This is a tale of a phone call faux pas. First of many, and just one reason why I cannot stand the telephone to this day.
My father was a firefighter. He had tried his hand at teaching, but it simply hadn't suited him. He had no patience for dealing with saucy high school students in the 1969 version of Glendale, AZ, so after only one year, he found himself a spot on the Phoenix Fire Department.
He started when I was extremely little, so all I remember growing up was the natural pattern of having daddy home two days, and him being at work for a third. One 24-hour shift every three days isn't a bad deal, but as we got to that age (around 3 to 5) where we started to notice he was gone, mom started the tradition of calling him at bed time.
You know how those calls go; the kid is whiny & tired, but doesn't want to sleep, and you put them on the phone so they start to perform. We would make goony noises and tell him lame jokes, and he would tell us exciting tales from the firehouse ("Tonight, Fred tried to make chili and set fire to the cooktop!"). We tried to drag it out as long as possible, and mom would try to hurry us up. Every call ended the same way:
"Love you!" And a big, loud kiss - MWAH!
These routine phone calls tapered off, as they do when the kids get a little older. I still loved talking to dad, but the phone itself wasn't that exciting, and I knew he was going to be home the next day. My sister was about 4 years behind me, though, so when I had kind of started to outgrow the bed time phone calls, she was just getting into it. She would remind mom to call, or we would fight over who got to dial - and yes, I'm a dinosaur who remembers the rotary phones - then she would chatter at him until it was my turn to say good night, all rounded out with the obligatory "Love you! - MWAH!"
The only other times we would be on the phone tended to be special occasions like birthdays or Christmas, and it was usually talking to a grandma or grandpa. These were exciting events, because mom's folks tended to travel around a lot, and we didn't get to see them often. We would blather on at them about whatever we were doing in our solipsistic lives, and grandma would cluck about the expensive long distance charges, and then eventually... "Love you! - MWAH!"
Sometimes it would be dad's folks calling for a birthday; or Aunt Ginny out in Florida; or (even more rarely) the relatives in New Jersey. I don't remember a whole lot about specifics, but you know how I ramble on trying to be amusing, and I'm pretty sure that's what I was like then, too - so I'm sure I told stories ranging from hilarious to awkward, mumbled about school and loving Jesus, and passed the phone to my sister before we ended with that habitual "Love you! - MWAH!"
But seasons turn, the tides roll in and out, and kids outgrow the easy sharing of casual emotion, and somewhere around the point when my age hit double digits, I started dodging the phone calls as much as possible. I'd still get dragged to the phone for certain annual rituals, but it wasn't what you'd call an "everyday" sort of tool.
Then one day, the phone rang, and my mom called me downstairs (because it was, you know, stuck to the wall down there), and Scott from school was speaking to me. This was odd. No one from school had ever called me before; and Scott and I had never been the closest of friends. He was asking me over to play at the park near his house. I was so very confused, I remember trying to hand the phone back to mom for her to deal with it. Of course, since we lived about 15 miles from the school, and my classmates almost all lived in the neighborhoods immediately surrounding it, mom wasn't about to take me anywhere on a whim like that - so I think I thanked him for asking, but had to turn him down.
And that's where my relationship with the phone kind of started out: a mixture of that grudgingly dutiful family feeling with an extra dose of bafflement and sad confusion.
A couple of years after Scott's call, I had switched schools, and I was reaching that age where most of my peers were spending a great deal more time on the phone. I wasn't, but that was about to change thanks to a special group assignment for science class. We were paired up with partners, and we were supposed to get together to build a model of the solar system. I brought home a phone number for my friend and classmate, Tony. (You might remember him from last month.)
I was pretty excited about working on a project with another kid. Living so far away from the world, we really didn't get a lot of spontaneous play time with anyone outside of our church (and it was a small church, so kids my own age were a rarity). I liked Tony, so I was looking forward to hanging out with him. But something had to happen first. Something I hadn't ever really done before.
I had to call him.
The memory of making the phone call is pretty clear - I can still see the spinning plastic dial, and hear the static-shrouded clicks of the rotor. I can remember the details of all the things sitting on mom's dresser in front of me as I waited for someone to pick up, and then as I croaked my well-rehearsed greeting. (Mom had to coach me thoroughly on phone etiquette, you know; say "Hello," and tell them your name, then ask for the person you're calling.) Once I got Tony on the line, though, it kind of clicked. This was normal. It was just talking! I can do that - no problem! We made our plans, set times, confirmed our transportation arrangements and agreed on materials. Before I knew it, we were all set.
"Alright, see you Saturday. Love you! - MWAH!"
Wait. What? What the ... actual... did I just blow a big, loud kiss at my classmate over the phone?
Yes. Yes, I did.
I think mom laughed the whole rest of that week, and she may have still been giggling when she dropped me off that Saturday at Tony's house. I was mortified, and not looking forward to this any more. But I had nothing to worry about. Tony hadn't even noticed. He had been so nervous about being on the phone, he'd hung up when I said "Alright..."
Still - this was such a harsh entry into the world of teenaged telecommunications. At least I learned the ever-valuable Lesson #1: No big, loud kissing.
But that wouldn't be enough to prepare me for the First Telemarketing Job....