Years ago, our phone died. It was a catastrophe.
Well, it wasn’t dead, exactly — it just didn’t ring. So, we could make calls, but we couldn’t receive them. The phone stayed stubbornly, maddeningly silent even when calls came in.
Important calls! Critical calls! Life-changing, career-altering calls! Our lives were being ruined!
The telephone repair guy couldn’t show up for another couple of days, and it was driving us crazy. My husband took to yanking the phone off the hook and answering it at random, ring-free times. Just in case.
“Hello!” he kept saying. “Hello!?”
Nobody was ever there, of course. He was speaking into some kind of existential void. It was enough to make nihilists out of both of us.
This had to have been before we got an answering machine. Yes! We were pioneers. We lived — or tried to — in the grim and hardscrabble days before answering machines and voice mail and everything that makes life worth living. Even when the phone rang correctly, you were always sure you’d just missed a very important phone call that would never come again. If only you’d been there earlier!
Eventually, our phone got fixed and our lives were salvaged. The phone rang or it didn’t ring, but at least it worked.
I think about this brouhaha in our earlier lives because everything has changed so completely. We now hate what we’ve learned to call our land line. It rings and we glare at it.
These days, I would never, ever answer said land line without first checking the caller i.d. The few times the phone rings, it’s almost always some anonymous number from another zip code, from one charity or another. If it’s important, we figure, the caller will leave a voice mail. It’s almost never important.
So — why keep a land line? We both have cell phones and email addresses that are used more frequently and are easily accessible. We don’t really need our land line. I know that — but I can’t quite cut the cord, even if the damned thing is cordless.
I guess it’s some ridiculous clinging to the past on my part (as my husband very unhelpfully likes to point out). Once, I would have broken my neck to get to a ringing phone; once, its failure to ring was a disaster; once, this device was our lifeline.
Sure, the “once” I’m talking about was 30 years ago — but that’s not exactly a century, is it? And 30 years isn’t as long as it used to be, I am discovering.
Thirty years ago. That’s about the same time my husband and I used to talk about our tiny stock portfolio. At least we had the AT&T stock from his grandmother, my husband used to say. We’d never sell it, of course. AT&T was one of those timeless investments.
It was also around the time when my husband worked one summer as a postman. It was only a summer job during college and he didn’t want to spend his life delivering mail — but, hey. Wasn’t it nice to know the postal service would always be there if everything else failed?
The land line rings again and again this morning. An anonymous call, then another call and a voice mail. It’s from my dentist’s office, where I’m supposed to show up tomorrow.
I mark down the appointment and think about attrition and the passage of time. Maybe the three of us — me, my teeth, and my land line — should just stick together. At the rate we’re all becoming obsolete, the existential void must be getting pretty crowded these days.
(Copyright 2013 by Ruth Pennebaker)
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