I control your mobile phone

I used to carry a cell phone jamming device in my commuting bag. It was necessary for my train ride. Asking someone to kindly lower their voice was always met with a stream of obscenities, no matter how respectful and polite I was. I decided to go nuclear and ordered a cell phone jammer from Hong Kong. It arrived in a plain brown box and it was a dream come true. I stopped using it when it broke. Also, when I came across this:

Illegal to operate, manufacture, import, or offer for sale, (including advertising), with fines of up to $11,000 and imprisonment of up to one year.

At first, I allowed brief, necessary conversations. Announcing a train’s arrival time. Pick up a loaf of bread. Meet at a restaurant. But, as we all know, absolute power corrupts absolutely. I began to employ it simply as a means to entertain myself on my insufferable commute. People are genuinely addicted to cell phones and depriving them of their use is not unlike taking a blankee or a ba ba away from an infant.

I began playing a cat and mouse game. They’d connect and start yammering, I’d jam their signal, then allow them to reconnect and start the process all over again. So fun! It really made my commute fly by.

Here are some snippets from posts I wrote years ago about zapping mobile phone service. Don’t judge me. They were all assholes who were making the people around them miserable. They deserved it. All dialogue is verbatim.

 *     *     *

[Screaming] Stop tellin’ me how to live my life ma! I’m 37 years old!…zap…No, I ain’t hangin’ up on ya, ma! It’s the recep–…zap…I SWEAR I ain’t hangin’ up on ya! Quit yellin’. Don‘t talk to me like tha–…zap…It ain’t ME MA. No, YOU shaddup! It’s this gaddamn CELL PHONE!…zap

Happiness is a warm cell phone jammer.

Bang, bang. Shoot, shoot.

*     *     *

No, I’m on the train right now. Did you see the weather report for the pageant? I need to be careful! I don’t want to be a sunburned beauty queen!


Hello? I don’t know it just went dead. I’LL JUST DIE if I can’t use my ph…


Hello? HELLO?!

It doesn’t take much to push a beauty queen over the edge. It’s like tripping an old lady who’s using a walker.

 *     *     *

Gordon Gekko was sitting behind me on the train. He called his bookie and wanted to place bets on tonight’s baseball games. Loud and clear for all to hear. $200 on the Red Sox. $150 on the White Sox. That’s as far as he got.


I’ve seen people get angry over the inability to make a call but this guy exhibited a deep, primal rage you don’t see in public very often. He was desperate to get his bets in. It was 6:55 and the games start at 7:05. But—son of a gun—try as he might he couldn’t get through. I pictured one of Tony Soprano’s Jersey goombahs on the other end.

He was furious. It was the first time I was worried about retribution. Guys with that kind of commitment to gambling usually have a low threshold for anger + violence.

 *     *     *

A woman became so frustrated with the number of dropped calls on the train that she got her Verizon bill out of her purse, called customer service and started screaming at them. I let that call through.

I was hitting doubles. With one flick of a switch I zapped a yappy 19-ish girl with a hip, urban sendibility sitting directly behind me AND the sideways baseball cap-wearing thug sitting behind her. They were both cursing up a blue streak. Such dirty mouths for such young children. I, on the other hand, was feeling much better about the train ride.

They suddenly realized they were having the same problem. They compared devices and cursed their providers (his: Verizon, hers: AT&T) for having such wretched service so close to the city. They were drawn together by a common enemy (technology). By the time we pulled into Newark, they had exchanged phone numbers.

See that? Put your phone down and love might find you. For all I know they’re in the process of becoming under-aged parents as I type.

 *     *     *

Overheard by a passenger who was staring out the window, wide-eyed, slack jawed, in utter disbelief:

Look at that! There’s a goddamn cell tower RIGHT THERE! Why can’t I get a decent signal?!


A foggy morning.


I like how the sunlight plays off the tops of the buildings in foreground.

106 thoughts on “I control your mobile phone

  1. Wanted to keep up my record as first commenter, so I posted that.

    I would love to have one of these devices. Do you think it can work to shut up people NOT talking on the phone but merely being obnoxious?

  2. This is deliciously evil, and I don’t mean that in a good way, so much. It’s like biting into a desert that is terribly bad for you but tastes pretty good. Except saying it that way makes it seem way more innocent than it should. That’s a malicious thing you were doing there, and I don’t want to praise it. But I also don’t mind that you did it, which makes me terrible, too. These people should be taught their lesson. And I’m glad they were. But there is something a little too Nixonian about it all. I’m all about the ends, but the means are important too, and I’m not sure the means are justified here. The means are a little mean, if you will. I do like the picture of the smog haze, though.

    • It was a bad thing but the action was born from a bad place. People are terrible. Especially the young. My train was full of insufferable narcissists who needed to be taught a lesson. Of course, I never would’ve jammed an emergency call but there NEVER WAS ONE. It was always stupid stuff that wasn’t important and could wait. I suppose it’s the societal norm now but I don’t like it.

      • If I could put the mobile phone genie back in the bottle, I’d probably do it. But the barn door was opened and the horses are all gone.

        That’s two metaphors in one comment. Huzzah.

        And that’s fog in the photo. Not smog.

  3. Mark, you have GOT some nerve. I envy you. I would love to have used one of those at the VA and maybe somebody was now that I think about it. My daughter would call me at work sometimes and my cell was always dropping calls. ( I had Verizon too. always have. Same number since 1992. Sprint and then 360 and maybe some other company before Verizon bought them all up). They were not obnoxious calls either. Brief and to the point when she needed something. Oh well. I’d love to have one of those to use on dumb asses that are texting. But maybe it would not work for texting.

    • Everyone gets nerve when they’re pushed over the borderline. I really did try to reason with folks but they didn’t want to hear it. They had their special phone call to make and if everyone in the train car had to hear about their terrible day at work that’s was just too bad. Extreme circumstances call for extreme measures.

      Developing a jammer that prevents texting is genius. They should get right on that and install it in every auto manufactured. Imagine the lives that would be saved.

      • Seriously, that is an excellent idea. If the car is moving, texting and tweets are jammed for the driver. If we can put a man on the moon, we can do this.

      • I would love to see it happen but I fear the cell phone lobby would kill the legislation before it ever saw the light of day. Profits before lives. That’s kind of dark but I believe it to be so.

      • Mark, I can well understand why you used a jammer. I get disgusted just listening to folks at the grocery store. Oh yes a jammer for texting would be monumental in saving lives. I just can’t understand the need for instant replies on the phone. There is no emergency. If I need to text and it is extremely rare, I pull into a parking lot and that has only been maybe two times.

      • It’s got something to do with your brain releasing dopamine when you get a text. Someone wants you! See who it is without delay! Everyone wants to feel wanted, don’t think?

  4. Hey! I got a two-fer!
    Your deliciously naughty post and then you and Elyse batting quips back and forth.I’m sending this over to P’s laptop-he’s always asking his class to switch off their phones. Me? I’d be like an old-time sherriff who took the cowboys’ guns til they left town!
    And the foggy photo is lovely.

    • I used to worry that I’d be caught, but not enough to not do it. Frustrating people who were trying to use their mobile phones in a crowded place felt like delicious payback. A wonderful lesson in Buddhist detachment.

      I can’t IMAGINE trying to teach a class today. Kids and their pathetic addiction to devices. How do you get them to realize the futility?

  5. I was trying to read this post and my post kept losing connection for some reason.
    Also, instead of a phone jammer, I recommend using headphones. I hear these are still legal.

  6. If the thug and the yappy girl have delinquent children, I wonder whether victims of the delinquent children could sue you under US tort law. I’d enjoy seeing that case litigated and would contribute to you defence fund!

    Amazing that a foggy city can look so good.

  7. I want a phone jammer! I would have hours of fun with such a thing. Your snippets made me laugh out loud.

    People are SO addicted to their mobile phones; they’re like best friends/comforters, you’re right there. I recently dropped mine down the toilet and was without it for 4 days. I was alarmed at how many times I went to search for it , habitually. I hate that kind of control. It was liberating to be without it but when I got it back, the stream of missed messages and calls…. scary. I need a phone because that’s the way of the world now and how people communicate but I often put it on silent and ignore calls and messages. I HATE it when you’re walking round the city and people constantly bump into you because they’re reading their texts. And I let them bang into me and feel stupid because they are. Why should I move like a zig-zag to avoid them?
    People have stopped looking at things around them. Just observe the public in a city or coffee shop for half an hour and it’s frightening.

    • They’re very expensive now. I paid a measly $38 for mine but that was about ten years ago. They’re about $300-400 now. Too much for such a frivolity but they ARE fantastic to have an operate. At least, THAT’S WHAT I HEAR. This is all, of course, a work of fiction. I would never engage in an illegal activity and then brag about it in a public forum. How dumb would that be?

      We are all addicted. They got us. I defy anyone to willingly go two days without their phone. You didn’t have a choice. Most people can’t do it. And you’re right. It is SCARY. I wish they’d never invented the bloody things.

  8. I can’t even tell you how much I love this! Makes me glad I don’t have to commute by train. People are so rude with cell phone usage now, even the elderly. It’s ridiculous. Thanks for the morning chuckle!

    • The elderly are the worst! They have to shout because they’re hearing is going. Isn’t this all just sweet payback? Everyone has suffered on the wrong end of a public cell phone conversation If it weren’t so illegal I’d still do it.

      You’re welcome. Remember, there’s never a fee.

  9. In Nicholson Baker’s The Fermata, a man has the ability to freeze time, and he uses that power to undress women. You would use the time to destroy their cell phones. Reasonable decisions both.

  10. This was hilarious! I’d never have the guts to operate one, but I admire anyone who would.
    I resisted using a cell phone for the longest time. I hated talking on a normal phone, why the heck would I carry one 24/7? But now I don’t mind it so much, as the only people who know my number are people I enjoy talking to – though never in public. (I’m obsessively private.) If a call comes through, I can click “Ignore with text.” They get a message that I can’t talk right now, but they can text me. Works like a charm.

    • I really do question my sanity in hindsight. My understanding is that AT&T’s attorneys wouldn’t take kindly to this. Can you imagine my daughters having to explain why daddy is in jail?

      You’re in the minority. Most people have no qualms about answering a phone in public. Especially young kids. They consider it their right.

  11. I never heard of that jamming device. It’s kind of like playing god. I’m surprised there aren’t more in use. Most people don’t care about breaking a law. I gave a disproving look to a driver going the wrong way on a street and he rolled down his window and said “I’ll drive wherever I want to.” Like Costanza sez, “we live in a society.” I canceled my flip phone this year because I only used it 47 minutes in 2016. When in NYC, I would sometimes ask a local for directions, they immediately pulled out their smart phone and gave me exact instructions. And they were cheerful doing it. It appears the twenty year olds now have a nicer demeanor then the ones from years ago..
    Seriously, that picture is one of the best. Put in the right gallery with a modest frame, est: 5-10K. Eventually the great photogs from the 20th century will lose their uniqueness, as now anyone can take a special picture. It is amazing how good cell phone pictures look on the internet.

    • Those things are so effective and so fun, OF COURSE they had to make them illegal. I’ve heard there are mega-blockers the government uses that can knock out service for entire city blocks. This thing was good for about a 25-foot radius, depending on the charge. It was flimsy and broke pretty easily. I actually bought one replacement but when that one broke, I quit.

      Thanks for the photo commentary. Very generous. You can’t miss with these phones and great subject matter like that. It’s all out the window and the phones do all the work. I usually take about 20 shots and one of them is a masterpiece. The rest are crap. Remember when we had film? Only 36 shots. You had to make them count.

  12. Loved how your post switched gears, from the frenetic feel of the train ride to a blanket of fog. Made me grin. I imagine sometimes a visitor from the past taking a stroll down our (concrete) sidewalks and wondering about the mental cases who are in turns, babbling into slim boxes, or in their general direction, then pausing as if hearing voices. There’s a cool image.

    • People want to feel connected. Like there’s someone out there thinking about them. Phones play into a basic human need. Clever and insidious that they found a way to monetize that, don’t you think?

      • Clever, very. Insidious, even more so. I’ve had to don a bright orange coat walking in my small town; the numbers of folk who drive with phones stuck to their ears is scary. I’ve even pulled up short once before a highway crosswalk (don’t know why) for a driver texting while cruising along. Didn’t even slow. Obituary might have read: “Struck down while cross the highway by unseeing driver.”

  13. I can see your point, but I love listening to people’s phone conversations, they’re fiction gold as, of course, this post demonstrates. Genius!

    I hate talking on the phone so I never answer it, and can go for days without remembering to switch it on, my friends now know the only way to get me is to either write (email) or knock on the door. And sometimes I don’t answer the door; yet, I don’t think myself unsociable.

    I love fog, we rarely get it here and I miss it, so your photo is a joy (especially as I also miss the city).

    • You are way more involved than I can ever hope to be. Why didn’t I take that attitude? Instead of fight it, use it. You’re smart.

      I am pathetic. As soon as I hear my phone ding or vibrate I jump for it like one of Pavlov’s idiot dogs. The first step is admitting a problem.

  14. Two responses: Before phones were ubiquitous, friend once turned in her seat to stare at the yammerer behind her. The woman remonstrated: ‘This is a PRIVATE call’ and friend said, ‘All of Brooklyn can hear you’ — which embarrassed the woman.
    Dear Old Dad (original owner of the bone folder) was in electronics, in the waaay olden days (selenium rectifiers and electrolitic capacitors) and had a radio jammer…and a neighbor who played the radio LOUDLY at odd hours. Awakened, DOD would turn it on and tune it to the station; neighbor’s radio would screech. Neighbor would change the station…so would DOD. Neighbor would give up. Peace in our time

    • Dear Old Dad sounds like he was a hell of a lot of fun. I’ll bet we would’ve gotten along pretty well. Bone folders and all.

      Your first response reminds me of when Betty White was hosting Saturday Night Live. In her opening monologue, she was discussing Facebook. She said that being forced to look at someone’s vacation photos used to be considered a form of punishment. Ain’t that the truth! There *is* no private call anymore.

  15. That’s funny Walt Walker says he’s against insufferable narcissists, so why’s he been following me and liking me and so forth?
    God, I freaking loved this. Should I believe it? It is delicious, as he said. Didn’t make me sick the way too much coconut icing does, either.
    We need to do some pineapple daiquiris in some shit bar, some time.

    • You have to be an insufferable narcissist in order to maintain a blog. That goes for me you—whole lot of us. At least we all have something in common.

      I will leave it’s truth and veracity up to the reader. I admit neither.

      • Let’s bring back Narcissism. It’s fun to say after a drink or two. It’s like schism. I use that whenever possible. See? Now back to me.

      • I’d have to respectfully disagree with you sir, i could be all academic and shit about the narcissist crap but instead i’ll just say this, some of us do this because we are bored, don’t like television and don’t have the money for cocaine and pills like we used to…

      • And sometimes I do it because I can’t NOT do it. I’ve tried to bail out on blogging on a number of occasions and always feel compelled to start writing again. It’s like a tap that can’t be shut off. But I still think narcissism plays a role.

      • I don’t care how narcissistic or not anyone is — as long as they make telling their lives interesting.

        Then there are exceptions like you which bore me fucking witless but I carry on reading them because I feel sorry for you.

        ^^^English humour 🙂

  16. As a young person, if I had my mobile phone jammed I would be more confused than angry unless it was a call from my boss or something…. But who knows, perhaps being forced away from your phone can lead to other positive discoveries 😉 This was a pretty interesting read!

    • Hey, you’re new! Thanks, very much, for taking the time to read and comment. I am delighted and honored. And thank you for your kind words about this post.

      I hate to sound like an old geezer but life before mobile phones was more free. We are all slaves to a gadget addiction. That includes me. In fact, that goes double for me. I’m posting this comment from my mobile phone!

  17. Lately my #1 beef isn’t phone conversations but rather those awful games people download as apps. The sounds they make are annoying. At least four times in the last couple of months I’ve sat in doctor office waiting rooms while people play these games on their phones. I sit and stare at them but they either don’t get it, or simply don’t care. Perhaps both.

    • All of these issues fall under the same umbrella; inappropriate cell phone use. Since I am a dark and dreary soul, I’m going to say that the latter is correct. They simply don’t care. How about civility? Is there an app for that?

  18. Science has now proven that social media is the new crack cocaine, it releases dopamine just like a good hit does, or like gambling or smoking cigs or drinking, and of course it can be accessed off the smartphone and since everyone has a smart phone we’re creating a bunch of addicts who crave instant attention as a fix. Why do people post what they eat? i don’t give a fuck what they eat or where they eat or any such thing, yet it makes the poster feel happy and satisfied when someone clicks like…

    The advent of the smartphone has made humans the loneliest species on earth, first worlders anyway, you wouldn’t give a fuck about your phone if you were worried about getting food and water, but when you look around these days people interact with their phones more than the people they’re out with, i refuse to sit in a place and stare at my phone, maybe it’s why i don’t go out anymore, people are more interested in what other people somewhere else or doing instead of what they themselves are doing… i’ll stop before this sets the record for longest comment… but did you ever see the old Twilight Zone (Rod Serling edition) when the television began broadcasting this sound from outer space? it was called Ufio? i think and acted like a drug and everyone just sat around looking stoned and staring at a blank television that emitted these sounds, well that’s what we have today except now it’s mobile and you can do it while driving… let that one sink in…

    • You are preaching to the choir, brother. I’ve said it a million times—I’d like to stuff the cell phone genie back into Pandora’s Box. I might undo the internet, too, while I’m at it. It’s the first instance whereby I’m actually feeling my age. These damn kids. That sort of vibe. Get offa my lawn. I’ve had to take my daughter’s iPhone away and she, literally, goes into withdrawals. Makes me feel like a creature. The rule in my house is that all electronics are in there kitchen overnight. Smartest thing I ever did. She tells me some of her friends sleep with their phones under their pillow. Can you imagine?

      Looby is back online.

      • I have a niece who sneaks into her mother’s room and finds her hidden laptop and then sneaks out and hides in a closet to chat and do youtube shit, she been caught at 3 or 4 in the morning, the kid’s 10, i have the same rule for the boyos, the shit gets put away at night and stays there until a certain time the next day, the new punishment is taking the electronic crack away, what good is grounding a kid if they have their cell phone/computer? … and that jammer is brilliant, i might look into getting one just cuz i’m bastard like that.

        and i saw our English bard is back!

      • He’s back but no new content yet. Isn’t it a shame nobody knows about him? Best stuff around.

        Jamming is so much fun that they HAD to make it illegal.

        Take a look at this. Talk about timely!

      • All the best ones go unnoticed… (see how i slipped in a bit of narcissism there.)

  19. I didn’t even know such a device existed, let alone that it was illegal. There should be a super-hero clause that exempts people from prosecution if they are using their powers for good, as you clearly were.

    Whenever I take a call in a public place, which is rare, I look guiltily around with a sheepish expression, keep my voice low, do my urgent business if necessary and then hiss “I can’t talk now – I’m in the (_______)!” Why, oh why, am I missing the gene that ensures I think my shiz is MUCH more important than everybody else’s? It’s terribly inconvenient.

    • Oh, it exists, alright. And in a much more powerful form that the one I had. The CIA has cell phone jammers that can cover city blocks. It’s anti-technology and it’s awesome. It killed me to stop using it but can you imagine my daughters telling their teachers why daddy is in jail for a year?

      Sadly, you have the courtesy gene. Everyone else is missing a sensitivity chip. Where will it all end?

  20. I’ve wanted to get one of these devices for ages, and your excellent post there has made me decide to search for dodgy Chinese electronics manufacturers.

    I especially don’t like it on trains — which I use a lot. A train carriage is a collective space. It’s not reasonable for one person to dominate the space.

  21. I love it. Would really have a ball where I live with something like that. All the iPhone Lemmings on hold – what would they do?

  22. Oh my gosh I hate when people are chatting loudly on their phones on the train, or playing loud games (why can’t they use headphones if they want to play games at least?).

    On some trains over here, not underground/subway trains, but regular trains, they have a quiet carriage, where you’re not not meant to talk on the phone, and you’re meant to keep general talking down to a minimum too. Do they have those over there at all? I always pick that carriage if I’m on one of those trains (which isn’t very often). It doesn’t completely stop it, like sometimes you’ll get some tool who will chat on their phone and then finish off with “Anyway, I’d better go because I’m in the quiet carriage where we’re not meant to talk on our phones”, UGH! But at least if we are in that carriage then we can feel justified in glaring at the person talking and looking pointedly at the signs that are up telling people not to use their phones!

    Don’t get me wrong here, I’m a big mobile phone addict too, but not in a way that affects other people. I don’t really like talking on the phone anyway, but I use my phone all the time for messaging and the internet.

    • I hate it, too. That’s why I declared war. I tried to soft-peddle it but nobody was buying. I got tired of the confrontations so I went underground. I think quiet cars are a SPLENDID idea. Every train should have at least one. It’s be stuffed with crabby codgers like me but no matter. They’re needed.

      i’m addicted, too. I hate it. It’s tough when you realize it. It’s better to be a happy idiot and yammer into a phone without any guilt or remorse or awareness of what you’re doing. My phone anesthetizes me while on my killer commute.

  23. A fantastic post! I would love to do that – I was living vicariously through you for sure. I know a uni teacher who uses one during tests even after she’s had her students turn in their phones – some people carry two or three. No flack yet and she’s been using it for about three years now. I think that many people are addicted to them – it’s not unusual to see an entire family glued to their separate devices while eating in a restaurant “together.”

    • That’s fascinating! Do the parents and faculty know she’s using a mobile jammer? No flack because she hasn’t been caught? I’m pretty sure nobody would object. I obviously wouldn’t! Cell phones are a bon fide addiction. They’re having an adverse impact on society. I’d like to uninvent them.

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