John Reinhart

Communication by Land

I was surprised how easy it was to order a new land line telephone online. Within forty-three seconds I had a new phone number and an order for someone to activate the phone line. Whatever “activation” means, it costs thirty-five dollars. I hooked up the phone and….no dial tone. I plugged the phone into all five jacks in our three-room house and still no dial tone. I climbed out the window and plugged the phone into the box outside and still no signal. “Maybe the actual line was disconnected,” I mused, since “land line” is now synonymous with “Cretaceous.”

I decided to continue troubleshooting before the repairman arrived. My new phone was a fancy answering machine cordless deal with more lights than R2D2. Perhaps the problem was with the phone and not the line. I raced up to the local office supply store and perused their phone selection for a less technical model.

Why is it that those fifteen pound, square rotary phones have disappeared from even thrift store shelves? Are there really that many doors in need of propping? That much paper to weigh down? I want to be that person who presses zero repeatedly because all those inhuman menu options are for touchtone phones. If I wanted to talk to a machine I would start a conversation with my record player. It’s more likely to have something interesting to discuss than a disembodied machine whose options are always changing and who is determined to keep the caller from ever speaking to another beating heart.

At the far end of the shelf, tucked away behind the twenty dollar models was one lonely phone. It did not have a price and there were no boxes of stock phones below it. It was exactly what I was looking for. It had buttons, a cord, and no need for external plugs, batteries, or ointments. It was big, clunky, not very attractive, but eminently functional, the kind East Germans might have owned.

I took it to the cash register and inquired about its purchasability. The woman at the register called another employee over. He looked it up on the computer and found that the store had no record of that model in any computer system he could summon.

“Well, could I purchase this one?” I figured it was worth asking, even if the computer did not believe in the existence of my treasure. The employee seemed agreeable, if not particularly friendly, and after chatting with his manager in the back of the store, he said, “We’ll sell this one for ten dollars.”

“How about five dollars?”

Now, I grant that I’m no great haggler and I could probably have convinced the employee to give me the phone since the computer claimed it didn’t exist, but five dollars sounded reasonable.

When I returned home, the simpler phone did not resolve anything.

That afternoon, repairman pulled up, threw out an orange cone and began collecting tools. He took one look at the line from the house to the telephone pole and gave his opinion. “What happened to your line? It looks like it’s growing into that tree.” Half an hour later he had replaced the entire line and fitted our little house with a new telephone box. I plugged in the phone and heard the reassuring sound of angry hornets in my ear.

Published 10-15-17

John Reinhart is an arsonist, father of three, and poet. He is a Frequent Contributor at the Songs of Eretz Poetry Review and recipient of the 2016 Horror Writers Association Dark Poetry Scholarship. His work has been nominated for multiple Rhysling and Dwarf Stars Awards. To date, he has penned five collections of poetry. Find his work here and @JReinhartPoet