Turning Over New Leaf

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Embellished Tales of an American Consumer

Embellished Tales of an American Consumer
© 2007 by J J Botta. All rights reserved.

The Telephone Company

I still remember the days of the party line. If you had a good neighbor, the system worked pretty well. As a kid in the ‘50s, I could not understand why my mother held the phone to her ear for hours and said nothing. She spoke her mind about everything from Ike’s wife to Jackie O to Elvis, but on the telephone, she mostly listened. I imagine she feared people on the other end of town would learn her secret recipes. Even worse, someone might discover the local establishment that was offering the fifty-cent per pound sliced ham sale and beat us to the last slice. Now that I dwell on it, much of what I thought I knew from childhood probably reached my memory banks as second-hand information from the party-line lady. Accuracy was never an option. Yet, there was an art to eavesdropping in those days. Each member of the party line partnership had an individual ring tone. Consumers were advised they were honor bound to pick up the receiver only upon hearing their assigned bell. If one were quick enough and possessed the timing of an international spy, the receiver could be lifted on another person’s ring tone, revealing the daily public secrets that made life worth living. Once people were engrossed in conversation, they instantly became stars in audio soap operas.

The 1960s launched the era of the affordable private telephone line, which was a blessing for some. That was the first decade my mother spoke long distance. Of course, now we could bring the rest of the family up to date on our exciting lives and forge relationships with new friends, without witnesses, and without the need to explain away inconsistencies.

Nevertheless, the modern age of the telephone had been born, and with it, a new era of technological achievement. Leonardo da Vinci had little need for repairs to Mona’s smile, houses of yore were built to outlast their residents, and the tower still leans in Pisa hundreds of years after construction. But the telephone stimulated the economy and brought job growth to urban America. The private talking machines required installation and repairs, and the advent of the telephone technician was thrust upon an unsuspecting public.

Life was exceptional in the old days. Unusual happenings occurred daily. Folks would tell strange tales of conversations with telephone company representatives who assured them a service technician would be available the following day at 9:00 am. The next morning, the doorbell would ring, at 9:00 am, and the telephone man had arrived. Eerie chains of events were commonplace from coast to coast. These timely technicians, equipped with primitive toolboxes and black bags that put house-call doctors to shame, worked at the equivalent of warp speed in the pre-moonwalk era. Even as a techno-handicapped youngster, I was impressed at the rate of efficiency the average repairman performed his task and the rate of success each enjoyed regularly. My father was even more impressed at the rate he was billed for services rendered. It always matched the amount quoted by the utility company. Of course, one should note that the phone company owned the devices in the pre-nightmare days of yesteryear. As a society, we have progressed far since the dark ages of consumer backwardness. We now have customer-owned talking machines that require installation and upkeep that is considerably more delicate.

                                   More to follow.........


  1. The world is chaging fast, my friend. My students honestly have trouble comprehending a world without cell phones...

  2. By the way, I aquaint myself with the writings of JJ Botta and I'm thinking the Hemmingway book might be a good place to start.

  3. #167 Dad: Thank you. My theory is that the relatively new genre, Creative Non-fiction, was actually a Hemingway concept. He did not coin the phrase, but in "A Moveable Feast" he put a few facts into a different sequence for the reader's benefit, and he embellished a little from his perspective. Did that constitute fiction? He did not think so. He added a phrase in his preface to the memoir to the effect that if the reader chooses to believe it is fiction, so be it, but there is a lot of truth in fiction.

    I encountered the same problem with my first publication, which was also a memoir. I changed two names to protect them from General Pinochet and the publisher insisted on a fiction disclaimer. I was so annoyed that I began to research the concept, which resulted in my Hemingway book.

  4. Greetings,

    I too can remember my mother listening in on the line and not saying anything, until she had enough and what to make a call herself.

    Thank you for sharing your story.

    Have a great weekend,


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