Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Phone a Friend?


One November, possibly 1989 by my best estimate, my answering machine message was me "BOK-BOK-BOKKING" like a turkey. Remember when answering machine messages instilled an inordinate amount of pressure to sound cool or funny? I was in undergraduate school. Being professional wasn't on my radar yet. I felt the need to be quirky with the answering machine.

Today, I don't make voice mail messages. The thrill is gone. The default "your call has been forwarded to an automatic voice message system" recording is good enough.

And I don't carry a pager anymore. Remember those?

A phone was different when I was an adolescent and teenager. How we used it was different! And waiting for someone to pick up on the other end...before answering machines...we could be so patient!


Someone from the other room would yell, "Hang up! They're not home!"

"No, no, they might pick up! She said she'd be home." 

We hadn't suspected or invented screening calls yet.

I can remember walking to see people--not calling people on the phone. We would knock on, I think I might jump out of my skin if someone ever knocked on the door of our house. 

In college, we would walk into strange dorm rooms and foreign apartments just because we knew one person who would invite us in. Barely any furniture. Maybe a huge computer stacked together on the floors. A few ashtrays. We'd sit on the floor. Meet new people. The door would be open to a common area or the hallway.

Back at our place, we used the phone to call our family. Maybe friends at another school. But as far as the people around us, the people we saw on a daily basis...I can't remember calling those guys much, if ever. Now, we don't even use a land line in our house. We just use the devices in our pockets.

Recently, I joked with a small group of colleagues that I have a bone to pick with the new generation of teachers. A jealous bone. I'm jealous of their college experience with smart phones. All it took for them to find their friends was to send a text message--especially late on a Friday or Saturday night.

In the 80s, Sweet Honey Iced Tea! finding your friends was almost all luck. We would walk all over campus--dorm to dorm, fraternity to steak shop, student union back to the dorms--and the people you ran into, that is who you hung out with.

Our younger colleague--the one who grew up with and went to college with a smart phone, quipped, "Yeah, I don't understand how any of you ever made any friends!"

I almost wonder.


  1. I laughed at your great reflection - I was nodding as I read your voicemail 'challenge.' And do you remember, 'Stay off the phone, X is going to call.' Thank you for a fun slice - I enjoyed that little trip back to being young!

  2. Wow, how communication has changed. Such an excellent post! I do often think back to what it was like, or must have been like, because it can be hard to actually remember! It was an eye opening moment the day my class identified cell phones as a need rather than a want and I actually saw their point!

  3. Nice trip down memory lane! Now I don't even have a landline . . . times have changed!

  4. I checked in with my mom on Thursdays. She called me one week and I would call her the next in order to save money on the long distance phone bill. We recently talked about how much things have changed! My kids have no idea how it would feel not to be able to ask me EVERYTHING they are thinking--not that this is a good thing. My husband and I wonder if they are as independent as we were at the same age or as responsible. We think no.

  5. As I read this I thought that it wasn't really that long ago. Not much time has passed since then. Then I did the math. Holy cow! Where did the time go? I can't even imagine a ringing phone without the option of looking at the caller ID. Thanks for the flashback!

  6. I'll still take those treks all over campus rather than the pressure of only being a text away.

    Regarding answering machines, someone left a message on ours asking if he had reached "Mark's House of Kilts and Skirts." We have no idea who it was, probably a wrong number, and he was probably making fun of us for some reason, but we ran with it. Our new outgoing message announced that the caller had, in fact, reached a seller of kilts and skirts.

    My grandfather once left a message and felt compelled to include a closing, like a letter: "Love ya, Papa." My roommates still joke about that today, twenty-something years later.

    My friends still have a "quirky" outgoing message. The husband and wife alternate: "You've reached the Sokolowskis." "Lucky you." "We're not available to take your call." "Lucky us." I tell them it's ridiculous and it has to go, but they've had it ten years.

    Bob Dylan's "Forever Young" just popped up on the autoplay on YouTube.

    Thanks for the laughs.

  7. Great post about some not too distant bygone days. I remember being able to call my friends and only dialing 4 numbers rather than 7 because my town was so small. I also remember the novelty of finding out which neighbors had the first answering machines…they were so much fun to leave funny messages on as soon as we figured out no one was home.

    Thanks for posting this - you really took me back in time with your great details!

  8. LOL! I thoroughly enjoyed that walk through nearly forgotten days. I often can't remember, myself, how we got on without "devices in our pockets!" Thank you for that slice of the past!