A couple of weeks ago, at a dinner, I sat next to a very nice man. He told me about how he had been considering getting rid of the phone at his house — I know, I know. I’m supposed to call it a land line — and relying only on his cell. Why not? He rarely got calls at home, anyway.
But it was odd, he said, how reluctant he was to stop phone service to his home. So far, when it had come down to it, he just couldn’t.
I thought about our own land line, which is currently gathering dust, except for occasional calls from people I don’t want to talk to. Economically, it would make sense to get rid of it. Emotionally, I’m not sure I can. Jeez, who would have thought I’d ever get emotional about a phone?
Maybe this explains it. When my boyfriend (now husband) and I first lived together one summer, we shared an old house with several other people we went to college with. Hippies, kind of. There was one couple who had some kind of John and Yoko fixation and didn’t wear clothes inside the house. “It makes people so nervous to see us naked!” the woman trilled. “Isn’t that funny?”
One guy, from Southern Florida, once came into our bedroom tripping on LSD and brandishing a butcher knife. Another guy, named Randy, kept stealing my milk and writing me notes about how sorry he was. Nudity, drugs, weapons, irresponsibility — that just about summed up the sixties, as far as I was concerned. I never got into it. I wasn’t the commune type. I’m still waiting for Randy to pay me for my milk.
Since I was working as a temporary secretary, we needed a phone at the house. My boyfriend called the local phone company, a notoriously inept business of falling telephone wires, power outages, and bad or no service. He ordered a phone for the house. We waited. It didn’t come.
He called back. The woman at the other end of the line sighed when he told her we were waiting for a phone. “We can’t install the phone,” she explained, “because your address doesn’t exist.”
I was hanging around, close by the phone booth, picking up one side of the conversation that got progressively louder and more heated. I could hear: “What do you mean our address doesn’t exist?” and “No wonder you’re considered the worst phone company on the face of the earth” and “Send our deposit back!”
But where should she send the deposit? the woman asked.
“To our non-existent address!” my boyfriend screamed.
June passed. My boyfriend and I moved to a nearby city and rented an apartment from a couple who were leaving town. The next day we showed up, just as they were leaving. We looked around, dumbstruck. Where was all the furniture?
“Oh, I worried about that,” the man said. “I thought you might have thought the apartment was furnished.”
We nodded. And spent the rest of the summer sprawled on the green wall-to-wall carpeting. But hey, at least no strange people wandered around naked or threatened us with a knife or stole my milk. And, when we ordered a phone, it showed up.
Maybe that’s it. Maybe I don’t want to go back to the days we lived at a non-existent address. Maybe I need a land line for legitimacy. I don’t want to have to go through the sixties all over again.
(Copyright 2009 by Ruth Pennebaker)