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for March 14, 2005

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On Telephones...
By TeeCee

On telephones... One skill of mine that drives other people crazy is the ability to walk by a ringing telephone. Even more maddening, I developed this lack of curiosity before voice mail or answering machines became common - back when Lee Iacocca owned one but Bill Gates and Martha Stewart were still saving up for them. Part of my antipathy for telephones is probably because rarely do good things happen when I do answer them.
One night in college I was stuck late at work and missed the dinner hours in the cafeteria by five minutes, arriving to find the cafeteria dark and locked up. They never opened on time, but were masters at closing on time. I should explain that I attended a small college with one cafeteria, no student union and no restaurants in walking distance - and I didn't own a car. After checking around for my friends with cars and not finding any of them, I returned to my room to vent to my roommate as she was getting ready to leave for a date. When she left I climbed in bed, mentally writing an angry note to my boss for keeping me late. The letter would never be sent, of course, because I was my own boss at that time. Anyway at some point I fell asleep. That would have been the end of a rather sad and boring story except that I woke the next morning to find my roommate yelling at me.
Why did you do that to my brother?
What? Your brother?
Last night. You were so rude.
He finally worked up the nerve to ask you out, borrowed a car then called and...
Hey, I had a dream kind of like that. Ohh...
From what I could piece together, after my roommate left she ran into her brother and told him my sad dinner-less tale of woe. He didn't own a car either but called around until he found one to borrow. Then, steeling up his nerve and hoping to play my hero, he called me to offer a ride somewhere for dinner. The problem is that his call came while I was in the early stages of deep sleep. Somehow I managed to get up to answer the phone and master the basic power of speech, but few of my other faculties. This is how I remember it:
Blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah.
Who is this?
Blah who?
Blah Blah.
What do you want?
Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah...
Stop. You don't make any sense.
Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah...
I can hear you speaking words but the problem is that the words don't make any sense.
Blah... blah...BLAH... blah...
If you're not making any sense then it's not going to help to repeat them really slowly. Is this important?
Blah blah blah blah...
Forget it. If this is not important then stop bothering me. If it is important then you'll just have to call back tomorrow.
... And I hung up. Both my roommate and her brother were furious at me for weeks, but I just used this to prove my contention that nothing ever good comes of answering telephones.
So years later when cell phones supplanted oxygen as man's most basic need, I figured I was probably going to be the last person on earth to get one. But then last spring I had a job that required me to commute nearly 60 miles each way. There was a nice 4-lane highway between the towns with a speed limit of 70 so it didn't seem like a bad drive. Then one day I was driving along and pulled into the left lane to pass three large trucks on the right. Just as I got into the left lane a dark blue Honda screeched up behind me and the driver started yelling and flipping various fingers and tailgating and the whole pantomime suggesting that he wished me to get me out of his way. I was already doing 80 and hadn't yet passed the three trucks so I was a bit baffled as to what exactly he wanted me to do. I attempted to point out that my only remaining option of driving under the semis in the right lane would have been a more major delay on his trip than his simply slowing down a bit, but that was really hard to pantomime using only the back of my head. Eventually I was finally able to change lanes in a way that wouldn't get me on the evening news and did so eagerly. As he passed he looked backward to show me his favorite finger and purple face one more time. I responded the only way I could - I laughed.
You know how people say "Someday we'll laugh about this?" I often get in trouble because I don't have much of a delay. Sometimes my "someday" is near-instantaneous and well before others are ready to laugh. In one case involving my husband and a bag of popcorn my "someday" arrived during the incident and 10 years before his "someday" finally arrived. Anyway that guy finally got on his way - to tailgate the next car in the left lane. As this was going on, all I could think was that if only going 10 miles over the speed limit for 5 minutes was really the worst thing that happened to that guy today he must spend hours on his knees thanking God for his wonderful life. But besides spending the next several nights mentally writing angry letters about Mr. Blue Honda to send to - whom? - the experience had a second effect by suggesting that I find another way to work.
Through some exploring I was able to find a back route. It added about a half hour each way to my trip but made up for the speed in other ways. For one, this route had FIVE school zones giving me five opportunities to try and slow the car down to 15 without stalling it. Second, the route featured several small towns and one of the distinguishing features of these towns is that the stop signs were all shot up. I tried to imagine why and thought perhaps the stop signs were always running off trying to make time with the yield signs and hammering them with BBs was the only way to keep them in place. Or perhaps it was some sort of statement against authority - stop signs are a bit abrupt and bossy and disregard all rules of political correctness. Later I met a coworker from one of these towns and asked him about it. He explained that shooting up stop signs was traditional before going muddin' and quickly added that small towns are really boring. I didn't want to look too stupid so I waited a few weeks before asking for a description of muddin'. I got a description, but still don't really know.
A third feature of this route was that it was curvy, had sheer drop-offs on either side at any point not in a school zone and went uphill both ways. After driving it the first time I had to call my father and apologize to him. While I still don't know if I accept that he had a 5-mile paper route to do at 3 a.m. when he was 4 and I still don't understand why he had it do it barefoot in 6 feet of snow, I now admit it is possible that he had to go uphill both ways. But because of this third feature of the route suddenly a cell phone seemed like a less-bad idea. I headed to the cell phone store and managed to look completely ignorant while the clerk asked me what I needed it to do and asked me impossible questions like how many minutes I wanted. I said that unless it could wash dishes, it didn't have to do anything except dial 911 and the number of minutes depended on how many questions the 911 operator asked. He laughed and said, "They all say that at first but in three months you'll be standing in an aisle at the grocery store asking someone at home if they want Fruity or Cocoa Pebbles." I glared at him but bought one anyway.
And cell phone and I lived in relative peace for the rest of that spring once I was finally able to find a way to make it ring without sounding like it's about to blow up or auditioning to become a DJ at a disco club. But soon after that my husband needed a cell phone for his new job so he has it now. Mostly I miss the solitaire - I'm really glad they don't charge by the minute for that. It's probably for the best that I gave it away anyhow - I'm still expecting that my roommate's brother might call back...


©2005 TeeCee

All material ©2001-2014 Sean Carolan, except as noted.


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