By Patrick Berlinquette
Once everyone’s seated, we turn our phones facedown. If anyone at the table, at any time, flips over their phone, that person must foot the entire bill. Our brunches have revolved around the game of flip-out for more than two years without incident, so I’m still trying to wrap my head around what happened today.
According to Justin A., crybaby, who was detained for his outbursts outside of the Stone Park Café, the conditions were “less than optimal” for a good, clean game.
He claimed the stroller congestion in Park Slope was at a high, which caused “all kinds of subliminal distractions”. I can humor this: simply walking to the café I was held up between gridlocked Mima Xaris and I was nearly enmeshed in the frame of a Stokke Scoot.
But I cannot accept Justin A.’s claim that the birds were out in droves. From the Park to Boerum Hill they went tweet, tweet, and could easily be mistaken for ring-tones. His words, not mine.
Then, supposedly, right after the waiter handed out the menus, a woman pushing a Valco Baby Snap Duo walked up to a pole right alongside our table, procured a giant bike lock from her bag, and locked her stroller to said pole.
I say supposedly, because I missed the whole thing. I was so focused on the game at hand that I only caught the aftermath: the woman’s back as she wiggled across the street, the lock glinting in the sun, and the shadow of the stroller, which stretched over the sidewalk like a charcoal smudge the size of a Smart car.
I could see Justin A. was visibly rattled by all of this. Once his upper lip quivered, I thought about how I would take him down. I wanted him to flip that phone. I didn’t care how long it took, if I had to sit there all day. Finally, I knew exactly how to crush his resolve into powder.
I called the waiter over and ordered the most expensive bottle of beer they had on the menu. Everyone looked at me except Justin A. He was staring down through the grated table at his feet. With that, I knew I had him.
The waiter came over with the huge bottle of beer, white-gloving it like it was a Harlan Estate. I told him assertively that the bottle was for me solely. Then I ordered an 8 oz NY strip, an oyster po’ boy, and several plates of Andouille sausages. I ate all of this methodically, staring Justin A. right in the eyes. I became very drunk. But I didn’t say a word. I just let him unravel his own yarn.
When the broken Justin A. finally turned over his phone, it was not by the usual unconscious jerk we were used to seeing, but a very lucid flick of the wrist. It was a movement that suggested resignation. When I held out a hand for him to shake, he stood up. I thought he was going to turn the table over and punch me. Instead he pulled out his wallet, dumped the contents on the table, and pushed them towards me: greasy receipts made invisible by age, half-used gift cards, even one of those spider rings you buy with tickets at an arcade. “Just take all my goddam money,” he kept saying. But I didn’t see much of it, and I let him know.
The other two guys at the table were staring at me like it was my fault when Justin A. staggered away. And everyone but me stood up when, attempting to put his foot through a planter, Justin A. collapsed through a lean-to and caused a circle of tourists to scream.
In the end, I reluctantly put in for the bill, along with everyone else. But, I argued, aren’t rules rules? You don’t see a snooker player getting a pass because he didn’t chalk his cue.
Today may have marked the very last gathering for flip-out. I do not blame myself, because I did nothing more than read the signs. And that’s quite hard to do these days. We’re liable to run into one before we read it, when we’re all crooked over our phones.
– Patrick Berlinquette is the owner of a search-engine marketing firm in Long Island, New York. His work is based on the conflicts that he encounters as a luddite who must work with insidious advertising technologies. His essays have been featured in Ithaca’s Our Stories and Cortland’s She Said / She Said and Transitions.