Tuesday, December 31, 2013

On The Telephone

I am not much for talking on the telephone. I used to be but now I find the telephone to be a necessary inconvenience. I used to know phone numbers for everyone by heart. I even knew phone numbers that were no longer in service.

Then one day I realized that all those numbers were taking up a lot of space in my little brain. I decided to un-memorize them all. I was so successful that now I cannot remember numbers at all. Even my home number takes some work to recite. The only number I could not get rid of is the number we had for about four months that we lived in one little town. It was 246J.

I have a cell phone. I feel that they are a wonderful tool. It is good to have a way to communicate in case of an emergency. If you are away from home and have a flat tire for instance. Or if your home phone is not working you have a way to call and find out why. I do not know what the number for this cell phone is.

But I absolutely cringe whenever I see people walking around with their phones stuck to their heads like a security blanket. I do not want to be that connected to anyone.

My first experience with a phone was when I was 5 years old. My mother answered the phone. It was for me so she gave it to me and left the room. The caller was a girl I went to school with. She and her family were having a "carnival" and she was inviting me.

I had to have permission so I went to ask Mom. Before I left the room I replaced the phone in its cradle. When Mom came in of course there was nobody on the other end. No problem... Mom would just call back. Problem... I did not know the little girl's last name.

Somehow my resourceful mother found a way to get me to the carnival. They had little booths, refreshment stands, and even a side show. Each thing cost a penny. I had a grand time.

I lived in Nebraska growing up. The population is small. Party lines were used in most areas because they were cheaper for the phone company to set up. A party line is when at least 2 and up to 8 or 10 phones were on the same line. They had the same phone number. Sometimes they would have a letter or number modifier and sometimes the operator had to connect you to the right phone.

When any phone on the party line rang you would hear your phone ring. Each phone had a distinctive ring of its own. You might get two shorts and a long, or three longs, or a long a short and a long. You had to know your own ring and only answer that one. In one town we were on the same line as the drug store.

If you picked up your phone while another phone on the line was in use you could hear the conversation. It was considered bad etiquette to listen to any of those conversations. It was called rubbernecking or rubbering in. You also had to keep your conversations to a minimum so that tha line was available for others to use.

I went to high school in a fairly large city for the area I lived in. My high school had several offices, each of which had their own phones. However it was far too costly for each office to have its own line. So we had a switchboard. It needed an operator to connect the calls and that was also a huge expense. The solution was to have students (meaning female students because boys should not have to do that type of job) man the switchboard.

Every day instead of going to study hall I reported to the office and the switchboard. It looked just like the ones you see in old movies. There was a big upright board containing all these wires. The wires came in pairs and each pair was the same color. Beneath each wire was a light. There was a phone dial slightly to the right in case an outgoing call was being made. And of course there was my headset so I could hear and speak to the person calling.

When a call came in I took the wire above the lighted light, plugged it in, and answered the phone appropriately and asked how I could direct the call. As soon as I knew where the call needed to go I pulled the other wire of the colored set, plugged it in to the corresponding phone line, and pushed a button that would signal for that office to answer the phone. Then both lights were lit. As soon as the parties had finished their call and disconnected the lights would go out. Then I would unplug both wires and they would recoil into the board waiting for their next turn.

There were so many pairs of wires so that many calls could be in progress at once. It was the latest thing in technology.

Strange things happen to me on the phone. One time I called my mother and my sister answered. She said, "Heeeeeeellloooooo." in a slow lazy way. Playing along I said, "Heeeeelllooooo. " back at her. I said "Whatcha dooooiiinggg?" "Ooooh noooothing muuuuch." Suddenly I realized I was not talking to my sister! I had dialed the wrong number.

Once I called the information operator. As she was looking fo the number I needed she began to tell me what a bad day she was having. I was sympathetic. The call progressed to her telling me about the big fight she had with her boyfriend the night before. She had thrown out his clothes. I was on the phone with her for well over an hour and would you believe it? I did not get the number I needed.

I called to talk to my mother. My sister answered so I was chatting with her. Suddenly I asked her if she was eating Cheerios. She was surprised and said, "How did you know?" I told her I could smell them.

All of my friends would sit and make jokes about the obscene calls they had received. I never got one and I was feeling a bit slighted.

One evening while i was trying to cook supper the phone rang. I said; "Hello." I heard "mmmnedc gtortbnksnfwethn". "I'm sorry I did not catch that. What did you say?" "mdfwkjhgwu9fwpghs;has" "Could you please repeat that?" "sdoghprghsfbdo;ghudgnb;ad" "Please speak a little slower. I cannot understand you." "f,w'fhreu9thrguroguirg"

As it suddenly dawned on me that this was my obscene phone call the caller hung up in frustration. It was obviously his first time too.

It took me a long time to realize that the telephone is mine. If I choose not to answer it I can. With the innovation of voice mail anyone who has something important to say can leave a message if I am busy or just do not feel like talking. I will call back at my convenience. So call me... maybe.

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