How the fuck did we navigate the world without cell phones? Really, how? Do you know how many of my spirit-squelching calamities would have been averted if I’d had one fifteen, twenty years ago? Many. I’d have been spared many. In fact, one of my fiascoes was so involved, and so extreme, that it merits a post of its own. 4,000 words, at least. (Take cover. I feel a series coming on.)
The fact is, I didn’t get along with pay phones any better than I do with umbrellas. Worse, even. And given my history with umbrellas, that’s a serious statement.
Regardless your position on technology, you have to admit, pay phones were disgusting. I know what my cell phone looks like by the end of the day, and I use super-industrial wooden stick Q Tips you have to order online from Sweden, and of which my boyfriend is terrified. (Some shit about brain injury, he says. Please.) I recall all too vividly the quarter-inch layer of wax on each pay phone receiver, shaped to the contours of the last ear it was pressed to. And my queasiness when it touched my own.
I doubt that I’m alone in this.
Another thing. I lost so many quarters, so many times, that no single incident stands out in my mind. Which is highly unusual; I thrive on memories of personal victimization and persecution. All I know is, the phone company was built on the backs of deluded suckers like me, who kept hoping that the insertion of one more quarter would finally bring success.
An aside: I’m intoxicated with the fertility of this topic.
Here’s one of my many pre-cell phone debacles.
I’m in graduate school, between classes, and have to make a semi-important call. I look for a pay phone, but see nothing. Then, finally, I spot one across the quad. As I rush toward it, it begins to ring.
What would you do?
“Please deposit $3.35 cents,” the operator tells me.
“But,” I say impatiently, “I wasn’t on the phone.”
“I don’t know what to tell you, miss. You have to pay the $3.35 before I can place your call.”
“Are you kidding me?” I cry. “I’m not the one who was on the phone!” My head whips right and left, eyes scanning for the perpetrator. There are only a few people around, and each gives off an annoying aura of innocence. ”Whoever it was,” I tell the operator, ”he got away!”
The operator is unconcerned. She doesn’t get that I really don’t have $3.35 — not just for this phone call, but for anything.
“Please,” I say, aware that I’m starting to whine. ”I’m broke, late for class, and really need to make this call.” I take a deep breath and exhale. “Can’t you give me a break?”
“I’m sorry, miss, but. . .”
I hang up the phone. Two minutes later, I pick it back up.
An automated voice says, “Please deposit $3.35.”
The final score in this scenario? Operator: 1. June: 0.
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