"Hey. Where are you?"
"I'm running a little late."
This was nothing new. I had a friend in high school who was never on time for anything. He was a funny guy, and what's more, he thought I was the funniest person in the world. That helped take the edge off some of the annoyance he racked up over the years by being late. The good news was that he would always call.
"How late are you going to be?" From my perspective, where fifteen minutes early is "on time," I could only imagine what the wait might be.
"I'll be there. Don't worry."
In those days, I didn't worry, exactly. I worried in a very inexact way. Sometimes I let the bitter end of my patience show before I remembered to whom I was speaking. "That's fine. We'll just wait."
"Okay. Good." He had successfully negotiated that gambit, having rationalized that he would be forgiven for his trademark tardiness. "Are you ready?"
I held the phone away from my head. "Sure, go ahead." I knew what was coming. I didn't hang up, because I wanted to hear it play out: A clanging sound, followed by a few sharp cracks, then after a pause, one more resounding thump. Then: "Dave?"
I put the phone back to my ear. "Yeah?"
"Not this time."
"Okay. I'll see you soon."
We were participating in the end of the ritual which was the attempted destruction of public property. Or maybe it was private property. I was never clear on just how to categorize payphones. My friend was attempting to break the headset in half by clanging it a few times against whatever solid object happened to be close enough. This was an odd quirk in what was an otherwise pretty straight character. In all the years he called me from a payphone, he never managed to crack one, leaving us both in awe of the durability of Bell System products. It was especially impressive to my friend who went on to get a degree in electrical engineering, and landed a job with Motorola. It was there he worked to develop chip technology that would revolutionize cellular telephone communication.
He finally found a way to destroy pay phones.