I said I would share one of these, so......
When I tell people that it is on my bucket list to make it through life without ever sending a text message, they look at me as if I am telling them that I do not believe in wearing shoes, or that God speaks to me through messages on the back of cereal boxes. Clearly, there is a significant and pervasive problem with some deep neurological structure, or a chemical imbalance which impedes my ability to comprehend the importance of this essential mode of post-modern communication.
Back when Southern California had only one area code, and push button phones were still a distant technological innovation, we had the phone number 213-272-7000. I can hear my dad’s voice on the analogue telephone recorder “You have reached 272-7000. Please leave your message, and we will return your call at our earliest convenience.”
The best thing about my phone number was that it was easy for my friends to remember. The worst thing, however, was the dialing. For those too young to remember a rotary phone, imagine an odd shaped, semi-rectangular hard plastic box about the same size as a half a loaf of bread. Imagine squeezing your moldable white bread loaf on the sides, and adding a plastic disk with ten holes to the front. Each hole corresponded to a series of numbers, 1-9, and 0 for the operator. Above numbers 2-9, were three letters of the alphabet, an artifact of even longer ago, if I am to understand correctly, when people would call the operator to place calls and use letters for their desired calling destination.
213-272-7000. Since zero was the very last number on the rigid plastic disk, I had to dial it three times to complete a call home. It felt interminable, those long turns, my finger carefully carrying the disk in a clockwise motion until it hit the metal piece that would engage the number. Dialing was not entirely simple-the disk was not a passive force-there was this strange resistance that gained strengths as you propelled your fingers around the face of the phone. It was fairly easy to misdial. How many times did I have to hang up the phone, wait a few seconds, and begin moving my exasperated fingers again? The first part was easy, 2-7-2, and then, the stress mounted as I approached the culminating burden of the last three zeros. Oh to have had a number such as 242-1411! Life would have been so much simpler.
Yet, there were advantages to such a long dial. For example, it gave me additional time to think up an excuse for why I got into another fight on the playground; how shoving Adam Goldberg’s face into the tetherball pole was somehow not my fault. It gave me time to brace myself before I called Kelly Lori, the first girl with whom I shared awkward kisses, behind the cabin during summer camp; extra moments to sum up a courage that 11 year old boys rarely possess.
Pulling the dial in so many revolutions gave me time to think, to think slowly and organically, and to exist within the slow spaces of each turn. So too with the answering machine, and my father’s words, “we will return your call at our earliest convenience.”
I believe in space, the space between words, and the space between moments. I believe that to create things that are meaningful we need to touch the void in the universe; for that we need time and empty space. Writing, art, even our own best emotional reactions need a breath of silence on which to draw; they need that space I learned by the slow, dragging dial of the rotary phone.
A few weeks ago, lying in bed in the late morning, my wife and I surf the web. We were looking at pictures of Cartagena, Colombia. The 17th century walled city, spectacular brick fortresses, the ambling cobble tone streets-we were exploring where to go for our tenth anniversary. We have to plan carefully. She now has to use a wheelchair when we leave the house, and sometimes even inside. We are interrupted by two vibrations from the phone resting on the dresser across the bedroom. In spite of her disability, the horrible pain in her feet, she jumps up quickly and stumbles toward the dresser. She winces as pain shoots up her legs, through her thighs and into her back. Her hand trusts forward and snatches her telephone, as if she were catching the last grunion as it slipped back toward the sea. She stares into the cosmic glow. Still standing on her annihilated feet, she pulles out her miniature keyboard and begins to type.
“Nothing. Michelle has a question about green chile,”
“Is she making it now?”
“No, next weekend.”
I smiled and mumble, “We will return your call at our earliest convenience.”She pays no attention to me, and for all I know, did not hear me. Her fingers dance on the keyboard as she continue to moan in pain.