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Mr. Bell, your invention
has been turned against us

While acknowledging it as one of history’s greatest inventions, I have come to hate the telephone. It is evil. Necessary, yes, but evil just the same.

My wife and I have four phones. I refer to them as Chucky 1, Chucky 2 . . . you get the idea. Two are cellphones — hers gets lots of use, mine collects dusts and has been recharged about ten times for every call I make. Make that twenty times.

My hatred of cellphones goes beyond my hatred for telephones in general. I hate cellphones for how they’ve turned us into a world of people who make calls for no reason. It’s like they’re soooooo happy to have a portable phone that they just have to use it, even while shopping and driving and walking and generally ignoring the world around them.

Our other two phones are, technically, landlines, though one of them is portable enough to be carried to every room in the house and throughout our little piece of property.

THAT LEAVES one real phone connected by wire to the wall. I’d like it more if our phone didn’t have buttons that I’m afraid to push. (I have no idea what's on the phone's menu.)

What I’d really like is a phone that has no function except to let me talk with the person who called. This phone would weigh about 25 pounds and have a ring-tone that could wake the dead. I’d even settle for one of those cords that has to be untangled every other day.

Anyway, the advantage of landline phones is they enable you to actually hear every word being said by the person on the other end. All bets are off if that person is using a cellphone. In that case the conversation starts like this:

“[Silent pause] ‘lo, Jack, this [silent pause] ‘om. I’m [silent pause] Bluffton and [silent pause] ‘ife and I would [silent pause] ‘ay a vis’ [silent pause] ‘kay with you?”

THE DRAWBACK of a landline — especially if its number is listed in the half-dozen phone books distributed in Beaufort County, South Carolina — is it makes you a target for nuisance calls, those pre-recorded, we’re-going-to-phone-every-day-for-the-rest-of-eternity calls

Purpose of these calls usually is to scare you or shame you into a pointless purchase or to trick you into revealing your social security and credit card numbers. Other frequent callers are pollsters who ask opinions about things in which you have no interest.

(Don’t suggest that we put our number on a “Don’t call” list. We’ve done that. Several times.)

During the first nine years of retirement, my best phone pal was Rachel of Credit Card Services. She called at least twice a week. I never spoke to Rachel; after all, she was a recording, one made by someone who certainly wasn’t named Rachel. (My sister in Naples, Florida, told me that she, too, had a long, one-sided relationship with Rachel.)

ALAS, RACHEL disappeared, though the calls continued, but with a different name. A few months ago "Rachel" returned, but with a new voice.

"Rachel's" company, which may or may not be Credit Card Services, at least had a number that showed up on our caller ID. This gave me the option of simply doing an exercise I call "weightlifting with the telephone receiver." I pick it up . . . and put it down. However, if the calls continue at the present rate I'm in danger of developing telephone elbow.

According to caller ID, most of our calls come from UNKNOWN NUMBERS. But because some of these calls turn out to be legitimate, I answer them, then hang up if the first words I hear are:

“According to the FBI . . . “

“Did you know . . .”

“Congratulations! You have won . . . “

"Hello, seniors!!"

Or, my favorite (and I kid you not): “Don’t hang up!”

THERE'S EVEN one company targeting old folks, trying to sell us one of those systems that alerts a representative if we've fallen and can't get up (like when we bent over to pick up a pill we dropped). This is a perfectly appropriate purchase, I suppose, but the telephone approach is infuriating. The caller claims to be John in the company's shipping department and he's prepared to deliver something we're suppose to believe has already been purchased.

Hey, my mind may be going — after all, I'm as likely to put dirty dishes in the refrigerator as I am in the dishwasher — but I can still keep track of my purchases.

The telephone experience is taking a toll. Incoming calls turn me into The Incredible Crank. And we receive these annoying calls at all hours, every day of the week. Not even Sunday evening is sacred. (On a recent Sunday I mentioned that to the caller, who turned out to be a real live person trying to squeeze money out of me. I used the line made famous by attorney Joseph N. Welch during the McCarthy hearings back in the 1950s: "Have you no decency?" The woman simply laughed and continued her spiel . . . as I hung up.)

DURING OUR first few years Bluffton I was briefly active with a local Democratic Party organization. I soon decided that was hopeless. People around here are incredibly conservative. Fox News is the channel of choice in public places. (Though occasionally you might find a set tuned to the Golf Channel, as I did recently at an automobile dealership.) Online comments on newspaper pages are wildly right-wing. If the local high school football team loses, blame the liberals. If there's a hurricane warning, it's Obama's fault. If a restaurant closes, the Democrats did it.

I no longer attend meetings or work at the polls, but my name is on record as being a Democrat, so in 2012 I received a call from someone who wanted to talk to me on behalf of President Obama. I had nothing else to do at the moment and there was, for a change, a real person on the other end, so we had a pleasant conversation.

That’s why I regret what happened several weeks later. It was a Saturday and I was busy. At least, what passes for busy these days, which means I was watching a football game or checking my email. The week previous had been filled with nuisance calls. Some guy wanted to sell me a home security system, another asked if I were paying too much for auto insurance, and some woman — "I'm a professional fundraiser," she crowed — thought she could get money out of me if she mentioned “cancer” and “children” in the same sentence. (This happened just after I read that most companies that claim to collect for charity put most of the money into their own pockets.)

Anyway, the woman from the local Democratic Party called, expecting another pleasant chat. Instead she found herself admonished by The Incredible Crank. I abruptly hung up — and immediately felt ashamed. So ashamed that I wanted to call back and apologize. Except she had an unknown number.

 
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