Phantom Duck Syndrome

May 17, 2012 § Leave a comment

The Ducks (in the back) and Friends next door - complete with spy shadow

Perched on my porch, listening to distant quacking, my hand quivering on my phone. The neighbors are blaring some mean jazz.  The first day of sunlight in weeks and all I can focus on is my phantom duck syndrome.

The past two weekends I’ve been packed away in basement or theater, making or watching films. The intervening weekdays were spent plowing through all my work to expose time for said dark days.  Now it’s Monday, and I’m reveling in the reversal of relaxation.

I thought I was clever last year when I set my iphone ringtone to ducks.  If I forget to silence it and it goes off, in restaurants or auditoriums or midway through difficult conversations, I imagine that people are only mildly puzzled by the faint sound of ducks.  Somewhere nearby, ducks are just out of sight.  Their voices penetrate the most protected of places.  “Do you hear…quacking?”

Then there are real ducks, and I am unprepared.  Walking through parks, I jump, stutter, and quake.  “I’m sorry, I have to answer my…” and no one is calling.  Who’s that crazy, desperately holding their phone to their ear, hoping someone will be there?  Every drifting quack startles the deep-set part of me that responds to alarm clocks and texting alerts.  We’re trained to respond to it.  And it won’t stop.  And no one is calling.

Ducks moved in next door.  There’s a little turkey enclosure, and I walk past every time I leave my house, imitating their shrills squawking (to the joy of neighbors).  They run to the fence and we talk.  I have no idea what I say, but they’re into it, if mildly confused.  The chickens quietly do their own thing and ignore us.  Walking past a few months ago, I gave a shriek of surprise.  Everyone stopped and looked at me.

“Was that my phone?”

What’s-wrong-with-her looks were exchanged. There was silence. I excavated my bag in panic. No calls. The turkeys watched, puzzled.

“Were those…ducks?”

Someone sighed, half-laughing, and pointed.  Out from behind the turkeys clomped a mess of loud, dumbfounded birds.  Ducks.  And they didn’t know what was going on, but they wanted to be a part of it.  Quaaack quack quarguh quriiack quark quaaaaack!

I made for the opposite street, thoroughly embarrassed.

Now, when I visit the turkeys, I tread quietly.  Sometimes the ducks linger toward the back.  They can’t be bothered to look up.  Other times, they raise a ruckus.  As the turkeys waddle to the chickenwire and chat, the ducks stand firm in the middle, shouting for no particular reason.  Perhaps I am unfair on ducks.  I love encountering them in ponds and streams and lawns (when they are in adorable pairs, searching for places to raise ducklings).  But these are some insolent fowl.

When the ringing is real, I answer joyfully.  It’s a cheerful thing to hear ducks calling you!  I cry “Hey Ducks!” into the phone.  I imagine that ducks are conveying my messages through to another person, and I want to be polite.  It’s little things like this that sew extra happiness into the corners of life.

There has been a great deal written on phantom phone syndrome.  It’s a well-documented phenomenon that we constantly hear our phone go off when it doesn’t.  We feel vibrations, invent pings.  The world is more aggressive, somehow, when we feel like it sends us false information – information we invent ourselves.  We want our phone to ring.  Sometimes we fear it.  It holds power over us.  We hear it no matter where we are, no matter where we leave our communicators.  We can break them.  But they have broken us first, and we will hear ringing from their shattered frames.

So I hear ducks.  I hear ducks where there are no ducks, and I hunt behind bushes, trying to prove that I’m not inventing them.  Sometimes they are real ducks.  Sometimes my phone is ringing.  And often…there’s nothing there at all.  The phantom ducks follow me everywhere. My phone-call fears and hopes, ridiculed by distant, ghostly quacking.

I have phantom duck syndrome.


Tip: Read this post out loud, replacing the word ‘ducks’ with ‘dicks’

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