When a cell phone goes through the washer

Desk phone rings. Wife on the line.

Her: “Don’t know how it happened, but the cell phone went through the washing machine.”

Me, sounding criminally dumb: “Is it working?”

Her: “Uh, no. It went through the washing machine.” (Only later did I think of the snappy comeback: “And what exactly do you mean by you don’t know how it happened? The thing didn’t up and leap into the washer, now did it?”)

Her next gambit is to rummage around for a way to pin the rap on me. Neither of us has much use for a cell phone, so we share one, a four-year-old, plain-Jane Nokia 3595. I hadn’t used it in quite some time. I didn’t load the washing machine. Ipso facto … It’s a half-hearted try on her part, which she quickly abandons in favor of a recovery effort.

Her: “Do you have anyone there who might know whether it will dry out or not?”

Me: “You mean like a Network World Underwater Gadget Guy?” (No, I’m not quick enough to have said that, but it was the gist of this part of the conversation and I wasn’t taking notes, so please work with me.)

Her: “Don’t be a …”

Me: “I’ll ask around.” Tim’s office is next door to mine, so I ask Tim.

Me: “Tim, someone — I don’t want to say who — put our cell phone through the washing machine. Any chance it’ll dry out?”

Tim: “Tell Julie that, yes, it’ll dry out.”

Me: “And work again?”

Tim: “I think so. I’ve heard of it happening. Who was it? Oh, yeah, Neal. Someone in Neal’s family did the same thing and I’m pretty sure the phone worked again.”

Never having been party to a cell-phone washing previously, at this point I’m somewhat startled to learn that not only has it happened before but it’s happened to a colleague right here in the office. Since then I’ve learned that this kind of goof is actually quite common: A Google search for “phone in the washer” turns up 9,000 pages of such soggy tales. I call home.

Me: “Hold the phone, Jules, don’t toss it; Tim says it’ll dry out.”

Her: “I wasn’t going to throw it out. It’s in the junk drawer … drying, I hope.”

Next 10 minutes we talk about how this is probably for the best since it was an old phone and we really should have two anyway and won’t this be a good story to tell to the kids when they get older. Our assumption: No matter what Tim says, that dripping phone in the junk drawer is most likely a hunk of junk.

But to satisfy my now raging curiosity, I walk across the newsroom to Neal’s office.

Me: “Neal, Tim says you know something about cell phones going through washing machines.”

Neal: “Yes, it happened to Alex’s phone.” Alex being Neal’s son, a college student. An Ivy Leaguer, no less.

Me: “Did it dry out?”

Neal: “Yes, but …”

Me: “Work again?”

Neal: “Not exactly.”

Me: “But Tim said it worked again. What happened?”

Neal: “It also went through the dryer.”

Me: “Oh.”

Neal, by the way, readily admits to being “the culprit” in his phone wash-and-dry.

So, you’re undoubtedly asking, what about my phone? It hadn’t been fried in the dryer. Did it live to tell the tale? Happy ending: A few days later it blinked back to life without so much as a gurgle. Works just fine now, thanks.

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