Land Lines, Life Lines, Finish Lines

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)

6 comments… add one
  • I don’t know why, but I continue to hang on to my land line, too.  It’s a real waste of money, but I can’t seem to let it go.  I also can’t bear to leave the house without my purse.

  • ruthpennebaker Link

    Betty — If you ask me, leaving your house without your purse is just asking for trouble.

  • Mei Link

    My family still keep our land line, in cases of “no signal” from our cells. It is still pretty reliable and is great for long calls, and no charging is needed in the middle of the conversation when cell battery runs out.

  • I can’t do it either.  It’s weird.  Oh, and I work for Verizon.

  • Cindy A Link

    This is a fascinating observation, Ruth.  Kind of Steven Wrightish.  I can’t give up my land line, either, even though it’s mostly telemarketers who call me on it.

    But, you have to admit — they are DEPENDABLE and you can HEAR on them. Don’t know if it was worth the money, but I did use it once this year to deliver the bad news that someone died.  Didn’t want to lose reception on that call…

  • Winston Link

    Ruth, Just Do It!

    In my town, back in the ’70s, the Phone Company sealed its doors.  No more could you visit the Post Office, mail Aunt Essie a birthday card, then drop by the Phone Company next door, pay your bill— in person— and chat with the gossipy ladies behind the counter.  No more.  Oh, they still wanted my money every month, but not my presence.

    The Phone Company contracted out local collections by setting up agencies within other businesses to collect payments from customers who did not want to mail checks.  Just payments— that’s all they handled.  These agents did not answer questions about charges on those phone statements nor any questions at all.  One had to go home, or elsewhere, and place a call to the official Phone Company to discuss anything relating to service.

    A friend ran an antiques emporium next door to the vinyl & carpeting store which sheltered this “bastard child” of the Phone Company in its back room.  Vexed phone customers began going into my friend’s business— not to shop, mind you— but to borrow his phone to dispute their statements with the Phone Company.  Often with loud voices!  The flies were terrible in summer.  He finally hung a placard on his door— Absolutely NO phone calls permitted! It wasn’t pretty.  I seethed.

    I was still seething in the ’90s, when, lo’ and behold,  the Power Company did the same thing!  They locked the doors to their office and slathered duct tape across the hinges for good measure!  That duct tape was a slap in the face to community friendliness, I thought.  So the Power Company wants my money but no longer desires my face either!  Shocking!

    With renewed gusto, I continued seething into the 21st century.  Perpetual seething leads to excessive drooling.  I kept a rash on my chin.  I considered filing medical suit with the Phone Company. 

    But by now, cell phones had become affordable and more reliable.  Friends raved about them.  I got one.  I liked it.  I could reach into my pocket and call anyone.  Whenever.  Wherever.  I could be sitting right there in the cemetery after a funeral, and phone a friend to meet me at Langtry’s for dinner!  I never used that land-line anymore.  Cobwebs laced its dial.  It was a feat to dust its black countenance without heaving.

    So one day I just did it.  I took the plunge!  I pulled the plug!  I cut Ma Bell’s diabolical umbilical cord.  Take that, Lily Tomlin!

    I never looked back.

    Nowadays, I sit caressing my cell phone, dreaming of the day when windmills will become affordable and reliable.  I’ve already picked out a spot for it by the bougainvillea in the backyard.   It will look lovely there, and perchance, stir a pleasant breeze across the veranda.   Oh, happy will be the day I can finally knock the watt out of that ugly meter on the side of the house.  Revenge is sweet!

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