The Invention of Limitless Phone Calls, and Other Modern Miracles
Recalling when calling your girlfriend or boyfriend could upset a household’s balance
By Ed Goldman
No, I’m not going to begin a story, forget all the details midway through then ask why Johnny Carson wasn’t on again last night (this guy sure takes a lot of days off, doesn’t he?). Nor am I going to mention finding my reading glasses in the cat’s litter box—or ask someone to provide me with “the phone number of 911.”
I’m not about to ask any of my lawyer friends if CBS-TV’s “Sixty Minutes” can be sued for stealing its theme song from my wristwatch.
Finally, I’m certainly not going to insist that all of the popular songs of my era were intellectually up-lifting. Exhibit A: The opening two verses of “Wooly Bully,” the 1965 hit recorded by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs:
“Matty told Hatty/About a thing she saw/Had two big horns/And a wooly jaw/Wooly Bully/Wooly Bully/Wooly Bully/Wooly Bully/Wooly Bully.
“Hatty told Matty/Let’s don’t take no chance/Let’s not be L 7*/Come and learn to dance/Wooly Bully/Wooly Bully/Wooly Bully/Wooly Bully….”
Lyrics like those make you forget Stephen Sondheim, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Allan Jay Lerner, Paul Simon and Lennon-McCartney for a moment, don’t they?
No, what I want to do today is briefly comment on one thing that’s exponentially changed in my lifetime—including, of course, the ubiquitous deployment of the word “exponentially” when we just mean “with increasing speed” or “a helluva lot.” For that matter, “ubiquitous” just means “all over the place,” and is especially annoying when said aloud: Is it “oooh-biquitous” or “you-biquitous?” Text me at #whogivesadamn.**
Okay, right when you least expect it: the topic.
This all came out of a joke shared with MBK (my beloved Kim) in one of our hour-long nightly phone calls. When we were in love as teenagers, and both of us lived in Southern California—where she still does, ergo the hour-long nightly phone calls—our parents pressured us to end our then-even-longer calls. My mom (the chief pressurer) used to shout from the den, “I’m expecting an important call”—which, if there’s a Heaven and she made the cut, I suspect she still is. I think my mom fantasized that she was an international diplomat whose recipe for blintzes could have put an end to war.
This should tell you something about the times in which Kim and I grew up. There was only one phone line in most homes and until my parents splurged on it, no additional phone (which we called an “extension”). My mom, who was a great money saver, thought it would be cheaper to have just one phone in the house but connect a very long cord to it, since the phone company charged you an extra dollar or so a month for each additional phone, even when they all had the same number.
The error of my mom’s logic surfaced on more than on occasion when my dad, my mom, my brothers or I got a foot wrapped up in the cord and did a pratfall while heading to the bathroom in the middle of the night.
Kim’s and my joke today when our calls run long is that we’d better say goodnight because our folks might want to use the phone.
Well, 75 percent of Kim’s and my parents have left the building (and her mom just turned a robust 98!) and the notion that a household today with more than one person would have only one phone is comical. For all I know, my cat Osborn the Magnificent has not only his own phone but also more Instagram and Twitter followers than I do.
So listen up, young people: Be grateful you live in a time when—despite a global pandemic, the constant threat of a world war with Korea or China, a president who, in service to his ego and out of the most transparent case of stupidity since Walt Disney’s Goofy, has made the greatest country on the planet an international embarrassment—you can now call your boyfriend or girlfriend and stay on the phone for hours (though certain roaming charges may apply).
And on that note let me close with the inspirational final verse of “Wooly Bully,” as well as offer an erudite footnote,
“Matty told Hatty/That’s a thing to do./Get you someone really/Pull the wool with you/Wooly Bully/Wooly Bully/Wooly Bully/Wooly Bully/Wooly Bully.”
*In this usage, “L7” does not refer to a part of one’s spinal nerve. It’s a visual clue for “square,” as in when you have an L and a 7 forgo social distancing.
Note to National Education Association: When you send me a public service award for the above footnotes, please note my address changed three years ago—which, I suspect, is why your previous awards haven’t reached me. Please call me for my new address. We can talk for hours.