Sunday, March 10, 2013

If The Phone Doesn't Ring, It's Probably Me

From today's Times and News-Star
Do you remember your home phone number when you were a kid?

I just dialed mine, for the first time in years. A mechanical man answered and said in a voice tinny, “The number you have dialed is not a working number. Please check the number you have dialed and dial again.”

Bittersweet. On the one hand, it makes you feel your jersey has been retired, that your number was so sentimentally noteworthy, no one else deserved it.

On the other hand, it was a good number, a number that’s part of the fabric of my youth, a carefree time before I knew how much a transmission cost, or what Congress really was, or that I would have to pass two classes of foreign language before they would let me out of college, even though I hadn’t planned on going anywhere.

Things were simpler then, so simple that my number was only five digits long instead of today’s seven. “9-2240.” Sweet. Look how sleek that baby looks. I don’t know if anybody dials like that today.

(I say “dials,” but I should say “punch.” Old habits die hard.)

The point is, the phone was a happy contraption back then. It was your first steady hookup to the outside world. Sure, a television would talk to you and a record would play for your, just like the radio. But you could talk BACK to a phone.

Talking on the phone was almost like being a grownup. You dad wouldn’t let you drive when you were 6, but he’d hand you the phone – “It’s your grandmother” – and you were operating this piece of equipment that hung from the kitchen wall, just as he was.

Of course, you didn’t operate it for long, not if it was Long Distance.

“Hurry up now, it’s long distance.”

“But daddy you just handed me th…”

“Hurry up! It’s costing money!”

Somewhere along the line – maybe by haunting memories of the Ghost of Long Distance Past – my feelings toward the phone began to shift. Either I turned against the phone, or it turned against me. Not a big phone guy today.

A couple of points for you to ponder:

Have you noticed that when the phone rings now, it’s usually somebody wanting something? Seldom does someone call you and offer to do something for you or give you something. Calls are usually disguised as favors requested. Information needed. Orders given.

Today’s phone scares me.

The other thing is that, on the other end, it could be someone who Likes To Talk. See, I don’t think Alexander Graham Bell meant for it to be this way. If memory serves, the first conversation – Bell to his assistant -- was something like, “Mr. Watson, I need to see you. Who do you have in the Knicks-Celtics game?” That was it, or something similar. True, he asked for something, but it was to the point.

If you get caught on the phone with a Professional Talker – and they are legion – you can call in the dogs and pour water on the fire. Party’s over. The best thing you can do is listen, because without seeing them, you are at the mercy of Oral Pauses, which usually means the other person is just gathering air.

Phone conversation is a test of patience.

Thank goodness, there is a solution. I call it Honoring the Phone Code. I’ll explain next week because unfortunately, right now you’re starting to brea…