My Cell Phone Phobia, Part Two: 1986 Saves the Day

posted in: Day In The Life 19
Now that’s a telephone! Image: Wikipedia.


This post is the second of two. If you haven’t yet read what I posted yesterday, you should do that before continuing. If you don’t get caught up, the super weird thing I’m about to tell you will be even weirder and if you’re new around here … I’m just not sure our relationship can take that much stress, so maybe  click here and then come back when you feel prepared.

So I’m going along in my cell phone angst for years and then I get a job at the student newspaper at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC.) In keeping with the standards of any self-respecting media outlet, there’s a telephone in the F Newsmagazine office: a crappy, beat-up, yellowing beige-colored phone that was surely considered cutting-edge telephone technology in 1986. Maybe 1985. Well, it just so happens that the un-ironically retro phone is next to my computer, which makes me the one who answers it when it rings. The office phone doesn’t ring terribly often; when it does, it’s usually good ol’ Paul, the paper’s crusty-but-loveable student advisor. Paul calls from his office down the hall and barks at me to do the timesheets or ask if we’ve ordered toner. (I will, we haven’t.) But there are other calls, too, e.g., various SAIC offices, advertising people, etc.

Here’s what’s crazy: I love answering the F News phone.

Me! Phone-phobic me! The girl who puts her phone on silent and intentionally forgets to turn it back on because if she forgets to turn it back on, she can legitimately miss calls and not have to fib and say she “didn’t hear the phone” when she did hear (and see!) the phone but just couldn’t pick it up for the life of her. This girl who avoids voicemail for weeks doesn’t even let a voicemail happen at F News because it’s just so much fun to answer the phone when it rings! I know!

But there’s more. What could possibly be crazier than the fact that I love to answer the office phone?

I love to make calls on it. 

Making calls on that phone is literally my favorite thing to do in the office. I look for reasons to call people and places because the whole process is so much fun. I love it all. I love the click of the receiver as it comes off the base. I love to cradle the phone to my ear, there in the crook of my neck. I love the dial tone. I love to punch the buttons and if one hand is doing that while I’m looking at my computer to get the number, even better. And if I’m dialing with one hand, looking at my computer, telling someone in the office something like, “I’m calling right now” and if I happen to be wearing my glasses that day, I enter some kind of blissful fugue state. I’m not kidding.

So what’s the deal?

It’s the phone. You guys, it’s the old school phone. It does it for me. It’s the key to all my phone issues. The phone is the solution. And I told you this was gonna be super weird, but hear me out.

My theory is that when I use the old office phone from the 1980s, it feels like I’m playing office and how can I be anxious if I’m playing? Somehow, using a phone that is not super cool, super sleek, super advanced, etc., kind of puts things in perspective for me, somehow, and I don’t take myself so seriously.

The other theory is that using the old phone is me channelling my mother and every other awesome 1980s “working girl” I loved from the movies, e.g., “Working Girl”; “Baby Boom”; “9 to 5,” etc. My mother and those women in those big glasses and that long phone cord and their high-waisted skirts and feathered bangs??? That’s my jam! Those are my role models, my heroes! If answering the phone makes me like them, I got two words for you: Call me. Because then I can live out my phone fantasies.


Someone leaves the office and I roll my eyes because they’re sweet but they’re so much work and I have so much to do for Lord’s sake. I sigh and put my pencil between my teeth for a second and glance at my computer to check the phone number for Mr. Carlyle — I’ve left two messages already and I need to get him on the line today. My fingers fly over the buttons and I turn away from my monitor in my spinny chair, re-cross my legs and admiring my pumps. A co-worker — I need her name to be Sally — says she’s running out for a minute.

“Need anything, Mar?” Sally says as she puts on her scarf and gets her purse. Sally’s seeing someone new. A waiter of all things! That girl.

I tell her I’d love a coffee, and just when she asks me if I take anything in it, Mr. Carlyle’s ornery old secretary picks phone and says, “Mr. Carlyle’s office,” and I say, “Yes, this is Mary Fons for Mr. Carlyle, I’ve called twice this we —,” and that mean old hen says, “Yes, Miss Fons, just a minute,” and she patches me through. I cover the receiver with my other palm and whisper to Sally, “I’ll take two creams and two Sweet n’ Lows, you’re a dream,” and then Sally’s out the door.

“This is Bob Carlyle.”

It’s him, the stinker. I sit up a little straighter.

“Yes, Mr. Carlyle? Yes, this is Mary Fons. I’m glad to finally get you on the line. You haven’t been avoiding me, have you?”


See what I mean? Anyway, the guy from RCN came yesterday and installed a landline in my house. Really. I now have a landline in defiance of every advance of technology in the past 20 years. And do you suppose I ordered a crappy old beige phone? You bet I did. It’s delivered tomorrow and I cannot wait to take calls and make them. It’s a new day, people.

Hey! It’s a new year!


19 Responses

  1. Janet
    | Reply


    I’ve kept my land line because – to be deadly honest – cell phone reception is not nearly as good as what you get on a land line. They can (and will) try to tell you how WONDERFUL their reception is (can you hear me now? Um, not really…) but they know better.

    I’m old enough to be amazed that all the things we paid extra for (long distance, voice mail, caller ID) is now a part of the base price. I’m also old enough to remember party lines. Don’t know? Ask your mom…or your grandmom.

    Enjoy the new phone, Mary!

  2. Pamela Keown
    | Reply

    Me too. Love you Mar….

  3. JB
    | Reply

    Hey Mary – are you going to put a label with “M. K. Fons” under the lucite tab at the bottom?

  4. Kate
    | Reply

    Now that you have a landline, you can cancel the voicemail on your cellphone. You would be amazed at how liberating it is to have your cellphone for your convenience, rather than the convenience of those trying to interrupt your day.
    My land line’s message is “I’m busy and can’t come to the phone.” Then I feel quite at liberty to call back, when and if it is convenient for me.

  5. Judy Forkner
    | Reply

    I have kept our land line for the same reason as Janet. It used to be next to impossible to complete a conversation on my cell phone from our house. The smart phone seems to have solved that issue, most of the time.

    We do have a modern home phone that gives us caller ID–don’t want to answer that phone, either if I don’t know who is calling!

    Also, I almost always give my home phone number out, rather than my cell phone. I like to keep the cell phone interruptions to a minimum!

    We were over at a friends house recently & the phone rang. It was an old-school wall phone with a long cord. And, she answered it, with no caller ID! I was amazed!

  6. Sandra
    | Reply

    Fantastic! You kept me in suspense. Way to go.

  7. Susie McEwen
    | Reply

    When I was young….long time ago….we did not have direct dial. Operator asked, “number please” and made the connection.

  8. Cara
    | Reply

    Okay, that was worth the wait. We all deal in our own way, I suppose.

    Mine is that my phone ringer is rarely on. It started when my oldest was a tiny baby that didn’t sleep well. The phone would startle her when I was trying to get her down, but I would forget to silence it before naps. (There are lots of naps for newborns.). So, I started keeping it on vibrate all the time. Plus, since I was no longer working a professional job, that vibrating phone slowly began to spend more and more time in my purse or on my bedside table. Seven years and a second kid later, everyone is used to it. Cara checks calls and texts every hour or two, just leave her a message and she will get back to you.

  9. Patti Zwick
    | Reply

    I wish I could send you a photo of the fabulous old phone I found at my parent’s house.
    Totally retro for real. Not working, but so cool. It’s on my writing desk.

  10. Kathie Hood
    | Reply

    I am old enough to have used a party line at one grandparents along the Columbia River and an operator dialed phone at the other (you gave the operator the number and she dialed for you) at my beloved grandmother’s home only 2 blocks from Whitman College where I learned to sew on a treadle. So now though I have cordless I have two phine that are jacked in and can be used in power outages. And I had a 20 phone company job explaining why the cordless did not work and the hardwired or jacked in did. And my kids do not understand my not texting. I wasn’t to hear their voice. That tells me if they have colds, a cough or happy voices sharing the joy of their lives.

  11. Lindsey
    | Reply

    My husband loves his cell phone and doesn’t understand why I don’t use mine ( that he gave me). I’m old enough to have lived most of my life not tethered to a phone. A typical exchange is: me- “I’m going to the store, do you want/need anything? Him -”I can’t think of anything at the moment, but leave your cell phone on and I’ll call if I think of anything.” No, dammit, think now. I’m not at your beck and call for your convenience. The other common scenario is the “ what if something happens?” Well, when something did happen he was unconscious and the two numbers they had for him were his own cell phone and our home phone. When I got home, i listened to the message and drove to the hospital.
    I still live in the 20 th century very happily. I have a phone that I use for MY convenience. And for getting bad news? What’s my hurry? If it involves a health crisis the professionals are dealing with it. I’m home most of the time so call me on the land line.
    Thanks for letting me vent.

  12. Christine Houghton
    | Reply

    Who remembers phone numbers that started with words? Ours was ELgin 5-9999. Or E L 5-9999. E for 3 and L for 5. We also had a partyline for many years. Love the old phones too!

  13. Beverly Letsche
    | Reply

    I have a land line because, yes, reception is not reliable here at the house. I have refused to get any kind of smart phone because I am not away from home enough to justify it in my opinion. I have an old flip phone (known as my dumb phone) to have along so I can call if I have a flat tire on the way to town or to be able to locate my husband in Walmart. Otherwise, my cell phone is always turned off. Costs me about a hundred dollars a year that way!

  14. Colleen
    | Reply

    Such memories black rotary dial on the wall the sound of the dial returning so you could dial the next number in town just dialing the last 4 numbers. We have kept our home phone also. Now children don’t know what a home phone is. For them it’s dads or moms or the nanny phone

  15. Karen Seitz
    | Reply

    I have kept a land line in my home as well. I have a wonderful aqua(!) dial phone similar to the style you have pictured that was my grandparents’. The only reason I don’t have it plugged in is that where I have my corded phone plugged in there is room only for a slimline. I have an old flip phone for emergencies and convenience, but I can go a month without turning it on. My friends and coworkers think I am crazy, but I tell them that I don’t want to be that reachable — phone messages at home or emails (also at home) are good enough. I also say that I don’t want to be a slave to my phone; it is a tool, not a requirement. They still don’t get it. I don’t want to carry my phone around the house so that I know when it rings, plus I like being able to cradle the phone between my chin and shoulder. And I pay only about $50/year for my flip phone. Then I say I don’t want to be one of those people who miss out on the world around them because I am looking at/playing with/obsessed with my phone. They still don’t get it and think I am crazy. They’re the crazy ones in my opinion, but they’re too busy on their phones to realize it.

  16. Jan C.
    | Reply

    My flip phone is in my car, to use when I need it. The messages are full, perfect, then no one can leave me a message! Besides, I don’t remember the code to get the messages. I hate those “smart” phones. You can’t just dial a number, you have to swish through icons and roll through names. No thank you. My home phone is always available, right where I left it on the desk. A princess. . I rest it between my ear and shoulder to talk while I do handwork.

  17. Jody R
    | Reply

    I have kept our landline for the same reasons as the others above!! I thought I was the only one. I guess in the circle of people we know other than my Mom, we’re the only holdouts on keeping the landline. I, like the others don’t give out my cell # to just everyone. I give the landline # so that all messages go there. Like you I prefer if having a phone conversation to talk on the landline. PS- we also have a princess phone on the night stand in our bedroom. 🙂

  18. Jay
    | Reply

    I’m sitting at my desk over lunch, reading this entry, and I’m laughing out loud because nothing is so ridiculous as somebody else sharing my cell phone phobia. I have two cell phones: one that work requires me to have that I hate; a second one that only my wife and kids have the number for, because if I know that it’s my wife or kids, it doesn’t give me anxiety when it rings. When the work-supplied phone rings I want to chuck it out the window of a fast moving vehicle. I love my smart phone for all the reasons you said, and I couldn’t live without the GPS function, but I hate the idea of being perpetually accessible. There are times when I long for the days when there were no answering machines, no voice mail, no texting. If you didn’t get a hold of somebody, you just tried later.

    Also, I don’t share your phone fantasy (which isn’t weird per se but oddly specific, but who doesn’t love Sal?) However, I also don’t mind answering the phone at my desk. It isn’t cool and retro, but is has a cord, and it cannot come with me.

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