Friday, January 23, 2009

Leave A Message After The Tone

The world of telecommunication has come a long way, even in my short lifetime. My first memories involve my Grandma's party line. It was the mid-eighties, but this archaic technology made my sister and me feel like Laura Ingalls Wilder. We'd pick up the phone to hear Mrs. Verdoodledonk (actually Verdoold Donk - crazy Dutch people!) chatting to a friend, like sleuths who might uncover a mystery. As I got older, my sister's phone habits were my main concern. I'd stealthily listen-in to her calls, less strategic than I thought, her voice peeling into a shriek from her bedroom. I'd quietly hang up and return to my Lego, as if nothing had happened. Her best friend, Leah, had one of those transparent phones that lit up when a call came in. Every component, each capacitor and wire, visible through the shiny shell. I was so jealous of that phone.

Times have certainly changed where phones are concerned. There was a time I'd leave the house and miss every call. Every invitation to appear on Oprah, every grateful call from Judith Light for my continued support. But this lack of contact didn't seem to bother me or anyone else. A mere 15 years ago we could all manage days and days without an ounce of correspondence of any kind. Now, of course, we can't go 15 minutes without some sort of exchange, an email being pushed or fetched.

We weren't even a Call Waiting household. I never knew the sweet pleasure of smugly telling a 2nd-tier friend: "Hold on, I've got a beep." My parents didn't have an answering machine until the year 2000. And it was just that, a machine. Garbled outgoing messages and a deafening beep! Somehow they've managed without Call Answer.

But I'm not really big into the phone. Once in a while my sister and I can have a doozy of a chat, logging a solid hour while her boys are sleeping. Mainly I use my phone to call Jeff when we're at the grocery store, I in the produce department, he wandering off towards non-perishable canned food items. "Where are you?" I'll ask, "Do we need carrots?"

A few weeks ago I got an iPhone. Nowadays phones can't be just that, they need to take photos, slot our appointments into tidy little calendars, direct us anywhere with their built-in GPS. Where would we be without these gadgets? What if I couldn't play Yahtzee! whenever and wherever I happen to be? I'm not being sarcastic. It is absolutely the best purchase I've made in recent memory. Intuitive and thoughtful, sometimes I think it might actually have a brain or a heart. As you tap on its tiny keyboard it guesses your words, but in a nice way. Not like Microsoft Word, all assumptions and distasteful formatting. And it gets a little warm after several rounds of Pacman.

* * *

One of my greatest memories is of crouching in the hallway listening to my Mom have her bi-monthly catch-up with a girlfriend. Moms are always different while reminiscing. An unfamiliar lightness to her voice, I secretly wished she could always sound so free and easy. I wished she could work less, instead, perhaps, spend a weekday afternoon huddled around a bistro table with her girls, like the cast of Designing Women. My Dad left alone to watch Murder, She Wrote, the kitchen dimly lit, she would laugh and then her voice would drop to a whisper, I'd crane my neck, straining to hear, perhaps I'd bravely peek around the corner to see her toss her hair and take a long draw from her cigarette, gently clinking her spoon against the Corelleware mug. She was unabashedly herself in these moments. I wonder if she knew I was eavesdropping, not really listening - certainly not understanding - only following the carefree lilt in her voice.


  1. Ah, listening in on a party line...that was one of our childhood faves!
    I recall sitting in the bath when I was 6 or 7 and hearing my dad talking on the wall mounted phone which was just on the other side of the door. As he hung up he whispered 'I love you too'...but his wife (my now ex-step-mum) was in the living room watching Dallas!
    Imagine if the cordless telephone was present in our house at the time, I would have missed out on witnessing such heartwarming infidelity!

  2. !!
    Did you ever find out who it was?!

  3. Amen. I just purchased an iPhone as well...couldn't be happier!

  4. father left that wife and married his long-time love...who is, to this day, my step mother.
    and that, as Paul Harvey would say, is the rest of the story.

  5. oh i LOVE my iPhone and agree with you totally - one of the best purchases i've made in a long time.

    do you have the shazam application? best application! it's free and you seem to be a music lover - you MUST download it.

    i have pacman too :)

  6. Oh, how I wanted that translucent phone. And while I didn't have that I DID have call-waiting! But a party line?! Those existed in your lifetime? I don't even quite know that I fully understand how they work.

    Overall structure of this is very much how I (many people?) think, right? Something new (getting the iPhone) takes you on a walk down memory lane. Almost a way to be sure you really do appreciate it as much as you should. And I love the added bit about your mom at the end.