Phoning it in

It’s one of the paradoxes of technology, but the most wonderful part of having a cell phone is that I never have to speak with anyone. Let me explain, I’ve always been a socially awkward person (try to look surprised) and have never been real fond of speaking to strangers. That is why the advent of email, and the interweb have fit me like a glove. Ever since my dark corporate overlords issued me a “smartphone” capable of sending and receiving emails, I have finally been able to hide behind the virtual curtain, and pretend I’m not at home.

It has been wonderful.

Much to the chagrin of Mrs. 20 Prospect, I would be happiest in a small little farmhouse hidden in a valley somewhere, with nothing but a digital connection to the outside world. No phone calls from people, no making painful small talk in the lunchroom as I wait for the microwave to beep. Just a great big electronic wall between me and the world, that I can use to filter out all that messy, human interaction.

It wasn’t always this way. No kids, once upon a time there was no internet. No cell phones. No text messages. No cable or satellite TV. . (Ahem, excuse me while I put in my dentures) Nope, we had 5 TV channels, and two phones in our house that were affixed to the wall. If you wanted to comment to your friend about the game, or whatever you might be watching on the TV, you had to leave the room and stand in the kitchen to do so.

Shocking, I know.

But technology changes things and whether we admit it or not, technology changes us. The more forms and channels of communication that have opened to me, the less I have actually spoken to people. Believe it or not, in the not too distant past, I used to actually lay on the floor in the hallway, with my feet up on the wall, and the cord of the Ma Bell black rotary phone stretched to its limit, and talk for hours on the phone.

To girls.

Sorry, I hope you were sitting down for that revelation.

If I had to put a number on it, I’d estimate that Bella and I spent roughly 8-10 hours a week talking to each other on the phone. This was in addition to our talks in school, and our nights out with friends. It all started innocently enough, when I called her up one evening during our freshman year at ND under the false pretense of having a question about Algebra homework. As I’ve said before, I had been silently stalking her for months, trying to muster up the courage to actually speak to her.

Yes, it was a crush of the first degree.

When she suddenly became a social pariah for vomiting on the front steps of the school during a spring dance, and revealing the names of the other kids that she had been out drinking with, I became one of her few connections to the outside world. Bella’s parents were insanely strict, and had grounded her for months after that. But as fate would have it, that was the event that really kick started our friendship.

Confined to the house, she had nothing to do but talk on the phone with me. I couldn’t have been happier about it. We spoke every night after dinner, usually for over an hour, until one of our parents (usually hers) would come into the room, and yell at us to hang up so that other people could use the phone.

“Laura, you’ve been on the phone for an hour, it’s time to get off!”
“But Dad, it’s Tom!”

But it’s Tom.”

“What is he, your mentor?”

I don’t think this really endeared me to the man. Although, I don’t think that Dom was ever really endeared with anyone. He still intimidates me.

We talked about everything, and nothing at all. Stupid goofy conversations where we ended up creating our own code, and language that only we could understand, so that when we were sitting in the back of Spanish Class, it only took one look to convey a message, and reduce us into stifled laughter.

It is hard to believe there was a time in my life when I could talk for hours with nothing to really say. I mean, that would be like spending hours typing pointless stories for no other purpose than posting them on the internet. OK, bad example.

As the years went by, girlfriends and boyfriends began to insert themselves between us. Slowly our calls got shorter, and became less frequent. College came and went, and with it, real life, and real distances only pulled us further apart. Until one day the calls stopped altogether.

It took years for us to reconnect, and by then, the phone was already an antiquated technology. It wasn’t until 2000, when I opened a letter from the ND Alumni association requesting money, and a short note from Bella was attached. It had an email address next to her name, and well, let’s just say the rest is history.

We communicate by email now. (And blog posts) God only knows what technologies will exist in another 25 years. Whatever they may be, I’m fairly certain she’ll be on the other end waiting for me to pick up.

Happy B-Day Bella.



Your Mentor

(Yeah, I know it’s one day early.)


6 thoughts on “Phoning it in

  1. i hear ya about electronic communication. it allows me to be way more communicative. but it also makes it tough because now i have so much more socializing to do. emails, facebook messages, blogging, texting, skyping, posts and mentions on several social media sites. sometimes i’m overwhelmed. but it’s better than face-to-face awkardness.

    i miss those long phone calls with boyfriends where you didn’t have to even be saying anything. just hearing each other breathe made you feel connected and left you feeling giddy.

    wonderful tribute to bella!

  2. Soon you will have George Jetson rocket boots and the ability to communicate telepathically. Also when my parents heard me talking about my *mentor* they were praying it wasn’t that gorgeous 25 year old gym and health teacher I’d been raving about. “But he’s MENTORING ME!” I’d whine.
    Anyway I raise my glass to long friendships! May you never lose touch again.

  3. Hey Tom,

    I saw Bella over the weekend at the class reunion. We spoke for a short while (your company was missed by the way) and it was great catching up. Instead of hiding behind the interweb, I just always leave early. Someplace to go…you understand.

    I actually became friendly with Mr. Bella after college, as he ran the finances for our local rugby club. Turns out he wasn’t so terrifying after all, but he sure scared the shit out of me as a teenage boy who also took Bella out to a movie a time or two. (when she wasn’t grounded for selling buicks in the high school bushes)

    Anyways – Happy Birthday Bella!
    Thanks Tom.

    George Bailey

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