Several thousand years ago, but just the other day to me, Gladys would say, "Number please?" when I cranked my rural magneto telephone. Then I might say, "You think Charley's come in yet?" Gladys, one morning, said: "Oh, yeah, but I just seen him trot across the street with a pail. I guess he's in Pratt's store. Want me to ring him there?"
"No, I'll wait till he's back in his office. How you doin' this fine mornin'?"
"Fine and dandy," said she. "Things are off to a good start. Jake Spinney's aw-ready talk' to his broker, an' Doc Clark's on a call to Maple Corner. What's up out your way?"
"The sweet corn, about four inches."
"Good for you! I'll give you a toot when I see Charley go back."
"Thanks! Keep the faith!"
Lives there a man so rash as to engage me in an argument over the delights of a computerized world, and will insist things are much better now?
When I tried to use my (not the company's!) phone a few moments ago, I was greeted by three supernatural whimpers and this: "The number you have dialed is no longer in service. Please hang up and dial again. If you have difficulty reaching the number, please dial Operator for assistance."
Ignoring the oddity that today's telephone company is unaware that there is nothing now to hang up, then pray tell me, why would I dial a number no longer there? Back, way-way back, when we first had a telephone and we had 19 subscribers on the 1-0-2 line, I said, in the presence of myself, that the telephone company was run by a bunch of people who don't know how to run a telephone company. In a computerized world I have no reason to change my mind.
The 19 telephone instruments on one line created an overload, so when I cranked Central all my juice went to ring all the bells and there was no wallop left to alert Central. I lost Gladys, and so did the telephone company, and we've been saved by the electronic age.
I felt like talking with Duddy Whitney. Since he is employed by a considerable conglomerate in a principal city, I considered the friendly telephone, for which I pay a bundle, and I forthwith dialed the number. Joy to the world! I heard the thing zizz five times, and then:
"The number you have dialed is a wrong number; please hang up and dial again. You must dial 1, the area code, and seven digits. If you have trouble, please dial Operator for assistance."
Now look, friends! I've been at this for several minutes, and already I miss Gladys. Just for fun, I now dial Operator, but instead of Gladys I hear, from another tin can, "All operators are busy. Will you wait and dial again, please?"
Instead of pursuing Gladys, I dialed the same number I was told was a wrong number, and it wasn't at all. Now I could talk to Duddy!
So I heard, "Good morning, you have reached such-and-such. If you wish executive level, press 1. If you wish consultant assistance, press 2. If you wish intermediate preparatory instructions, press 3. If you wish investment opportunities, press 4. If you wish to buy an umbrella, press 5," and on and so on, I guess, because I "hang up." I never got Duddy, but the first of the month I got a bill for the call. Oh, Gladys, dear, I miss you so!
I am admittedly an old fogy and I don't know nothin'. I liked things the way they were. I sit in my evening rocker relaxed and contented; and even though Chipper Jones just made a grand slam for the Braves, I am peacefully apart from the sordid, and computerized, world. The last thing I need is bother. Here I be, happy, uninvolved, languishing in my own serenity, apart and tranquil.
My telephone rings. As I say, it's my telephone. It no longer is furnished by the company. I paid for it, and all the telephone company owns is the hole it plugs into. So I answer my telephone: "Bide-a-Wee Foundling Home," I say, "your order, please!"
Now I hear "Good evening" - honey dripping - "is this Mr. Gould?" By now I know what's coming, so that's about as far as it goes. If I let the thing go further, I find I am talking to Sarah and she is not selling anything but would like to send me a beautiful brochure that will tell me all about the lovely plastic siding now available for my home.
Then, as Sarah continues, she finds that I have "hung up."
WHY do they do this? We sold our house and came to live in this comprehensive institution for comfortable senior complacency, and I have no need for lovely plastic siding.
May I inquire why a computer can program an entire evening of telephone calls, so Sarah can sit in a bucket shop and talk to suckers all night long about siding they don't want, and yet can't kick out an old codger who has no house to put siding on? They tell me as soon as Sarah makes her pitch, the next sucker on the list is on the line, ready to be annoyed. It's a wonderful new world.
I guess I didn't tell you about Lem Stilkey and how he went into the town office at Henderson Plantation and smashed the telephone answering machine all to flinders with an ax?
The police asked Lem why, and he said, "I called the town office and a tape said if I'd leave my name and number, they'd call me back Tuesday."
The policeman said, "Yes?"
"Well," says Lem, "I had a big tom sittin' on my woodpile, and I called to ask when the turkey season opens."
The time has long since passed, I believe, when the telephone company should start paying me.