Sunday, August 22, 2004

My Nemesis, the Telephone

not really an EricafonPhones and I don't get along very well.

Let me amend that a little. There was one phone I really loved.  We got along great, because it was cool and I knew its secret. It was an Ericafon.  It sat in our front hall from the time I was four years old until the house was sold, fifteen years later.  Visitors wouldn't know how to use it until I'd tell them, "The dial's on the bottom.  Use the red button to hang up." Setting the phone down also pressed the red button in the middle of the dial, so just setting it down properly hung it up.  It was neat and sleek and modern in an era when most phones were still plain black ones.

When I got my own place, and telephones became items to be owned rather than leased from Midstate Telephone or New York Telephone, I tried to get an Ericafon. They weren't making them any more.  Ericafons go for $100 or so on eBay now, with the ringer and the dial instead of the buttons that came out later.  So far, John and I have settled for a remake that turned up at the Discovery Store a couple of Christmases ago. It's the wrong color (my family's original one was white), and it's not really a dial on the bottom, but what the heck.  It was a lot less than $100.

For all its wonders, that original Ericafon was not problem-free.  It was tapped.  Even after all these years I don't feel I can talk freely about all this, so let's just say my Mom knew someone who had been married to a Mafia guy and leave it at that.  Mom's recordings of the telltale sounds on the phone lines were one of the many wedges between her and my dad, eventually leading to the divorce.

In college, my main beef with telephones was that the one down the hall from the dorm room sometimes failed to connect me with anyone who could cheer me up after an upsetting post-divorce letter from my mom. I don't really blame the phone for that one. Later I had a phone cord chewed by a puppy, Wafer, until it only vaguely worked when I twisted the wires together.  I eventually had to walk to a nearby house to call for a repair.  The house turned out to be a home for mentally disabled people or something like that.  They were very nice to me there.

phone homeMy modern day problems are mostly about phones that don't work properly, or that make me feel like a technophobe.  In eleven years I've never learned how to use the intercom function on my phone at work.  Why should I, when I can walk into the next room and check with my coworkers in person? It gets me up out of my hermit cave once in a while, and that's a good thing.

The main house phone works okay now, but the ones before it had problems, and I've never really learned to do more than pick up the voicemail and use a few stored numbers.  Also, when US West became Qwest, the service became iffy for a while.  One day the phone repeatedly insisted that I could only call my mom, who lived less than five miles away, by dialing our area code and making a toll call.  I drove over there instead.

And can somebody explain to me why my PCS phone doesn't work at Disneyland? All around me on our last trip there, people were gabbing on their phone--"Yeah, we're in line at the Matterhorn now; we'll meet you at the Haunted Mansion in an hour!"--but my phone was usually "looking for service."  I half expect that at my church, whose adobe walls apparently aren't very PCS-friendly, but Disneyland?  You can't tell me that all those hundreds of other people chatting their way through their vacations were using different services from mine.

unused Sprint phoneI'm on my third PCS clam shell, beam-me-up style phone, and none of them have been reliable. The first two were replaced free (the one pictured is a reconditioned phone I got in exchange for the second one). The third one, the techs told me, was working fine, despite all evidence to the contrary.  They couldn't explain about Disneyland.  I left the Sprint store and went to an egg-oriented restaurant in the same building, whereupon the phone promptly started looking for service again.

It doesn't really matter that much, though.  Only Eva, Samantha and John ever call me on my current phone.  I originally got it so that Mom, her doctors, caregivers and other interested parties could reach me, but Mom's been gone for a while now.  So I use it to call other people, mostly, such as my Dad whenever I get an A for a UoP course.

At home, the house phone mostly rings with political calls, opinion polls and marketing surveys, and with people who want us to refinance our house.  Since the Do Not Call list, it hardly rings at all.  The annoying part is when a doctor's office or church leaves a message on the house voicemail, no matter how many times I give out the PCS phone number.  Why don't they understand that I work for a living, and am therefore unlikely to take their calls at home at 2:43 PM on a Thursday?

Even when the phone line is used for modeming (I don't have cable or broadband), there are problems.  For a couple of years, we didn't have a working phone when it rained, which made in difficult to do web-based research for accounting papers the night before class. Eventually I had the bright idea of calling for repair service. The guy messed with the loose wires outside and fixed the problem in twenty minutes. The phone line in here starts from a thirty-year-old four-prong jack, goes into an adapter, comes out of the closet and crosses the room, where it goes into a splitter so that both the Mac and the Compaq can go online (not at the same time). Sometimes the tangled cords come unplugged at inconvenient moments.

notice this one's an objet d'art - not plugged in!When it comes down to it, though, my major malfunction when it comes to phones is not equipment failures or my failure to understand the phones. The real problem is this: I'm too shy to make outgoing calls to people I don't know well.  That's about to be a problem again, because Father Smith appointed me as a Oxford Town Crier for the English Faire.  That involves calling parishioners, although I'm going to try to make the job as much about email as telephones.

Anticipating these phone calls I don't want to make has reminded me of my greatest phone-related trauma to date, with the exception of the day I got the call that my mom was in a coma. In this much-earlier anxiety-inducer, my mom hired me to make phone calls on behalf of the Mental Health Association of Onondaga County.  I was supposed to call all the golf courses in Syracuse, confirm their addresses and phone numbers, and get the names of their golf pros. I put off the job as long as I could, and then I started dialing--not from the Ericafon, but from the black phone in my parents' bedroom.

The most interesting call in the early going was to Drumlins, whose golf pro, I was told, was "Emmett Kelly."

"Really?  Any relation to the famous clown?" I asked.

Well yes, he was the clown's son, Emmett Kelly Jr. He'd even done some clowning himself.  Neat.  I thanked the woman and hung up.

What I didn't know was that Drumlins was also listed in the phone book as "University Ski and Golf Resort." So I called that number again, and asked again about the golf pro.

"Emmett Kelley, Junior," the woman answered though gritted teeth.  I could actually hear that her teeth were gritted.  I apologized, found out about the name confusion and hung up.

I don't like phones very much.



ryanagi said...

Oh boy. I am NOT a phone person either. I hate calling people I don't know. I would let my work phone go to voice mail as often as I could get away with. LOL I don't make any appointments or call for information in this house if I can get away with it. That's John's job. ;-) -B

quroboros said...

For someone who professes a dislike of them, you seem to have a lot of phone-related stories to tell!  I'd never heard the name Ericafon, but once seeing the pic, I remember those phones, too.  I'm no great phan of phones either.. must be the only person in this city who doesn't own a cellular ph.   ¤Holly

ondinemonet said...


I can certainly understand your dislike of phones. This story reminds me of one of my more famous foibles...getting names right! One day I had to make a call to have my mom placed on a list of Call Alerts. The man who ran the program at out local hospital had what I thought was a very funny name. Harry Mutton. I mused about how it must have been going through life with that name. Laughing and laughing. Well, Mr. Mutton didn't find it very funny and I felt really bad for my rude behavior so I apologized. He was quite gracious and gave me his business card before leaving my office. It turns out his name wasn't Harry was Harry Martin. I had just spent the better part of an hour calling a nice man, Harry Mutton. I had to make it right so I got my courage up and called him later. He then understood and was quite kind. Yeah, I can relate. :)

Always, Carly :)