I get two bills every month for my landline, one for $47.81 from AT&T and another from my long distance provider for $9.61. I never make any long distance calls from my landline now that we have cell phones that can call anywhere in the country for no additional charges and services like Skype and Zoom that let us connect via videophone anywhere in the world for free. But you still have to have a long distance provider if you have a landline, or I suppose you could go to jail because it’s the law. I almost never use my landline for local calls either and never replaced the answering machine that used to be connected to it when it broke because the only incoming calls I ever get are robocalls, or scammers trying to convince me to give them my credit card number or else they’ll shut off my gas, or enlarge my prostate, or put microwave popcorn in my computer hard drive.
I used to justify having a landline because that was my listed phone number. People who were seeking me or my business could look us up in something called the Phone Book and then call to subscribe or place ads or tell us their idea for a brilliant cartoon about being stranded on a desert island. When The Funny Timeswas first getting started we found out that AT&T charged to have your business phone number listed, but it was free for individuals. So we put our business phone, which also was in our home, under the name of Times Funny, which becomes Funny Times in the last name listings of the White Pages. Eventually Ma Bell found us out, but I think Tim Funny still has a Facebook account, or maybe he’s on MySpace.
Most of the phones that used to be connected to our landline are broken or I’ve unplugged them because there was no switch to turn off the ringers which would buzz constantly with salesmen, political PACs or wrong numbers. In fact we had taken to calling it the Wrong Number phone, because there was never anybody on the other end that we wanted to talk to, and once they started on their spiel we would simply say, “Sorry, but you’ve got the wrong number.” The only actual phone set we have left is the one that is hardwired into the kitchen wall. Back before we got cell phones this was the most important phone in the house, as it was the only one that we knew for sure would be there. That’s because the children would take the cordless phones and wander away with them, leaving them to run out of batteries under their pillows, out on the deck, even once in the refrigerator. Then when we had the big three-day East Coast power outage in August of 2003 (caused by FirstEnergy, our local power company), it was the only phone that still worked as even cell service (as well as water service) went down.
Now I’m beginning to feel like I’m as antiquated as my parents were for clinging to old ways. They paid a monthly rental fee to that rich old crone Ma Bell of $3 a month for 50 years for the same black rotary dial phones, winding up paying more than $1800 for phones they could have purchased for $19.95 a piece. I could never convince them that it would be smarter and cheaper to simply buy their own phones. They didn’t want phones with batteries and buttons. Their phones worked just fine and unless they broke there was no reason to replace them.
These were the same heavy enamel antiques that I learned to make phone calls with, back when we were hard-wired to each other with a party line that was shared with several other families. Even when we finally got our own dedicated line it was impossible to spend much time on the phone if anyone else was home, because one of my parents or teenaged siblings were always “waiting for an important call.” And we would never make a long distance call unless someone died. My mom even worked out a system for signaling that one of her children had arrived safely at any long distance location. We were to call home asking to reverse the charges to speak to our deceased Grandmother. Whoever answered would truthfully say she wasn’t there, but then they’d know that we had arrived safely.
I still cling to my landline for two important reasons. First, at least once a month when nobody else is around I have to use it to find my misplaced cell phone. So that’s my $50 a month failing memory fee. And secondly I’m sure that someday we’ll have another massive power failure, thanks to FirstEnergy, which is still incompetent and recently entered a plea deal with the federal government, agreeing to pay $230 million in fines and admitting that they were responsible for a $61 million scam to bribe the Ohio State Legislature into giving them a $1.6 billion nuclear and coal plant bailout. When that total blackout inevitably comes I’ll probably be the only person in the neighborhood who still has a working phone. Although I’m not exactly sure who I’ll call since the only people I know who still have a landline don’t answer their phone anymore.