Dan Rattiner's Stories

Ring Ring! Cell Phones Free Us from Landline Tyranny

Here’s two conversations that have come to mind from before cell phones. You might want to show this to your kids.


(Sound of phone getting picked up.)


“Na. He ain’t here.”

“Na. I don’t know when he’s comin’ back.”

“I said he ain’t here!”


(Sound of someone out of breath)

(Creaking sound of glass door being opened)

(Jingle sound of a quarter going into a pay phone, followed by the sound of dialing)





“Hello? Nine One One? Puff, puff, puff. There’s been an accident.”

“Car just hit a tree.”

“North Main Street, Southampton. Across from the Post House.”

“No. Just now. I’m on the pay phone in front of the Southampton Post Office. Nugent Street.”

“No, I can’t tell you anything about it. I’m over here.”

“Okay. I’ll wait here ‘til someone comes. But send an ambulance there.”


Well, okay, as they say, that’s stuff for the history books. It just doesn’t happen anymore.

Do I miss it? No. But I feel the nostalgia for it. Back then, you can tell your kids, telephones were the rulers of your home. No matter what you were doing, when it rang, you stopped what you were doing and ran to get it. Nobody thought anything of it, how it was constantly interrupting our lives. It could ring at three in the morning.


“I’m asleep.”

“You missed the plane?”

“Oh dear, what does that mean?”

You could always take the phone off the hook for privacy. But you’d have to throw pillows over it. The phone would not know you had done that. It would behave as if it were somehow accidentally off the hook. It would make this strange, shrill moaning and beeping sound that could be clearly heard by cats and dogs who would become disturbed by it, and which you could just barely hear from in the next room somehow. So this was not a good idea.

Also, the phone company had figured out a way you could do two things at once. The phone in the kitchen would be a wall phone with a six-foot, expandable curly cord. You could tuck the receiver between your ear and shoulder and walk across the room to wash dishes in the sink with two hands while talking on the phone.

And if you were expecting a call, you just had to wait around. Teenage girls would sit by the phone, hoping it would ring. And if it were a girl friend, they’d say “I have to get off the phone because I’m hoping a certain boy will call.”

Teenage boys would get out of the house and hang around on street corners to get free of the telephone and the mothers who kept it close. They’d get in trouble, deliberately, while standing around on a corner. No brains. Nothing to do.

The decline and fall of the old telephone began at the same time as the decline and fall of the crime rate in all the cities in America.

I think one caused the other. I think that the tyranny of the old phone system was so awful that people were frustrated, angry, got to thinking too much and got themselves in trouble because of it.

Back then, there was “waiting in line.” Sometimes you took a number and waited. Sometimes you just stood there and waited. You had nothing to do. You could admire the scenery. But then that would get boring. You’d tap your feet, you’d get hostile. Was that person cutting into the line? I do believe they were. Hey, mister?

Today you stand there and watch videos, text, read the latest news, take photos, play games, watch YouTube, play songs, check the weather report, I could go on and on.

You could also be walking along doing all of the above and be oblivious to your surroundings.

“Excuse me, sir. Give me your wallet. Your life depends on it.”

(Walking on, earphones in) “Sorry, I’m busy just now.”

The number of muggings plummets. Yes, it did.

And now there are all these levels of communication, right there in your pocket. For facts and information, send an email. For something you want to get noticed quickly, use text. For something that has an emotional component, use the phone or videophone.

“Yeah, sure, that’s all right.” (Sob)

“Yeah, sure. That’s ALL RIGHT!” (Wow)

And the tyranny of the phone is almost entirely gone now. Almost nobody phones anybody anymore unless they first check by text or email to make sure its okay. Privacy has returned.

And for those of us who remember the old days with the house phones, it’s absolutely amazing. We have our lives back. And we don’t have our house phones to kick us around anymore.

Actually, I DO have my house phone, but now it is I who kick IT around. It hardly ever rings. And when it does, I curse it for getting me having to answer it while I am in the middle of something else.


“Hello, this is the Credit Card Service. Your credit is fine at this time, but we do need to ask you a few questions at this time to keep your credit strong. First of all…”

“I just spoke to someone at the Credit Card Service and gave them all my information. So I don’t have any anymore.”


“This is a phone that is on the national ‘no call’ list. If you call again I will file a complaint against your company. Bye.”



Slamming down the house phone is such a delight.

“Hey, what did you do that for?” it asked me the last time I slammed it down.

“For everything you ever did in the last half-century.”

“Gee, take it easy, will ya?”

If you look at the future, though, this present-day delight with the cellphones may just be a window of opportunity.

Surveillance is now everywhere. If anybody does something bad on the street, not only are they videoed by everybody else and then posted on YouTube, they also have to put up with surveillance cameras that the community puts up on telephone poles.

In other words, you have your privacy now, but increasingly you have to watch your P’s and Q’s. No picking your nose. No hitching up your pants. No ogling a pretty girl—sex offenderhood is not far off, you dirty old man.

Ultimately, we may suffer the consequences of that scene in a typical sci-fi flick, where an alien, disguised as a nice human, takes over every TV set, every iPad screen, every smart phone, every internet site and every movie theater all at once, all at the same time, and says, “Hi, there. Let me introduce myself. No. No. Don’t try to get rid of me. Won’t happen.”

And rushing to find a pay phone is not going to be an option.

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