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Old Things That Are Tough To Explain: One Phone Line in Your House

February 12, 2018

When it comes to communicating with friends, my daughters are kind of spoiled.  Both have cell phones, and they pretty much have unlimited access to everything out there.  My wife and I talk about appropriate sites and behavior, but we don’t monitor it that much.  Sometimes my daughters don’t appreciate the freedom and access to information they have, and when I try to explain how things have changed in just a generation, they give me the blank stare.

Until recently, I try to explain to them, the telephone was used only for talking.  And it was usually attached to a wall or was set on a table and the cords kept you from walking too far from wherever the phone jack was.  There was no caller ID, there was no voice mail, and if you were already talking on the phone, whoever was calling would get a busy signal and you wouldn’t even know somebody was calling you.

When the phone rang, you had no idea who it was.  It could be your best friend, a prank, or a telemarketer.  The only way to find out was to answer it.  If you weren’t home and you missed a phone call, you didn’t know about it until that person called back.

When you were out, you had no communication with the outside world.  When your car broke down in the middle of nowhere, you were screwed.

For large families, the most violent fights amongst the kids, especially sisters, were about who got to use the phone.  Adults would fight over money, or drinking, or cheating around, but kids fought over the phone.  Phone fights happened when parents weren’t home or were too tired from work to care, but they could get pretty violent.

You might see a girl at school with a bump on her head and find out that her sister hit her with the phone because she was talking too much.  Boys usually would just get into fist fights over the phone, but to be fair, we’d get into fist fights over everything.  For girls, household violence was usually over who got to use the phone.  One friend of mine had a violent tyrannical older sister who would talk on the phone and watch TV at the same time, and she’d hit him with the phone if he ever interfered.

If you were lucky, you could maybe get a separate teen line.  That way your parents wouldn’t miss calls if you were on the phone all the time.  You could keep the teen line in your room so that your parents couldn’t hear what you were talking about.

If you had a teen line, it might be listed in the phone book as “teen line,” and then pedophiles would call you.  Back then, we just called them weirdos.  Every couple weeks some weirdo with a deep voice would call and ask questions about what you looked like and what you were doing.  When you called them a weirdo and hung up, they’d just call back so you’d have to disconnect the phone for a while or call a friend so that the weirdo would get a busy signal.

You couldn’t tell your parents about the weirdos because then your parents might take your phone away, and that wouldn’t be fair.  It wasn’t my fault the weirdo was calling me.  So you just kept quiet about the weirdo and hoped that some other unfortunate gullible kid with a teen line didn’t get lured into a white van.

On the other hand, you could get calls from crazy girls looking for phone love.  The crazy girls were fun because they were crazy.  They would tell you all the crazy stuff they’d do to you if they met you but you knew you’d never meet them, so you’d just laugh it off and lie about what you looked like.  If you ever called them crazy, though, they’d get mad and cuss you out and threaten to find you and kill you.

That was a valuable lesson.  A woman who calls herself crazy usually isn’t because she at least understands the concept of boundaries.  The crazy woman who gets angry when you call her crazy usually doesn’t realize that boundaries apply to her too.  If you’re going to deal with a crazy person in general, it’s better to do that on the phone or the internet.  I’ve tried to avoid crazy people in real life, and I’ve taught my daughters to do the same because there are still lots of weirdos and crazy people out there.

That’s the good thing about my daughters having their own cell phones at a young age.  They already know about weirdos and crazy people.  And if they run into a crazy person in real life, they can always hit him with the cell phone.

And then they can use that cell phone to call for help because that’s what phones were originally supposed to be used for.  But that’s an old idea that’s kind of tough to explain now.

From → Pop culture

  1. Woe be unto teens that called our main telephone line instead of the teen line. They were read the riot act.

    • Ha! My dad did the same thing when my friends accidentally called the family line:

      “If I wanted to talk to you miscreants, I wouldn’t have given my son his own phone!”

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