Thursday, October 17, 2013

Operator, Can You Help Me Make This Call?

Telephone:  an instrument for reproducing sounds at a distance; specif: one in which sound is converted into electrical impulses for transmission (as by wire) – Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary

I had to get a new telephone for the house. As much as I prefer our old black rotary phone, which can double as a weapon against intruders, telephone transmissions no longer play nice with them. The cordless unit we had was beginning to act up, and we were never

happy with the clarity of the answering machine recording. It always sounded like a bad fast food drive-through.

Best Buy can be intimidating to us just-fell-off-the-turnip-truckers: cavernous, flashy and overstimulating. There are too many options. Sales people are either over exuberant (which is quickly followed by exasperation when they see I have no idea what they’re talking about, and they have to dumb everything down) or they try to keep two displays away and avoid eye contact so they don’t have to deal with me.

I wandered the store for a while unsuccessfully trying to find regular telephones. I dawdled by the iPods and mp3 players, something I’ve been thinking about getting for a while but I’m 1) too cheap and 2) too intimated to learn how to use them. You’d think that the adult education folks would offer something useful like "Portable Music for Dummies." What struck me was their size; the last time I looked at them they were something you could put down without losing. Now, they’re the size of a graham cracker. The label actual included the word "Walkman" (well, that I could relate to) and "video." How are you supposed to view video on such a tiny screen? Are optometrists in on this?

Unable to find unmobile telephones, I reluctantly approached a team of three cell phone salespersons. "I’m almost afraid to ask this," I said, "but do you have regular telephones, you know, for landlines?" The inner struggle between being helpful and being condescending showed on the young guy’s face. "Sure," he smiled. "Follow me."

He practically jogged to a far wall of the store, while I hobbled after him, trying to keep up. He led me to a cobwebby and dusty shelving display, to the technological Island of Misfit Toys. "Here you go!" he announced and promptly disappeared. These phones were unpromoted and unannounced, no "Outdated Technology For Losers" signage which would have been helpful. The five display phones looked sad and neglected, spaces between them on the shelves where their brethren had been removed, never to be restocked again. All I wanted was a phone with an answering machine built it. Most of the options were a phone base with six offspring so every room in our house could have telecommunications.

I finally zeroed in on one. The box read "Communication Answering System." The word telephone was nowhere on the package. I suppose that word is now obsolete as well. Its proudly listed features included large, backlit buttons and caller ID that announced who was calling. I suppose these are helpful for us old people, who are the only ones buying these archaic things anymore. I’m surprised it didn’t come with a sample of Lipitor or a coupon for Depends.

When I approached the cashier, I joked that it was called an answering system versus a telephone. She gave me a sad, tolerant smile. "Hardly anyone has landlines anymore," she said. Yeah, well, I live in the country, honey, I kept from saying. I’d like to see how well your ass stacks firewood.

This weekend I will fortify myself with some tequila and take a run at getting our new communication answering system hooked up, charged, and programmed properly. I can always hope for a power outage, where I'll have no choice but to plug in the rotary phone.


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