I started my long-term relationship with the telephone back in elementary school. Things got serious in fifth grade when I went steady with Vicky Thompson — my very first girlfriend. I don’t remember how long she wore my ID bracelet. Outside of school, I may have seen her twice, at most. The lion’s share of our tender love story played out over the phone in nightly, hours-long calls.
My family kept the phone lines hot. Mom touched base with her sisters, sisters-in-law, high school classmates, and others via the wall-mounted phone in the kitchen every morning while she drank her coffee. After she’d cleaned up around the house, decided what to cook for dinner, and ironed as she watched her soap operas, she’d spend another hour or two on the phone before Dad got home from work. Then he’d return calls to folks looking for a tile setter for an hour or so.
Nights were mine. The beige telephone was hardwired to a wall jack in the hall. For privacy, I’d take it into my bedroom … sort of. The short cord from the wall meant the base stayed in the hall with the curly cord running under my closed bedroom door to the handset with a rotary dial. At least I didn’t have to open the door to make another call.
No telling how many hours I spent on my bedroom floor with my head up against the door, talking on the phone to whoever happened to be wearing a piece of my jewelry. With the cord stretched out as far as it would go, any sudden opening of the door posed a serious concussion risk. Today I’d have to wear a helmet.
We didn’t have call-waiting. Once in a while, an operator would cut in, saying she had an emergency call and I needed to hang up. Most the time, the emergency was an aunt wanting to talk to Mom. By the time my sister needed telephone time, I was driving, and had better things to do than lay on my bedroom floor bumping my head against the door.
My love affair with the telephone intensified when I moved out and got one of my very own. Now friends could call any time, day or night. And they did, drunk, after bars closed in three different time zones. Local calls were free, but long distance calls came with various per minute charges, depending on location and time of day. Good thing overnight rates were cheaper.
My telephone habit got real expensive when the love of my life moved 125 miles away. We spent hours and hours on the phone. Long distance calls within the state were a lot more expensive than calls to other states, and of course, we still lived in the same state. Some phone bills were more than my paycheck. We were really in love. Okay, I was 22 and he was a total jerk. Whatever.
Over the next fifteen or twenty years, the frequency of my calls to friends diminished. Weeks between calls turned into months. People get busy, and next thing you know, two or three years had passed without a call, or maybe even ten or fifteen years. I’m still in touch with a lot of my old phone pals, but with many, the contact is via Facebook and email rather than one-on-one conversations.
After moving to Athens sixteen years ago, I got a cellphone, and learned fast that using the damn thing was prohibitively expensive — especially if I was roaming. Calls I did make were often dropped, or cut in and out so much talking was a challenge. Though I carried my cellphone with me all the time, it never rang, and was used rarely for outgoing calls. If I really wanted to talk to someone, I used my landline.
Long after others had given them up, I kept my landline and paid for a plan with unlimited long distance. The “free” long distance made working from home easier. My usage dropped after Aunt Toodles passed away, declining more when Dad died back in July. Robo-calls from politicians who’d never get my vote and solicitations from dubious entities outnumbered personal calls. Last fall I finally pulled the plug.
The immediate difference was how much darker it was at night without the glow from blue lights on three cordless phones spread around the house. For a few weeks, I checked the ledge where the phone always stood for a flashing light indicating a message waiting. No more unwanted calls.
My iPhone is vastly superior to any cellphone I’ve had before. I pay for a fixed number of minutes every month — a generous allowance I’ve never come close to using up. Roaming charges are no longer an issue — at least for me. I thought they’d gone the way of the dinosaur, but hear they still apply in some cases. Breaking up is rare, and I can’t remember the last time I had a dropped call.
The landline gave me a number rather than my cellphone number to provide to doctors, companies I do business with, and other entities. The calls I used to get at home come to me wherever I happen to be. Back in January I had to provide a telephone number when I got a business license so I could sell my books at fairs and by mail. Now I get spam calls for business services.
I’ve come dangerously close to using up my minutes a few times, too. The first time was after a conference call I called into from home. Bad idea, which is a bitch because I took these calls from home a lot when I had the landline. I blame my mother for the rest, and have had to explain to her I only get so many minutes per month. She’s now has an allowance of thirty minutes per call.
Bless her heart. I love Mom and know I’m fortunate she’s still in my life. I call her every few days, and she’s always among the first to know about anything important in my life. But if a tree falling in Atlanta 70 miles away makes it to the news she watches, she calls to make sure it didn’t hit my house. Should I fail to answer, she assumes I’m laying beneath the trunk, and keeps calling every few minutes until I answer.
She keeps up with my medical appointments better than I do, calling by noon to see how things went — no matter what time my appointment actually was. Drives me crazy. She just needs to know everything is okay so she can worry about something else. As you can imagine, she’s very busy.
The allowance comes in handy. After about fifteen minutes — considering I just talked to her a day or two earlier and she rarely leaves her apartment — Mom really doesn’t have much to say. So she tells me about medical, family, and relationship issues of people she knows who I’m unlikely to ever meet. I let her go on for a while, checking the timer on my iPhone every now and then to see how close she is to spending her allowance. As 30 minutes nears, I start warning her I’m running out of minutes.
I could pay for more minutes. But I won’t. Thirty minutes is long enough — and it’s not like I limit the number of calls.
My love affair with the phone is over. I’ve moved on — to apps on my iPhone, and I resent having them interrupted by a damn phone call. If you want to talk to me, shoot me a text or email message and I’ll get back with you. I promise.