Russell Frank: Cutting the Cord on My House Phone
June 08, 2012 6:19 AM
by Russell Frank
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In this season of farewells, I next bid adieu to my telephone.

Having sold my house, and with plans to flit from address to address for the next year, I am cutting the cord that has bound my phones to the walls of all the houses I’ve ever lived in. No more landlines for me. I’m strictly cellular from now on.

In goin’ mobile. I am following the lead of a generation of young people and Third World countries that have gone straight to cell phones without ever passing through a landline phase.

But I am not altogether happy about it.

While service providers make a selling point of having fewer dropped calls than their competitors, those who continue communicating landline to landline pretty much experience no dropped calls whatsoever. Not to mention exquisite clarity, whether the call is coming from around the block or around the world.

Think about how many times in the age of cell phones you’ve had to tell your conversational partner that his voice was breaking up. Think about how many times you’ve launched into a long-winded account of some incident in the produce section, only to realize that for the last three minutes you’ve been talking to yourself.

Sure, when it comes to rendezvousing out in the world and changing the plan on the fly – later, earlier, this location, no, that location – mobile phones can’t be beat. But that clear-cut cellular advantage is nullified when you say “I’m walking past the Willard Building” and the receiver of these tidings actually hears “I’m walking past the _______ ____ding.”

So here’s a salute to the landline. My earliest telephone memory is of having one rotary wall phone. I still know the number. Those were the days of “exchanges”: Numbers from the same neighborhood began with the same two letters, which stood for an actual word, plus a number. We were FLoral Park 2-. I felt a kinship with other FL2-ers. My peeps! FL4 people were like cousins you only saw on Passover.

New Yorkers remember commercials that blared, “Call MUrray Hill 7-7500! That’s MU7-7500! In New Jersey, call…”

Earlier, there was Glenn Miller’s big band standard, “PEnnsylvania 6-5000,” and John O’Hara’s novel, “BUtterfield 8.”

Our second house phone sat on a little table in the vestibule at the top of the stairs. Then came touch-tone. Then, a second line, which necessitated new phones with rows of light-up buttons that allowed you to put one call on hold while you answered the other call.

The second line was ostensibly a concession to my teenaged sisters’ penchant for monopolizing the phone, but more than that it was a status symbol, like having a second car.

My father hated when my sisters got calls during supper. “Tell ‘em you’re eating,” he’d growl.

If more than one call came during mealtime, Grandma compared our house to Grand Central Station. I knew Grand Central was a train depot and didn’t see what trains had to do with telephone calls until I got that the common denominator was hubbub.

So how many specific phone calls do you remember? Here are a few of mine:

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