not sure I can work that way, but now I’m eager to try. Of course, it’ll require an upgrade to a phone that allows me to actually type, rather than pecking on a number pad…

    • You’re right: “…freedom might feed the obsession for the juice: as the juice goes, so goes the freedom.”

      But one day, when someone builds cell phone batteries that last a year, I will write with less anxiety, and find myself standing on the moon or Mars, typing out a novella about grungy Earth memories…

  45. Maria says:

    Sorry this took so long – as I stated before: Excellent read! I am always accused of being too attached to my iPhone, and my answer is always the same: “Yeah. It’s my boyfriend.” So far, it’s been working out between us. Thanks for the link. 🙂

  46. I keep forgetting – the only serious piece I ever wrote (that I’ll admit to) was about Vegas. I was a runner-up in an ezine contest. http://www.wow-womenonwriting.com/downloads/printable/25-FE1-Summer08Contest-GayleCarline.html

  47. […] Cellrunner (2010) Excerpt: 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. Read at The Nervous Breakdown […]

  48. Design a logo for $5…

    […]N.L. Belardes | Cellrunner | The Nervous Breakdown[…]…

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