It’s a safe bet Steve Jobs had no say in the design of the phone on my desk. It’s boxy, dull black and headstone gray, and dotted with plastic bubbles above obscure instructions like “Park Ret.” It embodies those dreary features of workaday life that can rip your soul from you like a shirt from a hanger.
One Monday it was dead. Its single sliver of red indicator light, a little reptilian eye that looks on me unblinkingly, no longer announced its readiness to receive.
I took note of this, ignored that note, and went about my business, all too happy in the roaring quiet from the useless piece of office equipment at my elbow.
I don’t like phones and never have. In one of those shocks of recognition that can endear a writer to a reader, I once thrilled to a passage in an Andre Dubus story where he articulated the mysterious feelings of alienation in gripping a plastic receiver against your ear and trying to focus your thoughts in responding to some disembodied voice while staring off into the middle distance.
Back in 1922, H.L. Mencken, stunned one evening to be able to get through dinner in peace, inveighed against the telephone in a newspaper column titled “A Boon to Bores.” He not only kept his phone on a different floor from where he worked, he took it off the hook so often repairmen kept coming to see what was wrong. But then he so disliked “putting an honest man to so much trouble in such a dishonest manner” that he bought one a bottle of Erbacher 1913.
I planned to wait as long as I responsibly could — the end of the week sounded about right — before I told someone of the crippled phone, but a thwarted caller tipped me off after three days, and, a little too helpfully, a co-worker found the severed line. It looked as if vermin had bitten clean through it. But we don’t get publicists in the office all that much, so it must have been something else.
I must say, while that line was down, I enjoyed the stroll, once or twice even a jog, back to the wall-mounted unit in The Star’s production department. That one could use some help in other ways. Its tangled mess of cord, for instance, reaches to the floor and pools there, ripe for tripping, right at the top of a steep set of stairs. An application of an entire tube of Wet Ones couldn’t get that handset clean.
Looking back on those blissful three days, I see that those voice mails I missed were as easily dumped and forgotten as the pile of New Yorkers at home I’ll never get to. Life goes on. And anyway, as with the U.S. Postal Service, e-mail continues its usurpation of office work, doesn’t it. And now I hear there’s something called Facebook.
Not like either of those is a time-suck. If only I could read an H.L. Mencken post on the subject.
Baylis Greene is an associate editor at The Star.