The home telephone, whether rotary dial or push-button, is dying, but the memories associated with it prove infinitely more durable.
A few weeks ago, I disconnected the landline that since 1960 had faithfully served my childhood home in my Long Island suburb of Garden City. Telling Verizon to cut the cord gave me pause.
Don’t misunderstand; I’m a landline kind of guy. I continue to struggle with my flip phone (don’t laugh; if it’s good enough for Warren Buffett, it’s good enough for me). As it is, I lived with my parents on and off well beyond the usual age of maturity. About 25 years ago I got my own landline in their house. And that one I still have.
But after dad and mom passed away eight and three years ago, and I bought the place from my brothers, calls on the old number dried up. There was no need to keep it active at a cost of $10 a month. So now you can no longer dial (516) 437-XXXX to reach me.
Not a very big deal in the grand scheme of the technological cosmos, I know. Still, plenty of us Baby Boomers fondly remember a few things about our former telephone ways. There was the tactile satisfaction of rotary dialing, for instance. The novelty of sticking your finger in the “O” opening for “Operator” and executing only one twirl instead of seven. Busy signals, especially when you tried and failed to call yourself. Not to mention actual exchanges: 437-XXXX began life as GEneral-7-XXXX.
437-XXXX was how my family got weather forecasts, directory information, and the occasional daily affirmation. For decades, 437-XXXX was the only means for instantaneously conveying good news, emergencies, plans, and general gabbing, either incoming or outgoing. It was Mom’s preferred method of getting through to Santa Claus when we misbehaved come Christmastime. In retirement, dad relied on it to yak about the merits of various medicaments in the Physicians’ Desk Reference with his similarly bored cronies.
I came of age with 437-XXXX. In fifth grade, Jim Heckelmann called me on it to breathlessly announce that Earth vs. the Flying Saucers would be on Channel 9 in 15 minutes. When I was 16, Leslie Lorenson deployed 437-XXXX to say that yes, she would indeed go with me to the Winter Wonderland ball at the high school. And, of course, 437-XXXX was the only way to receive prank calls like the one from the “Happy Hippy Radio Station” when I was home sick one day in 1975.
Well into my 20s, by which time I was punching its buttons instead of rotating its wheel, 437-XXXX was my link to friends, dates, news sources, and much of the world.
No sane citizen of this or any civilized nation would want to return to a Ma Bell age where people who lived in the same house hollered at one another to hang up, and where you had to constantly untwist the cord that connected the headset to the receiver. Still, in a global network of iPhones, where our communications are autonomous and often soulless, and where we increasingly bowl alone, it’s hard not to rue the passing of one’s old telephone number.
Naturally I’m wondering who the new owner of 437-XXXX is. Maybe I’ll call and find out. From my remaining landline, of course. The number is (516) 358-XXXX.