“The new phone books are here! The new phone books are here!” – Navis (Steve Martin) in The Jerk
The sound of the rotary dial, tick tick ticking down the numbers. We only had to dial seven digits back then, but with the exchange being “679″, those numbers could still take a while.
The full body hug offered by the springlike snake of the phone cord—avocado in color, Anaconda in length—wrapping around me while I talked on the phone with my grandparents. Winding, unwinding, winding while I told them about my day.
Conversation location: kitchen or bedroom.
Seeing one of my parents drop to their knees when they learned that one of their own parents had died. Tethered, unable to escape with the tears and wails to another room, uncomfortably imprisoned in the kitchen instead.
When we moved out of that house in New York, my fingers barely fit inside the digit holes of the dial.
I knew the phone numbers of all my friends. By heart.
Calls during reasonable hours only, please. Is 9AM too early on a Sunday?
Eventually we upgraded to a push button, with touch tone. Fancy.
Piecing together the latest neighborhood gossip while my mother talked on the phone. You can figure out a lot with only one side of the information. Who has the chicken pox, how many brownies to bring to the picnic, when the school recital starts.
The yells across the house, “There’s a call for you!”, increasing in volume and irritation when one of us did not answer that we were “Coming!” or “I got it upstairs!”
The daily, if not hourly, ring of the telephone, almost tangible as I imagined the hammer striking the bell inside with each festive “Answer me!”
The awkward moments when a boy called for the first time, and I waited patiently for the receiver while the caller had to wade through the imposing voices of my parents who answered.
Telephone books. Yellow Pages. White Pages. Booster seats on the cheap.
Stealth surveillance from a bedroom phone. Careful not to breathe too heavy, now. They might hear you.
Not knowing ahead of time who was on the other end. Exciting, awkward, anxiety-provoking. Happy surprises, uncomfortable letdowns.
Answering each call because there was no machine to pick it up. Wondering who we missed while we were out. Convincing ourselves that maybe that’s when he called. Must have.
Cauliflower ear from talking too long. Warm earpieces when neither person wants to hang up.
Prank phone calls . . . without any trace of who it was, who you were.*
Connections were obvious and often, audible and affirming. The house felt full of people, even though they weren’t really there.
I’m cooking dinner. Let the machine get it.
Damn. Another telemarketer. Let the machine get it.
I don’t want to talk to her right now. Let the machine get it.
Please don’t be home. Please don’t be home. Please don’t . . . “Oh! Hi! You’re home!”
Please don’t be home. Please don’t be home. Please don’t be . . . “Hi! Guess you’re not home. Just wanted to let you know . . .”
Let me just text . . .
PING! Hold on, I need to read this text . . .
Emoji edging out emotion, emoting.
Conversation location: Can you hear me now?
Children choosing the broken cell phone to play with instead of the retro Fisher Price rainbow rotary dial phone. Always.
House phone: Ten digits to be dialed. Push buttons, touch tone. Beep beep beep, beep beep beep, beep beep beep beep.
Cell phone: Swipe (screen unlock), tap (Contacts), tap (name), tap (number).
I don’t have her telephone number . . . let me just email her.
“Mom? What are these yellow books in the driveway for?”
Numbers by heart are down to only parents, in-laws, and husband. If I ended up in jail, hopefully one of them is home.
Plans made (and broken) with texts and emails. No exchange of voices, mood, or inflection. Is she mad that I ditched? Does he really want to go?
School outbreaks of strep and stomach bug announced on Facebook. New baby news texted across the miles. Working with fellow classroom parents via email to finalize the ice cream social—who’s bringing the whipped cream? Check Survey Monkey to confirm.
Access, 24 hours a day.
The phone hasn’t rung in five days. Except for Rachel from Cardmember Services. She always calls. That’s how I know it’s dinner time.
Many connections, but not much connecting. Silent exchanges of information.
So much conversation that my daughter does not hear.
What about you—do you talk on the phone more or less than you did a few years ago? More or less than your parents? Do you feel more or less connected to others in light of the unlimited access we all have these days?
* I have one very fond memory of making prank phone calls. It was with my friend/next door neighbor (A) while we both lived in upstate New York. We were at her house, her parents’ bedroom I think. We thought it was a good idea to get the phone book, and randomly call people to sing “You Are My Sunshine” to brighten up their day. A few were annoyed (to our surprise), but some were happy. I wonder if they would have answered today. I wonder if I would.
Join me next Friday for the final installment of Me + Her, Then + Now when I wrap it up with a post about Hobbies/Pastimes.
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz