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Hopefully you didn’t have a rotary phone

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POSTED March 20, 2013 12:38 a.m.

Before forgetting your cell phone was worse than forgetting your driver’s license and thumbs became the primary punchers of letters, people used to talk on a house phone.

It was an egg shell or cream-colored phone anchored to a specific location (usually near the kitchen) by a cord that led to a “jack” which connected it to another cord that lead to the telephone pole outside of the home.

I thought about this Saturday over eggs and spinach before I went fishing. I don’t currently have a house phone, so I was working from memory. My parents weren’t the types to post up on the phone and get into all things gossip. Most times people just came by the house, they’d be invited in and we’d all sit on the couch and visit. When someone was on the phone the television was turned down until the conversation was over. If I wanted to talk to a girl, I’d do so in the back room or walk down to the gas station/convenience store to use a calling card at the pay phone.

The thing about the home phone was that if you were using it unbeknownst to your parents, they would pick it up to call grandma the neighbor or whoever and start dialing. This annihilated any rhythm to the phone conversation because you’d have to wait until they were done dialing to say, “Mom, I’m on the phone.” To which she would reply, “Oh, okay.” My dad once asked, “Oh...with who?”

I was upstairs in my room on the cordless when that happened, but I still heard mom scold dad for being nosy. It’s funny now, but to a 17-year old talking to a girl he wanted to import from another island to take to prom, the intrusion was terribly inconvenient.

The first calls from and to a home phone were always the worst. You asked for her number, or looked it up in one of those. ...what are they called … oh yeah, phone books, and as you dialed the number thought, “If she’s not there, don’t screw up the message.” If you did, and she didn’t have her own line and machine, the entire family was likely to hear you stumble through the “call me back” plea you hope didn’t sound desperate, overly cocky or provide her dad a reason to sharpen or clean weaponry. Home phones also meant that any ring could be for you. If it is, you better get there quick, before parents start asking her questions and ruining the whole thing. So you run and find out it’s not her, it’s just Lars.

Kids have it so easy today as those unknowns have been largely eradicated from the teenage experience. Interactions are more contrived now, less reactionary. Our communicating has been cheapened by contacts, caller-ID and messages with multiple meanings and that goes for all ages. Early on as I embraced the revolution, I stumbled upon the “oops text” which of course was on purpose, you just wanted an excuse to start a conversation but felt stupid saying hello out of the blue. So you lied and said it was an accident. Does anyone really believe that?

Anyway, before cell phones I didn’t accidentally call Natalie, or any other focus of my affection nor did I ever send little yellow smiley faces or send “accidental” texts. I punched memorized digits. Protective family members answered, sometimes moms, sometime brothers, or dads. There was risk. Voices cracked, parents said their kids weren’t home and hung up before I could provide a call-back number. Freshman year a “friend” told me this girl wanted me to call her. I called. She didn’t know who I was. Remember, this was before the era of friends-of-friends-scouting on Facebook. Risk.

Anyway, once I was done remembering my conversations with high school crushes being interrupted by heavy number pressing, I rinsed the plate in the sink, grabbed my waders, boots, 6-weight, fishing vest, wallet, coffee and of course cell phone and drove east. The goal of course was to catch fish...then send a picture taken with my cell phone to my contacts who fish.

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