I remember, when I was a teenager, how important the telephone was. I can remember how important that long cord to the handset was. The one in the kitchen allowed us to take calls in the garage, for that extra measure of privacy. The one in the basement offered us the ability to flop around in various positions, as long as those positions did not take us more than four feet from the wall mounted phone. The idea of being able to traipse about the room, the entire house, even into the back yard was unthinkable at the time. I spent hours, when no one else was in the house, on the phone. With two brothers and concerned parents, one could never be sure that the extension could be picked up and all that privacy could go out the window in an instant. I knew this because my older brother showed me how to unscrew the mouthpiece while holding down the button inside the cradle so no ambient noise would spill into the transmitter when the switch was opened. Spy stuff.
But oh, how those teenage phone calls could linger on into the wee hours. There were those friends of mine who were fortunate enough to have a telephone in their room. This extravagance allowed them the ability to chat way past bedtime, even on a school night. Me? I was huddled in that corner of the basement, attempting to find the most relaxed posture possible while holding a chunk of plastic to the side of my head.
If I was expecting a call, there was a race to the nearest extension, and while covering the mouthpiece with one hand, the cry would go out from wherever the answering party was in our house, "I GOT IT!" There were plenty of times that my alacrity was rewarded with a call from a solicitor or some family friend who wanted to speak with someone other than me. In this case, a second cry would go out, "IT'S FOR YOU, MOM!" At which point the tension would double as I worried that whoever might be trying to reach me was on the receiving end of a busy signal. Voice mail in those days was someone else offering to take a message, and then forgetting to write it down. "Oh, Mom: Aunt Dorothy called yesterday. Something about the family picnic."
Meanwhile, when that connection was finally made, the most innocuous conversations were held between these proto-adults. Who did what to whom when and how was the customary starting point, with the standard reflection on what the eventual outcome of those events that would take up most of the discussion energy. And what would this mean to me? How would this affect my life?
For the most part, these conversations did little if anything to alter my life's course. However, once I had meandered on into my late twenties, and lived in a one bedroom apartment in which I had two phones, I took a call from the woman who would become my wife. I wondered if maybe I might find my way out to California to settle down with her. After some mildly tense negotiations, I arrived at my answer: "Why not?" When I finished that call and placed the handset back on the cradle, I did the happy dance. Neatly avoiding the cord.