“I hate this stupid piece of crap!” shouted Rick, shifting his position on the tea house couch and jabbing his finger at the slightly cracked screen of his iPhone. Most of his friends had already upgraded to the newest one. It had way more RAM than his, which was constantly freezing up when he left more than about ten apps open for a while. It was ridiculous. He’d paid good money for this phone, and it was already outdated. He could trade it in towards the upgrade, but it wouldn’t help much. A new iPhone comes out, the old one becomes next to worthless – especially if the screen is cracked.
The smells spiced tea and sounds of the other regulars chatting and laughing around him faded out as, for the millionth time, the scene replayed itself in his head in slow motion. The phone, only two days old, slips from his hand and plummets towards the sidewalk. Still moving forward, his toe catches the edge of the phone and bumps it onto the grass, where it suffers only a small crack instead of a screen-smashing fatality. He’d been lucky. But ever since, that crack had haunted his nightmares. How could he have let it slip?
All his friends at the tea house had laughed long and hard at his stupidity. Maybe he shouldn’t have talked up the new phone so much at the start. He was just so excited, so proud to finally have the latest model. He couldn’t afford to replace the screen, and now he was stuck with this thing until he saved up enough money to buy a new phone. Maybe if he cut his bills somehow… He could probably suspend the internet service at home and just use the phone for a while. Ah, but then, he couldn’t do that – his ISP would charge him a huge fine for breaking his contract. On the other hand, he could put off buying a winter jacket and use that money towards the new phone. He could just layer sweaters and hoodies when it got really cold. And then Angela could stop teasing him for five minutes.
Angela was an Android user. Her phone had only cost a fraction of what his had, and she was able to download games and programs without fighting her way through the app store. It had more RAM than his, too. But sometimes she had to restart it, because some of the programs didn’t get along perfectly, and that made him feel a little better. Anyway, she couldn’t keep ten apps open at once, ever, or it would start to freeze up. When he asked her how she could possibly deal with that, she shrugged her shoulders and said she just closed programs when she wasn’t using them.
What a loser. And she had the nerve to tease him?
“Here’s your Yogi Chai.” Rick’s private little pity party shattered along with his concentration the barista set the tray down in front of him. It smelled amazing, which Rick found annoying. It was interrupting his bad mood. “Do you want anything to eat?”
Rick shook his head. “Not today, Trish. I’m not hungry.”
She smirked at him. “Having another epic battle with your iPhone, are you? Watch out you don’t cut yourself on that broken glass there…”
Rick resisted the urge to throw the phone across the room. He was preparing a retort when everyone in the room covered their noses in unison, Rick included. “What smells like cow manure all of a sudden?”
There was a blinding flash and a puff of smoke, and out of the air walked a man. He was wearing black linen pants and suspenders, a plain white shirt, a tremendous and wild black beard, and a straw hat which he quickly removed when he realized he was indoors. He smiled the smile of a man content with life and confident of his place in it, and reached out to shake Rick’s hand. Rick found himself automatically standing and bowing his head to the mysterious visitor (who he quickly identified as the source of the unpleasant odor).
“Hallo, young man.” The stranger’s voice came out booming and strong, like someone who was accustomed to speaking to large groups outdoors, and he had an odd accent. “The Lord has given me word that you are in need of my help. What seems to be the trouble?”
Rick narrowed his eyes in suspicion. Was this guy schizophrenic or something? There’d been a schizophrenic guy who had hung around the tea house a lot in the past, until the owner asked him to either start taking his medicine or hang out somewhere else. He’d had religious delusions, too.
On the other hand, this guy had appeared in a flash and a puff of smoke, so what did he know.
Everyone in the tea house was staring at them. The stranger seemed totally unaware of them, or at least he didn’t care about their eyes on him. He was waiting patiently for Rick’s answer.
“Uh… Who are you?”
Another broad smile. “You can call me Gravy Dan. Consider me your new psychiatrist.”
Rick risked a glance around the room. Was he hallucinating? No, pretty much everyone was staring at this guy, too. Most had forgotten their phones or tablets or laptops or, in some particularly hipster cases, books, and were gazing transfixed at the entertainment spectacle that was unfolding before them. (Except for one girl in the back corner who kept making exaggerated gestures of irritation at the disruptions around her while she was trying to write something on her laptop). Rick looked back at Gravy Dan, his new psychiatrist. He took a moment to really take in his outfit and impressive facial hair. He couldn’t stand it – he had to ask. “Are you Amish?”
Gravy Dan drew himself up to his full height (he was a bit taller than Rick) and nodded his head, the ever-present smile still on his face. “That’s correct.”
“So… How can you be a psychiatrist? Don’t the Amish hate modern medicine?”
Patiently, as though explaining to a small child, Gravy Dan said, “Well, now, there are some groups that do, but not all. If something is of benefit to the community and doesn’t harm our way of life, most Amish people are open to certain aspects of modern life. In my case, the Lord has made it clear what my vocation is to be, and I humbly accept my task. Now, shall we step into my office?”
Before Rick could give an answer, he and Gravy Dan vanished into thin air with a pop and a crackle and a subdued flash of light. Nothing too flashy. The patrons of the tea house stared for a few moments longer, then slowly started to sneak nervous glances at each other. Had that really just happened? They sniffed the air nonchalantly, some using a tissue as a pretense. The odor of cow manure was gone completely, as though it had never been there. The Amish man had gone, as had that guy who was always complaining about his phone as though it wasn’t his own fault that he had an out-of-date model with a cracked screen. The only thing remaining was the tray with the untouched cup of Yogi Chai sitting on the table, and that could easily have been left there by anyone.
Unanimously, wordlessly, simultaneously, everyone decided that what had just happened had, in fact, not, and continued on with their conversations.
Rick was standing in a small, undecorated room with walls, floor, and ceiling all made from wood. It was lit by a large oil lamp hanging from the ceiling. There was a simple, unadorned desk in the center of the room with a hard wooden chair on either side of it, on which was a notebook with a plain black cover and a pencil. Gravy Dan gestured to one of the chairs, and sat himself in the other one.
“I half expected there to be cows in here,” said Rick, unsure of what else he could possibly say.
Gravy Dan smiled kindly but without humor. “Everything in God’s kingdom has its place, Rick, and a cow’s place is not inside my office.” He opened the notebook slowly, deliberately, and then watched Rick patiently until he finally sat down in the chair.
“I’ve had a vision from the Lord, Rick,” he continued as his patient sat dumbstruck and, ironically, doubting his own sanity. “You are a very troubled young man in need of guidance. Now, tell me how you’re feeling.”
I’m feeling incredibly uncomfortable right now, Rick thought, but did not say out loud. He caught another whiff of the cow manure smell (presumably Gravy Dan had been working with the animals before his unscheduled session) and tried to block it out. “I, um. I guess I’m feeling depressed.”
Gravy Dan nodded his head knowingly. “Rick, did you know that in traditional Amish communities, depression is almost entirely non-existent?”
Rick shook his head. “I guess I never thought about it.”
“Most outsiders don’t.” He gestured to the cracked phone which was still gripped in Rick’s hand, like a lifeline he was unconsciously hanging on to. “Tell me, does that device right there bring joy into your life?”
Rick nodded his head instinctively. “Sure. It’s one of the latest models. I mean, I kind of hate it right now, but when I get the new one, that will be awesome.”
“And was it ‘awesome’ when you got this phone?”
Rick smiled at the memory of unboxing and peeling the film from the phone’s screen. “Oh, yeah. It was amazing. I felt on top of the world.”
“And how long did that feeling last?”
Rick’s smile vanished. The memory of cracking the screen replayed itself a few more times in his memory. “Well, not too long. But that’s because I dropped it. It got cracked. If I had taken better care of it…”
Gravy Dan nodded his head in what was at least compassion, if not real understanding. “So when you get the new phone, and of course this one will never get cracked, you’ll surely live happily ever after and never have a bad feeling again?”
Rick shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “Well…”
Just when everyone had more or less managed to edit the earlier mysterious events out of their memories, and were getting on with life, there was another small flash and a whiff of manure (not nearly as strong this time), and Rick was once again sitting on the couch. The tray with his tea on it had been cleared away, an attempt to wipe clean all traces of that weird thing that definitely didn’t really happen. This time, all the patrons pointedly avoided turning their heads or noticing the change at all. It was easier to avoid forming new memories than to try to erase them.
No one was paying any attention to Rick, who was adjusting to the softness of the couch after the hard wooden chair. His session had lasted exactly one hour. Rick was surprised at his own disappointment. As mind-numbingly confusing and nonsensical as the whole experience had been, it had been a really helpful conversation.
He looked around at the other patrons, none of whom looked back at him. For the first time, forgetting his own paranoia and narcissism, he noticed the fear in all their eyes. The constant, nagging fear in the back of their minds that they would say or do the wrong thing, wear the wrong clothes, or buy the wrong phone. The nameless fear of losing something they believed themselves to have… But what was it? And did any of them really have it to begin with?
Gravy Dan’s voice was echoing in his head. He wouldn’t accept any payment, and he didn’t take insurance. The Lord expected him to help out others in his community. Rick pointed out that he wasn’t a part of his community, to which Gravy Dan replied that the Lord had given him a task, and he was bound to fulfill it.
Rick didn’t know what to say, other than “thank you.”
“Willkomm,” replied Gravy Dan, and then the world around him changed in a flash.
His phone was still in his hand. He looked at it once more, with an entirely fresh perspective. It really had brought him a lot more unhappiness and frustration than anything positive. He didn’t really need it, and that was the honest truth.
On the other hand, he wasn’t about to go live with the Amish.
Maybe it was time to sell it and get a Nokia instead.