Up and down the street, all around the town, in mud puddles and beneath mailboxes where neighborhood dogs do their business, there are copies of phone books wrapped in plastic bags.
They’ll still be there in two weeks and maybe longer, until spring and after spring. Instead of picking them up or putting them in recycling bins, my neighbors prefer to let them lie out there as sort of a silent protest.
What happened to the days when getting your new phone book was an occasion for celebration, a religious experience? You immediately searched for your name to see if it was spelled correctly … and it always was. It made you feel important. It made you feel wanted.
The new phone book brought joy to a household. It was like a tax refund from the IRS or free tickets to a Yankees game. But now it’s the object of scorn by cell phone users.
Call me crazy, but I’ve been waiting months for this phone book. I’m fed up with using the Internet to find phone numbers because it’s a tiresome ordeal. A few weeks ago, I wanted to call my neighbor to see if she’d pick up the mail while I was away, and I couldn’t find her number online.
Young people, of course, don’t have landlines because they prefer cell phones. They even sleep with their cell phones, probably because landlines are no good if you want to play Words with Friends or send text messages or listen to Pandora. Landlines just sit there, waiting for a robocall, waiting for a telemarketer, waiting for bad news.
But I have problems with cell phones. At my daughter’s home, I have to crawl behind the sofa to get service. When I go to New Hampshire, I have to trek outside and stand in sub-freezing temperatures beside the wood pile with the coyotes. And when I’m driving through Westport on the Merritt, I lose conference calls once I hit the dead zone.
On the other hand, we don’t answer 80% of our landline calls because they’re from people looking for money — salesmen for medical alert devices, charity solicitations, the Republican National Committee, my college, the Democratic National Committee, my college, the Better Business Bureau, my college. There’s no escaping the pain, even though we’ve been on the so-called “no call” list for 20 years. Now junk calls are even polluting mobile phones.
But here’s the real source of my annoyance. As I said, I didn’t have my neighbor’s phone number, so I went online to find it and got overwhelmed by dozens of sites with names like Been Verified, White Pages, Black Pages, Black & Blue Pages, People Search, Cubib, and Felons-R-Us, which offer online records for everything from voter registrations, arrests and DUIs to sexual proclivities. For a price, they’ll provide everything except what you need.
Did I want her arrest record? NO. Did I want her dating history or marriage record? Double NO. Did I want to know if the FBI, the CIA, the NRA, the AAA were after her? NO. I didn’t care. And I didn’t care that her last husband was five years younger or that she lived in Dubuque, Iowa, followed by Opa-locka, Fla. Or that her mother is between 80 and 85 years old. Or that there are 21 other people in America with the same name.
For a mere $19.37, I could view her entire profile, whatever that means. I, myself, don’t want an online identity. I want to remain anonymous. The crazy thing is that the people I want to have my phone number can’t find it, but countless people, organizations and charities that I don’t want to have my phone number are calling me every week, sometimes twice a day. How can we ever make America great again if we can’t solve this problem?
Anyway, the good news is the phone book arrived, and I’m going out tonight with a shopping cart and picking up all those unwanted books to bring them home and store in my shed for safekeeping, just so I always have one handy. Let me know if you need one.
(Follow-up: I looked for my neighbor’s number in the phone book. It wasn’t there. Maybe someone ripped out the page. Maybe she’s hiding from the FBI … or her college.)