Ode To The Payphone

Every now and then, when I’m caught in the rain or when I’ve left my cell phone at home for no discernable reason, I think of you. I see you here and there, when I visit the old neighborhood, but it’s not the same. Our run-ins are few and far between, and as I see less and less of you hovering around in blue clusters, I’m certain that you’re going to disappear altogether.

I used to sit in front of the television for hours collecting phone numbers – the Psychic Hotline, 1-800-MATTRES (leave off the last ‘S’ for savings, remember?), The Sally Jesse Raphael Show – any phone number that scrolled across my screen was fair game. I’d meet you on the corner outside of the bodega, gripping a sheet of loose-leaf paper in one hand, a pen in the other.

I’d pick you up and dial each number on my list, one by one. “Your commercial said I could have a free mattress for 30 days, is that correct? What happens if I don’t want it after 30 days?” The voice on the other line would bark, “Put your mother on the phone.” I hung up and drew a straight black line – 1-800-MATTRES.

I called 211. 311. 411. 511. 611. 711. 811. Then I’d stop. I’d call for a free two-minute reading from Miss Cleo, and then I’d call her competitors. Psychic Circle. Psychic Readers Network. Psychic Solution. I figured if I got a bunch of free two-minute readings, it’d equal out to one full reading. Then everything would make sense.

It’s funny, how I needed you back then. I tried to use the phone at my parent’s house, but Caller ID took away the anonymity that was integral to my flying beneath the radar. People started calling back. Operators. Angry phone jockeys demanding to speak with my parents. “I don’t have parents,” I’d say in a small voice. Then I’d hang up and continue collecting phone numbers.

You started to change. I’d get multicolored emails from my dad that said, “DON’T LET YOUR CHILDREN TOUCH THE PAYPHONE, PEOPLE LEAVE NEEDLES AND ANTHRAX ALL OVER THE PAYPHONES, SERIOUSLY.” Naturally, I was upset. How else was I supposed to collect the spare change that sometimes settled in your returned coin slot? Who were these people talking trash about you? Did they not see the episode of Saved by the Bell when Zack leaves money for his homeless girlfriend’s dad in a payphone coin slot (in the bathroom at the mall… that part didn’t make much sense, but whatever)? Your returned coin slot is used for good, not evil. I knew that, but they didn’t.

I moved away for a few years, my parents traded the drug-addled payphones of Brooklyn for the drug-addled teenagers of suburbia. I’d come visit and find you desecrated with graffiti. Sometimes, strange men slept inside of you and I’d think, “This is not how it’s supposed to be.”

And now? People walk around talking to themselves, black wireless devices shoved in their ears like some kind of Twilight Zone hearing aid. You’d laugh at them, if you weren’t an inanimate object. I miss that sense of humor you had. Remember all those times you ate my coins for no apparent reason? I’ll admit it – it honestly wasn’t funny then. It was kind of inconvenient and annoying. But it’s water under the bridge, as they say.

Anthrax or no, I’ll remember you and your vague surface-slime fondly. TC mark

image – Ryan Tir

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  • soulunsold

    About time someone wrote about them. We were not that intimate, but I enjoyed this.

  • Anonymous

    Once I had a panic attack on the highway (I was being chased by a semi with floodlights mounted on its cab during a rainstorm and was being blinded) and I pulled off at an exit. I found a payphone on the edge of a cornfield in a dark, abandoned parking lot that had once been part of a long gone gas station. I called my boyfriend collect and he talked to me for two hours until I could calm down enough to drive again. I was scared of the highway. I was scared of the trucker. I was scared of the bogeymen that were most likely hiding in that cornfield. Mostly, I was scared because my mother was dying of cancer. I was commuting three and a half hours between her home and the city I lived in for college and barely sleeping. The next day, I came home from class and my boyfriend had bought me a cell phone.

  • https://twitter.com/#!/VirtualKarim VirtualKarim

    The death of the payphone is a real shame. 

    Where is Clark Kent going to go to change into his superman clothes? 

    What kind of setting are they going to use now in romantic comedies now when a guy needs to make a late-night phone call (love plea) to his girlfriend and it’s raining?

    Where are children going to go to dial “0” when their parents are late to pick them up at soccer practice?

    Where are Barely Legal Busty Blonde Shemales going to put their flyers to advertise themselves if they don’t have an internet connection and know how to use craigslist?

    Too sad…

  • P.A.Fown

    WE THINK OF YOU TOO, STEPHANIE GEORGOPULOS. WHEN THE TIME IS RIGHT, WE WILL COME FOR YOU, AND YOU WILL REST IN OUR BOSOM ONCE MORE.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1363230138 Michael Koh

    Ah, I remember Bell Atlantic…. It was so long ago… The first time they came out with Caller ID… #crying

  • Anonymous

    Look at the back cover of a 2600 if you like payphones.

  • Tinywiny

    LMAO @ free calls to the psychic hotline.  I would always hunt down different payphones to get those free minutes!

  • Tinywiny

    LMAO @ free calls to the psychic hotline.  I would always hunt down different payphones to get those free minutes!

  • http://www.nosexcity.com NoSexCity

    I can’t even remember the last time I used a payphone. This has me inspired to make a random call some night while I’m waiting for the subway.

  • http://www.nosexcity.com NoSexCity

    I can’t even remember the last time I used a payphone. This has me inspired to make a random call some night while I’m waiting for the subway.

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