It's 5:30 p.m. in Seattle, where we have lived now for exactly 20 years, give or take a few forays to jobs on the East Coast only to always return to Seattle where in 1993 I moved to and established phone service in the 206 area code.
Twenty years ago, we got assigned a phone number that, more than anything else having to do with a landline, I just can't give up because, after canceling service three separate times over 20 years to move to another state, I was always somehow able to get the phone company (whichever iteration of phone company was in charge) to re-assign me our old number when we moved back.
It was a sign that we still belonged here.
It was always OUR number.
So, how now do I always know when it's 5:30 p.m. in Seattle? Because the phone rings. And rings. And rings.
And no one answers it.
Worse than that, we CURSE the ringing landline! Or, rather, everyone else in the house curses ME, since I am the one who insists on keeping the landline and its attendant telephone company bills and all the useless solicitors who intrude on our night-time tranquility.
"I thought you were going to get rid of that?!" Diane The Daughter of Bill Penny Pinching Tuman From A Dead Milltown In Upstate NY exclaims.
It's the cost of the landline that most galls her, since we have three iPhones in the house plus three laptops and one mini Mac and big-screen monitor where all sorts of COMMUNICATION can and does take place.
We pay AT&T each month about as much as it takes to feed, clothe and shelter a small Peruvian village for a year in order to have those mobile phones. We pay Comcast the equivalent of the annual GNP of Nigeria for our broadband Internet service to have email and Skype and Gmail at our instantaneous disposal. And yet, I can't quit QWest or Century Link or whatever the name of it is completely, having whittled down the landline's monthly cost to about $13.12 in order to preserve something very important to me.
See, I don't want to USE the landline. I just want to keep our phone number. It's like a badge. It is like a sentimental keepsake. It's a defining and assigned identifier that for the past 20 years has been attached to rewards cards at all the local grocery stores, the gym, the accounts on our other utility bills. It's like actually part of me, like a name, or social security number. It's like part of the geographic encryption code for me being in a city I moved to at age 31, never expecting to stay, yet here we have stayed, or kept returning to and now is our permanent home -- probably.
I can say that number in my sleep, even though we really have no PRACTICAL use for it. Only once has someone that we actually cared about tried to call it to wish our daughter a happy birthday. But we didn't answer the landline because, well, we don't use it.
"We don't NEED that phone!" Diane The Bar Owner's Frugal Daughter Tuman reminds me every night when the INTRUDERS make use of my sentimental attachment. Her voice disdainful, as if I was keeping a plough horse in our yard; a thing so needy and expensive and a utterly out of date and place in our modern, urban lifestyle.
I can't help it, even though the actual RINGING of the phone annoys me, too.
Damn phone. Ringing on cue right after not ringing all day. Ringing with solicitors who so perfectly time their offers of free power washing or driveway re-paving estimates.
Ringing with firefighter associations and benevolent police officer organizations seeking donations.
Ringing with the non-profits and not-for-profits like the zoo, the symphony, the rep theater and dance company.
Ringing with pleas from Democrats, Socialists, reproductive rights activists, Greenpeace-types.
Ringing with calls from the blind, the deaf, the sick, the needy, the hungry, the poor.
Ringing with candy sellers, old couch picker-uppers, school district officials.
But the phone stays, a small, plastic relic that still chirps out cries for attention at the appointed dinner hour, when no one who I want to talk to or hear from calls into our otherwise sedate home. It's the cheapest landline I could find, so it's not even portable. It cost like $19.99 at the local hardware store. I bought it 18 months ago when we bought this latest house in Seattle.
During the day, when I'm working at home, it rests silently and uselessly on the bookshelf behind the TV. The black plastic handset collects dust at an alarming rate. The flaccidly coiled cord is strewn in a dejected heap. No one calls during the day. I never call anyone on it ever. We don't even have long distance service. We have like unlimited local calling, but we don't call anyone because we can just text them, or use our iPhones, which are attached to our palms and fingers and ears like sleek, compelling mutant growths.
I can't walk into the next room without my iPhone. It is an extension of my entire being; all my human functionality processed through its obsessively perfected/Steve Jobs-invented utilities.
But by the same token, I can't NOT have the landline, not because I want the phone, or the calls, or the annoyance or cost or the clutter of its actual EXISTENCE. I just want the phone number.
Is a former political and sports columnist who worked great cities like Albany NY, Seattle, Baltimore and Harrisburg PA. She lives New York.