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RANDOM TELEPHONE By Steve Barthelme Austin The telephone sits on the table like a small black dog. Perhaps you have a green, red, yellow, or white individual. Do not stare at the’ telephone because pretty soon it will look to you like a small dog, and one that is about to jump. On or at you. In this respect the telephone is like a poodle, dachshund, or other small dog that jumps around, wiggles, yaps, and slobbers, generally making a person very uncomfortable unless the person is the dog’s owner. There is something in the master-dog relationship which enables the master figure to endure and even overlook an incredible amount of wiggling, slobbering, etc. Love, I suppose. We must first distinguish between the telephone and the telephone company. The telephone company is roundly disliked by a great many people. It is a company, after all, and companies in general come in for a lot of dislike. The telephone company like any company is an abstract organizational principle put into effect by individuals, its employees. It is the only phone company in town. It has stockholders and long lines. The individuals who put the principle into effect are of diverse character but submit to at least one generalization. The individuals who install and service the equipment those who drive trucks and climb poles are in general very pleasant, agreeable people. The ones who occupy the “business office” generally are not. There are, of course, reasons. But the pleasantness and unpleasantness are greater than that justified by the reasons.. There is a third class of employee, the operator class, who suffer the abuse and ill will generated by the “business office” in the great American public. This is unfortunate, because the operators are often very congenial. They are congenial in losing their jobs should they do something unseemly, like laugh. What with the breakdown of institutions, this type of raucous behavior is becoming more common. I recently had a very pleasant conversation with an operator on the merits of Austin’s “gold building” \(it FOR MANY years I have heard people express their dislike of the company. I have heard artfully rendered descriptions of their conflicts with the company. The company always came out on the short end. I cannot gather the energy to defend the company; I do not like it much either. The only thing I can see to suggest about the company is to dissolve it and find some other abstract organizational principle to put in its place. This new principle would have as its philosophical origin the idea that how long some person talks to another person should in no way be affected by how much money they have. This principle would have as its goal giving away the equipment and the capabilities of the equipment. This principle would maintain the practice of sending out telephone bills because the bills are handsome and it’s nice to get mail. There’ll be no more of this silliness about paying, however. I feel certain that if those undeniably brilliant types at Bell Labs could be put on the problem, they could come up with such a principle and put it into action. So much for the company. The telephone itself sits by the desk \(on the looking for all the world as if it is about the start jumping, wiggling, yapping, and slobbering. It is not, of course. All it will do is ring. The ringing can make you nervous, depending on your proximity and your personality. But this anxiety is minimized by reaching around under to the serrated wheel next to the LOUD arrow and turning it backward. \(Recall, if you will, that in cartoons a ringing telephone is I have always felt that one could make the telephone ring by staring at it long and hard, but have never given this theory a thorough testing. I am afraid to. Five or six repetitions would be necessary for what is called “reliable results,” and death by adrenalin poisoning would occur well before that. When perfected it will be a great tool, though, worth the trouble many times over on dull afternoons or in arguments in which your position is moronic and ugly. In the wrong hands, etc. etc. Which fails, to bring us to the telephone and the concept of the hero. There are two ways in which the telephone bears relation to the concept of the hero. The first is that the telephone encourages hero formation. The telephone enables a great many people to talk to a great many others very easily. They talk about each other or other people. Since a hero is created by some people talking about other peole, or more precisely, one other person, the creation of a hero is facilitated. However, so many heroes are created that the concept of hero is devalued in the process. The other way in which the telephone affects the concept of hero is that the hero is further devalued because he is accessible. You can call him up. This explains the unlisted number. This also explains the “hold” button, the answering service or device, as well as a call I made to an illustrious academic five years ago. A female voice came on the line and informed me that “Mr. X is not the sort of man who likes to talk on the telephone.” Like a million other form-content equations, we are finding this one easily reversible. Should you for some reason wish to be a hero here in the land of heroes, it is ridiculously easy to arrange. Sixty years of movies and thirty years of TV have been very helpful in this regard. After you’ve mastered the brooding silences, the tinge of madness, the refined sensibility, the pointed nonchalance, the aphasia, the drug arrest, the manslaughter charge, and the psychiatric interlude, you’ll want to install your telephone equipment. Start with at least four or five lines so you’ll get a nice row of buttons across the bottom. A secretary might help, but they’re expensive. Beware of the zany message on your answering device; it’s been done to death. Location is an important consideration. Installation in a closet or closets is a nice effect, but the floor or a hanging basket will serve. Don’t hesitate to add little touches of your own. “Mother, how will I know when I am a great woman here in America?” “My dear, you will know you are a great woman here in America when you depress the lever, lean into the intercom, and say: `Miss Bik, hold all my calls.’ ” April 11, 1975 15 4 BROWSE TILL 10:00 P.M. MONDAY thru FRIDAY Now In Our 13th Year of service to Austin GARNER AND SMITH-1 BOSITO7E . 2116 Guadalupe Austin, Texas 78705 477-9725