The Phone of All Phones
Of all the reactions to the events of September 11, 2001 that I experienced, my most practical was the need to get a cell phone.
I live in the woods half-way to Albany and she does not, so our relationship even before that horrible day was based for the most part on infrequent visits and many, many telephone calls. With fear in the air, we needed to be able to reach each other and talk at any time of the day and night, no matter where we were.
She was the first to connect (with AT&T), a deal that put her into cell phone land at a price that neither of us had thought possible just a year ago. I took a research-is-needed-here approach, not unlike that which keeps us an hour and a half apart on most things; hence the geography of our lives, as Trevelyan would say, governs our history.
I set out to avoid James Earl Jones, Jamie Lee Curtis and all the ads in all the newspapers—as tempting as their lower and lower rates seemed to be. Then, one night, in of all venues, my computer, the wonders of wonders appeared.
I was pounding away at the keyboard, trying to meet a deadline for a piece in a journal that wanted to not only publish my memories of my high school sweetheart but was willing to pay me for doing it. This, as every freelance writer knows, is where heaven begins, so I stayed up late to make the 5000 words ready for the morning mail.
Then—as all too often happens—an ad jumped onto my screen with a louder than ever "WHACK!" Naturally, I moved the cursor to the "X" to close this screed from my screen. And I would have done it with a vengeance if they hadn't caught my eye with: "There is no longer such a thing as long distance." That was worth at least one mouse click.
Within 20 minutes, I had signed on and although I paid a lot more than she did—and probably a lot more than I can afford—I got THE PHONE OF ALL PHONES, ANYONE, ANYWHERE, ANYTIME and, as Bob Hope was fond of saying, "I wanna tell ya!"
There is a way of dialing the Triple-A that lets me talk to anyone, anywhere at anytime. So I did it and I dialed and dialed and kept dialing and I reached all the people I really wanted to talk to about this new war we are in. And I got an earful, much of which I managed to tape and transcribe. It's much beyond what the networks and the newspapers are yanging about; it gives a sense of history to what is going on in the heads of people who have lived in times of crisis and it adds a new dimension to the idea of instant communication. Here's a sample of the comments I've gotten on AAA with regard to our current state of affairs, by people in this world and some other worlds, starting with my parents who are both in the latter.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy:
Lyndon Baines Johnson:
Richard Milhous Nixon:
Dwight David Eisenhower:
William F. Buckley:
This guy I talked to is one of the few people who knows what is going on with this country's foreign policy, the war and all that stuff. This guy, he's working undercover as a cab driver in Queens. Guy's got fourteen kids. His wife beats him up about twice a week. He plays the horses at OTB, owes the loan sharks a bundle of dough. His brother-in-law is a grave digger at Arlington National Cemetery. Behind all these CIA-supplied cosmetics, this guy has a heart that is bigger than my belly. When I got out of his cab, he answers my question about this bin Laden business.
"See, this guy, the chief, he's like an old-time fighter," he tells me. "Ring wise. The left jab, heh, are you kidding me? That's bin Laden. Always, it's bin Laden, bin Laden, bin Laden, with the jab. The right hand, that's something else. Bin, Laden, bin Laden, see? Now comes the right hand, the power punch. Keep your eye on the right hand. Watch it. Do you see it?"
I come up with: "The last major source of oil on our planet."
"Atta boy," he says.
I almost tipped him beyond my means, remembering just in time that we were both humble folk of the working class. A large tip would have been out of place. Beneath all, I know my place.
Leo Vanderpot lives in Red Hook (Duchess Co.), NY, and writes on an almost regular basis for The Citizen, a monthly print journal that may be local and international in its concerns—except that it is wonderfully too young to be defined. His poem, "Paul Caponigro" is in the latest On The Page Magazine (www.onthepage.org).