Sunday, August 26, 2007

Telephone Woes

(Ironic note first. This posting was delayed for days by my fershluginer computer which kept sending error messages and shutting me down every time I tried to use the damned Internet for anything! Now, please, read on.)

During that recent whirlwind trip to England, I tried to call back to the States on several occasions, but had trouble connecting--a hidden flaw in our cell-phone, caller-i.d. society.

The nine-hour time differential was awkward enough, but not the root problem. First off, the so-called international phone card I'd purchased didn't work for some unknown reason. Next, all my attempts at calling collect were shortcircuited by cell-phone rejections and answering-machine messages that were (of course) unable to accept calls. Moreover, my grudging follow-up calls attempting to pay by credit card all fetched up against a different frustration--connections that were going through but only to answering machines rather than actual persons!

Would I have been better off using some cell I'd carried across the Atlantic? Advance costs quoted for those seemed exorbitant to my (Luddite) thinking, so I ignored the idea, but as it was, I still wound up paying outrageous amounts (partly due to the painful dollars-to-pounds exchange rate, it's true) for poor results with almost no aural satisfaction.

The whole experience made me wish for the bad old days of recipient phones that simply were answered or not, and phone booths that commonly could be found inside post offices around the world--where you could pay by stacks of coins that were actually returned to you if the calls didn't go through.

Maybe if I'd persevered at a callbox... But just as the number of U.S. phone booths is dwindling, England's fine old red callboxes are also disappearing, albeit more slowly. They are still a thing of almost architectural beauty seen from without, but the insides suffer all sorts of abuse. What is it about phone booths that brings out the worst in people?

Well, donkey's years ago, back when Margaret Thatcher ruled Britannia's waves, I wrote my own fractured ode to a callbox, and here it is, still pertinent in 2007:

Man in the Glass Booth

I close the door
abandoning, for the moment, lorries’ roar,
thick skin-
head posturing, and nearby takeaway den
din. In here, I
can almost hear my
self think.
Not that it does,
much. Britannia’s
on the brink
as usual—or so the tabloids say.
Moi aussi

but soldiering on, of course,
both of us;
old news. Having carried
no news from Aix to Ghent,
I now curry
none in London. Nothing fit to print,
anyway: a sign
of the Times. As if by design,
among the invitations to leather
or massage, and the cruder
callbox-Byrons’ rhymes, I see
“For a good time, don’t call Maggie…

back.” Small chance of that;
the phone’s been rendered hors de combat.
What’s more, someone’s
put the boot in through two panes,
had a spo’ o’ bovver wiv a yellowed parchment
directory, and taken
greater pains
to scratch out all dialing instructions.
Even the cord has the mange.
Slightly squiffed, like Clark Kent
I have come in
to change…

my luck, if not my shirt.
Quite absurd,
really. The grimed glass displays
some misplaced Man of Clay,
out of pence
and pluck, who couldn’t
stay in touch
with anyone tonight. I’ll just reach
out and douse
the callbox light, and drowse
a while in

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