When Your Ex-Husband Calls

Answering the phone used to be thrilling. It was your best friend, or Publisher’s Clearing House, for real. OK, yeah, occasionally it was bad news. But when you picked up, you knew someone wanted you, the actual you, not a number on a robo call list.

Forty-six years since my first phone bill came in the mail, and my phone is now a tyrant, demanding my constant attention and adoration. I must jocky around the furniture to answer its insistent twings and twangs, an exercise that usually ends in radio silence on the other end after you say, suspiciously, “Hello?” because who the hell do you know in Syracuse? No one, apparently.

The other day I got a call that has me thinking the scammers must have watched the movie “Idiocracy” and taken it to heart. Because, duh, how could they think I am that dumb?

Phone tweedles. An Austin, Texas number comes up. An Indian-accented voice says,

“Hello, this is Dave, your ex-husband.”

I may be a doddering sixty-six, but neither of my two ex-husbands is named Dave, and neither has an Indian accent, charming though it is.

What idiot would think a man with a name that has never appeared on a marriage license with your name is actually your ex-husband calling, no doubt in jail somewhere and needing your credit card number, right away, darling.

My instant reaction: I laugh heartily. And then, bless his heart, so does Dave. The absurdity of it all. I hang up.

Do you remember when your friends would call to just chat? Chat. That word meant a voice-to-voice aimless conversation in which secrets were divulged, jokes exchanged, maybe a recipe or two. Not i-chat or we-chat or e-chat or snit-chat, a communication arranged via an app which requires 230 megabites of download, and the acquisition of 45 new settings you must learn to, ya know, chat.

When I was in high school, my best friend Anita lived in a house of seven with one phone and I lived in a house of three with one phone. We would talk to each other at night, in our respective kitchens where the phones resided. No one bothered to listen to us but we knew they were there, just around the corner. The sound of the television in the next room was loud enough to camouflage recitals of our deepest yearnings, but still. I would wrap the corkscrew yellow cord around and around my index finger, relaying sightings of Sam, or Lee or dishing on the cheerleaders, those haughty mean girls whom we desperately wanted to look like, just a little, but would never admit to it. Even to each other, in the corner of the kitchen.

We did our homework, and then, if my mom wasn’t talking to her sister, and Anita’s sisters weren’t talking to their boyfriends, we could chat. The anticipation made the homework go down easy. Sometimes that chat lasted an hour, until someone in either kitchen called, “My turn” and we went to the end of the line, until the next night. Somehow those intimate conversations held off the demon of adolescence and gave us a space to be safe, each in our own kitchens, my brother wandering in and out for another pickle or crackers and milk. I thought girls who had their own pink princess phones in their own rooms, sleek lines, no crusty edges because your mom used it right after she made pie crust, were so lucky. I was wrong. They were living out their phone lives in seclusion, where anything could be said, and no one nearby could raise an eyebrow. Where calls might go on and on, late into the night, and become an obsession.

Like so many wonderful, previously exclusive things – a new dress, sex, dinner out, vacations – phones have now become essential, cheap and ubiquitous. So many people now carry a cell phone that restaurants put out a little sign on each table with a QR code and expect you to look at their menu on your little phone screen, scrolling through columns of food and drink as tiny as gnats. If you don’t have a cell phone (inconceivable!) they will hand you a wrinkled, dirty menu with a frown. What a plebeian!

This has raised my dander. I refuse. I chalk this up to the grandeur of watching the Cinerama production of 2001 Space Odyssey on a giant, curved screen where things literally came right at you. Today, I’m supposed to watch Top Gun Maverick on my smart phone. No deal. Not happening.

WHEN I WAS IN college, the human-to-phone ratio increased dramatically. I lived in a co-op with 30 students. We shared a phone. Across the city, my boyfriend lived in a co-op with 50 students. They shared a phone. In his house, each person had a code, a series of electrical buzzes that rang in the halls when someone called for you, downstairs, on the one phone. His code was short-short long-long. I have no idea what his phone number was, but I remember that code. I would call and ask for Gary, and I could hear whoever answered the phone take a second to scan the list, then hit the buzzer. I could hear the short-short long-long buzz emanate from the phone room. Two minutes later, Gary would say, “Hello?”

It was always a delicious anticipation, those two minutes. The best two minutes of the day.