Number please -- 12/12/06

Doug quoted a column he had read in the Denver Post (titled "BEFORE CELL PHONES AND RINGTONES" written by a woman named Kiesa Kay. She wrote
I miss my IBM Selectric typewriter and my 33 RPM albums.

I miss having a corner drugstore owned by a real person instead of a corporation....

Most of all, though, I miss the multi-family party line there, in Gardener, Kan. When I was a kid, my family was one of three or more to share a single telephone line.

This led Doug to comment "I remember the good parts of years ago, and note that it seems that everything of today is designed to drive a person insane in minutes." Heh! Yeah, sometimes it does seem like that, doesn't it?

I grew up with a black wall-mounted telephone. You didn't have to crank it -- I only know cranked telephones from watching old movies (I've never had to crank a phone, honest.) but it was a non-dial telephone. Our telephone was in the room we called the den. My mother had a writing desk and chair in there and there was a small sofa (and the room also had a dumbwaiter to the basement -- it didn't work -- we used it as a storage closet -- but it always fascinated me and I would imagine turning it into a secret elevator) and it was also the main entrance to the house.

If you picked up the receiver and held it to your ears you would hear an operator's voice saying "Number please."

And you would tell her the number and she would make the connection and you could hear the ringing sound... and if, after a minute or so, the other party had not yet picked up, the operator would come back on and ask you if you wanted to continue ringing or if you would rather try again later.

Imagine that. These days it is almost impossible to reach any business that actually has a real human being answering their telephones -- they all want you to navigate your way through a long and complex (and usually poorly designed) menu ("Please listen carefully to the entire menu; some options may have changed.") In those days every phone call required actual human intervention just to make the call.

Oh, okay, so not every phone call -- in the big cities people had dial service, no operator required. I would see people use dial phones in movies and on television (well, once we got a television, that is -- I was in third grade when that happened). I remember once having run an errand for my mother, going to a store to get something -- it wasn't our usual neighborhood grocery [Hey Charlie, it was on East Strand, somewhere around Gill or Sycamore, but I can't remember the store. Any ideas?] and there was a question about something that I was supposed to get so the store owner gestured towards the telephone that sat on his counter and suggested that I call home and check with my mother. I told him that was okay, that she would probably be out in the backyard hanging up clothes and I would run back home and check. That wasn't true. The problem was that he had a desk type phone (not a wall phone like we had and like my friend's parents had) and that desk phone looked just like those phones they used on television where you had to put your finger in a round thing and turn it and I didn't know how you did that and was not going to make a fool of myself trying. (Of course it wasn't a dial phone -- dial service was years away from reaching our town.)

Eventually we did get dial service -- I was in high school at the time -- and we had to go from a four digit number (actually, we were on a party line and so we had four digits plus a letter) to two letters plus five numbers and the letters were the first two letters of a word. The Kingston area was assigned FE8 (or FEderal 8) plus four more numbers. Hmmm, and I must admit that I cannot remember my phone number from those days. (Oh, I remember the number when I was a kid -- 4922M -- my parents insisted that we learn our phone number at as young an age as possible, but I can't remember our FE8 number.) It was impressive that we had "modern" phone numbers now (and along with the dial service came expanded capacity so we were finally able to switch from a party line to a private line) -- it was just like on commercials on the New York television stations ("And in New Jersey the number to call is BIgalow6-5000").but it was only a few years later that the phone company dropped the exchange names and went to all numeric (so FE8 became 338 -- no change in the actual dialing, but a big change in how you remembered them -- and then they added three digit area codes and now you had ten digit numbers).

My final undergraduate year of college (well, actually, I completed my undergraduate degree in the fall quarter and was a graduate student in the winter and spring quarters) I rented a house with two friends on a country road in a rural area (the VW picture on my index page was taken in the front yard of that house) and, being in a rural area, we could not get a private line, we had a party line (a dial phone, but a party line) -- the phone ring would tell you if the call was for you (for example, a pattern of three rings: ring-ring-ring     ring-ring ring     ring-ring ring, etc.) and some of these country farm ladies must have started their social chit-chat calls while waiting for their husbands to come back to the house for breakfast after milking) because we would hear the ring patterns that were not for us early in the morning (but somewhat muted because our phone was in the kitchen -- yes, wall-mounted). One of my housemates got married and kept renting the house while he finished college. His wife was pregnant and when she went went into labor and he took her to the hospital and she gave birth (good lord, that baby celebrated her 40th birthday this year!) and various friends and relatives from the New York City metro area would call, one of the neighbors who was on the same party line would always pick up and relay the latest information about baby girl, weight, length, mother and baby doing well, etc. -- just country helpfulness -- but leaving the New Yorkers very confused ("But when I called your house, man, who was that woman who answered the phone?")

Jill and I went to Trinity Rep tonight to see A Christmas Carol. They did a few interesting things but overall I much preferred their production from two or three years ago. Of course for me nothing can ever match A Christmas Carol as put on by the Cider Mill Playhouse in Endicott, NY. Marvelous, charming, enchanting, unforgettable. Ah, and I see that they still do it. As I was typing this I called out to Jill to tell her that, and Jeremy heard me and got all excited about it, trying to figure out if between school and work and final exams and financial considerations, if he could bring Katie (his girlfriend) over to see it and Jill started saying she wanted to go too. (Reality intervened and he decided that it was not possible.) I must admit that (other than the 300+ miles each way) I would love to see their production again.

Blasts from the past -- entries for this date from previous years:

This is my Holidailies entry number twelve!
A brief introduction....
A brief introduction to anyone who wanders in here for the first time from the Holidailies site -- I'm a middle-aged (*cough* okay, 63, but I don't look a day over 62 ) guy who lives in Rhode Island with my wife Nancy (a middle-school math teacher), daughter Gillian ("Jill" -- 24 yr old college student), son Jeremy (21 yr old college student), and Tiger (senior citizen cat). Eldest child Adam lives in New York City with his wife Leah and our grandson Sam. I'm a former programmer/systems analyst who got into doing software training and currently works from home doing quality assurance and editing on course material for both classroom courses and Web-based training courses. I've been writing this online journal since 1996. (If you read some of the archived entries, until a couple of years ago I used fake names for the kids -- "Sean" = Jeremy and "Jennifer" = Gillian)

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