Dial Tone

Before the internet or cell phones, it was all about that big clunky black hunk of bakelite or other plastic in your living room. You know the thing with the rotary dialing mechanism that caught at your fingers when you’d had a drink too many. Oh. It was only me, you say. Compared to those retro phones, a modern cell phone is like a sexy changeling.

There is a lot of sentiment in the old things. They were heavy enough to work well as a weapon of last resort if you were being assaulted and still come out of it in pristine condition. Then to many of us, the old phones facilitated our early romantic lives; making petitions to our inamorata, “Hi Betty, are you interested in the movies Friday night?” Then, after being shot down by Betty, Sue, and Mary, you used the phone to dial the weather – it was going to be a lousy night anyway.

If nothing else worked, and you lived in the greater New York City metropolitan area, you used the phone to call a unique service called Dial A Dirty Joke. The jokes weren’t dirty, just suggestive, sexist, and lame, and they seemed to be something that a retired Borshst Belt Comedian from one of the resorts in the Catskills thought up. For example, “I should have been a doctor. In what other profession can a man tell a woman to take off her clothes and send the bill to her husband?”

These memories rushed back to me a couple of weeks ago when I went into an antique mall outside New York. In one of the cases, there was a display of old phones. In front of the collection, a couple of kids discussed whether they should pay the cash to buy one as a joke present for grandpa. 

Their parents and an older gentleman were off to one side. Grandpa was carefully swiping through the emails on his iPhone. Then, glancing over to the phones, gramps laughed, poked his son in the ribs, and said, “I remember calling up for dirty jokes -“You have reached Dial A Dirty Joke…” 

He then proceeded to tell his son one of the tired old jokes we thought so amusing back then. His son and daughter-in-law looked at him sadly. The suggestion in the look seemed to say, “Poor dad, he’s finally losing it. He’ll be needing assisted living soon.”

OK, some things don’t get better with age.

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