Wednesday, August 31, 2022

First Word: Suzanne Adam: Phone



There’s a clearly marked “before” and “after” in my communication life.

For many years, especially living in Chile, I’d write letters to family and friends on crinkly airmail paper.  When living in California, I used creamy fine stationary or my friends and I would give each other flowery notecards with decorative envelopes. As soon as my writing was legible, my mother taught me the skill of writing thank you notes on special paper with cute little squirrels or puppies. Thank you notes were a strict requirement of good manners.

           Hallmark invented a shortcut to notes and letters: the greeting card. Thank you, Happy Birthday, Get Well, Across the Miles, Heartfelt Condolences. Yet etiquette still demanded a short note on the card.

           I have a drawer-full of fine stationary and notecards given to me years ago or inherited from my mother. In our attic cards and letters from friends and family huddle in boxes. The handwriting on each reveals the sender. I recognize the distinctive penmanship of my mother and father, my grandmothers, Aunty Belle and, yes, even a couple of boyfriends, sparking fond, vivid memories.

Writing letters and making phone calls once complemented each other. With vastly improved phone service, long distance calls were more reasonable and no longer interrupted by crackling static as if the caller were on Mars.

Now with my cell phone distances have shrunk. What pleasure to see the dear face of Paula, my closest friend back home, on facetime! We haven’t been together in three years. We have spirit- lifting, hour-long conversations.

            Gmail has replaced airmail, and I write letters on the computer. Do I have any handwritten letters from my sons? Maybe handmade birthday cards from their childhood or a postcard from Indonesia. I doubt they have samples of my handwriting. Perhaps someday they’ll discover the boxes of airmail letters in the attic, decades of communication with my family.

           WhatsApp messages are instantaneous. No waiting for the mailman. Fast but impersonal. My sons send cellphone photos of grandkids, but seldom do I hear their voices.

First Word: Mary Judith Ress: Phone


 He sounded hesitant on the phone.

“I know.  It’s been a long time, but could I see you?”

“Couldn’t we just talk via zoom?” I answered, trying not to sound nervous. It HAD been a long time.

“I have something to show you—and it would be better to show you in person.”

“Oh, ok,” I said. “But I’m quite busy.” Although I really wasn´t.

I’ll come by this afternoon,” he said and hung up.

At five o’clock he was at my door.

He seemed to me to be a spent man: he no longer stood as straight as a soldier; he was terribly thin; and his now totally-white beard needed a trim.

“Come in, but let’s sit out in the patio and catch the last of the sunshine.” I motioned him through the kitchen and out into the garden.  He was carrying a large clay jug and, sitting down, he hugged it and then placed it carefully on the table.

“What’s this?” I asked, annoyed that he put the rather dirty jug on my treasured Guatemalan tablecloth.

“Look inside,” he gestured, taking off the lid.

The jar gave off a stench like a mildewed old coat that had been left out in the rain.  I squinted an eye and looked inside.  Fine grey dust….

Suddenly I was covered with goose bumps.  I could feel the blood drain from my face.

“Good God, David, who is it?”

I don’t know,” he sighed.  “Someone left it on my doorstep two days ago.” He shook his head and tentatively ran his finger around the jar’s rim.  “I-I thought it must have been a mistake…that the person who left it would come back for it…” She saw that he was close to tears. Clearly, he wasn’t telling her everything.  Now a deep foreboding crept over her.

David reached across the table and took my hand in his.  “Judy,” he pleaded, searching my face with bloodshot eyes, “will you help me find out who this was?”


And thus began the tale that would shape the last days of my life.

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

First Word: Larissa Higgins: Phone


Writing words down strips away nuance.  We attempt to accommodate,  with precision, punctuation and convention, like parentheses, and deciding that  capital letters shout, and that writing /s after the fact is regarded as a substitute for sarcasm of the voice -

A phone though -  a live human voice has modulation and overtones, and it brings sarcasm right up close and personal, but voice alone is - STILL A DISTANCE  (I wrote that bit in capital letters - could you hear it?) and distance is still fatal because what distance affects is control.  Distance becomes POWER.

And when power is already inherent in the equation -
Commercial phone calls alone -
Customers service - capital letters INFINITELY so. 


Say one needs to book a plane flight - origin X to destination Z, one intermediary stop Y for lack of direct flights -

And the airline website, for reasons unfathomable, has it that intermediary stop Y requires that all points between X and Z are booked on air-miles only.

Then it reloads and says that there are no flights - PERIOD - it should use all-caps when it put that in - between x y or z –


There's no communication with a website. No words at all in fact.

So I make a call -
and the lady on the phone says that there ARE in fact flights, but none only on points or only on dollars so I must use both to get there and I smile and, smiling, say okay that sounds great and let us do that now, and she says that I have to do that on the website and is there anything else she can help me with today?

I said was calling because the website WON'T show me any flights.

She said I would have to try a different device then and was there anything else she could help me with today?

I said yes, help me book a flight from X to Z, and she said she couldn't do that and to go use the website and she hoped that the website would work for me later, and was there anything else she could help me with today?

And her voice was all cheer and no /s at all, so I drew myself up and I smiled at HER with my voice just as brittle-ly and i left a scathing review on the post-call survey -

"On a scale of 1-5..." 

I pressed those buttons with INTENT.

And growled with no one but the survey robot to hear.


I went back to the on the dumb website some more, and this time I turned on a VPN so that the website was listening to me in the USA instead of in Chile, and somehow, this gave me X to Y and Y to Z, exclusively on points, and although the flights were all on the same airline, they must be booked one at time, not on one continuous ticket –

So I called the airline again, and the line was broken so that the man could not hear me.
So I called again, and this time after the first hello I could not hear her.

And the third time I had a line where we could both hear each other, but the flight I found on the website did not exist on the phone, and a flight the man found for me on the phone did not exist on the website and did not have any flights for me anyway, and smiling, he said no, the airline cannot not connect its flights if you only book on points, and yes, it was correct that I only COULD book on points, and even though the flight did NOT exist on the website, I WOULD have to book on the website - and was there anything else he could help me with today?


"On a scale of 1-5…"

I left my scathing review on the post-call survey, and thought about the voice of the man on the phone - the dogmatic, smiling stubbornness of a man who knows how stupid the whole thing is it is and can't do anything about it.

And doesn’t have to.  So he doesn't do it at all.

Supplicant and siphon, electron by electron -  A paycheck is a paycheck, and being a stuffed-up siphon on a help-line is better than no paycheck.He didn't need parentheses or /s to tell me that.

I hate modern customer service. Today I hate websites.  And right now I also hate phones.


Monday, August 29, 2022

First Word: Imogen Mark: Phone


Phone, phonetic, frenetic… Phones make us frenetic. Three phones ringing on an office desk, a frazzled figure, a man, a cartoon image, grabbing the phones, one at each ear, held insecurely by his hunched-up shoulders as he scrabbles for a pen, scribbles meaning messages on scraps of paper, then grabs his hat (sic), and runs for his train.

This is an old-fashioned image of phones and offices, and society; in this world, offices are inhabited exclusively by harried middle-aged men and pouty, bosomy secretaries. Wives wait at home, supper ready on the table – or, possibly, rolling pin at the ready, at the door. 

So how does Mobile Man, 2022, fit into this scene? In his office, no landlines; gone the bank of phones. Now it’s a slim laptop, for the emails, pretty much all for work, 50, 100 coming in at a time, impossible to manage, a barrage of punches and pinches and tweaks to his poor head.

In his hand, the cell phone, open for whatsapp messages from the office football club, from the wife, about what he needs to pick up on the way home for supper tonight, a joke, in bad taste, not funny, from an old friend. He can click on to facebook, Instagram, TikTok; more snippets and slaps of news, and opinions, more and more opinions.  More stupid jokes – a good one, he laughs aloud. Has he time to watch a few minutes of an old favourite comedy sketch on youtube? Should he look for a tutorial now on how to tie a bowtie for Saturday’s costume party?

Will his brain explode under the pressure of information and emotion? Or will it implode, collapsing like a sinking souffle? Or perhaps this kind of workout is just what it needs? This is brain gym to stave off future dementia, as all the little grey cells line up ready to touch their toes and then do back flips.

Is this what a mere phone does for you?

Sunday, August 28, 2022

First Word: Danette Beavers: Phone


I didn’t buy the damn thing for the convenience of others, and when I accidentally go off without it, forgetful as I am, I refuse to sweat it. Let the people get their undies in a bunch; I don’t care. Say to me, “But you didn’t answer your phone!” and I will say to you, “I’m not the fire department.”

And I’ve never once needed my phone in an emergency, except that time that I got lost in the middle of the night in Santiago and had such a slow internet connection that I couldn’t make Google maps work for me, and except for that time that some drug-addled man followed me home on my evening walk, and except for that time some homeless guy assaulted me and the kids in the church parking lot.

I bet you’d love to hear those stories, but I’m not going to tell you, because now my undies are in a bunch, too, and I need to go pull them out.