Photo by Maria Dal Pan

How to Use a Phone in a Pandemic

Maria Dal Pan


I was snuggled alone on my couch debating whether or not to get up and make dinner when a text message appeared on my phone:

“Hi there, how’s it going?”

Seemed pretty normal. The only problem was I did not know who sent it. I checked the phone number. Despite the 646 area code (New York City, where many of my friends live), I did not recognize it at all.

This happened to me once before. In this strange year of multiple global crises, job loss and heartbreak, it hadn’t been unusual for someone to unexpectedly reach out to say hello. In fact, several months ago a dear friend and colleague (with a 646 area code) did exactly that. And because I never saved his work number on my personal mobile, embarrassingly, I had to ask who was being so kind. Assuming something like that was happening again, I responded.

“I’m so sorry — my contacts aren’t synching properly on my phone… you’ll have to tell me who you are,” I replied. I added a :) for extra kindness.

That’s when things got weird. I have a Western US phone number, so when people call or text from the East Coast where I live, it usually does end up being someone I actually know, whether it’s a friend, an appointment confirmation or some other professional connection. I expected the next message to read something like, “Maria! It’s me [name]… it’s been a long time!” etc.

Instead, I got:

“No worries! This is Neil. I believe we met a while ago. I left for London right after and just managed to get back to the States. Thought I’d say hello and reconnect.”

And then:

“Does that ring a bell?”

No. I know exactly two Neils in my life, neither of whom fit this description. It smelled of a scam, but I was curious. If I pressed him, what would he say? Would he try to get my personal information or ask me to wire funds? I decided to reply.

“No… sorry. Remind me how we met?”

He wrote back.

“Oh well, I don’t blame you. It’s been a while. What I recall is that we met at the bar at the nomad hotel? You were celebrating a friends birthday then. We met at the bar while refilling drinks and you commented on my drink. We started talking and…



Maria Dal Pan

Writer, editor, collaborator and expert on visual language. Interested in working together? Find me at