The New Telephone Book’s Here!

                                           “Oh, My Gawd!  The new telephone book’s here!”

                                                                                        (Navin R. Johnson)

                                         “Boy, I wish I could get that excited about nothing.” 

                                                                                        (Harry Hartounian)

                                         “Nothing?  Are you kidding? Page 73 - Johnson,

                                         Navin R.! I'm somebody now!  Millions of people

                                         look at this book everyday! This is the kind of

                                         spontaneous publicity - your name in print -

                                         that makes people.  I'm in print! Things are going

                                         to start happening to me now

                                                                                        (Navin R. Johnson)

                                                                        The Jerk 1979

I realize that this is a terrible admission, but I understood where the Jerk, Navin, was coming from in the 1979 movie starring Steve Martin when the new telephone books were delivered.

It’s difficult to imagine that anyone would be excited about the delivery of the new telephone books to our homes, but in the 50’s, the new telephone book was a significant event.  As a kid I would spend a significant amount of time perusing the cover of the new book.  Often the covers were works of art involving intricate drawings which, when examined closely, revealed new wonders.  In those times, the books were published by the telephone companies.  There was only one.  Today we usually receive several versions of the telephone book published by various entities.

When I was a kid, it was the golden age of covers for telephone books: full-color pictorial covers.  Usually one cover was designed for the entire United States with the local location printed on it.  Sometimes the design was the same, but an appropriate local photo or illustration was used.  I think everyone’s favorite covers were the minutely detailed views of cities.  Often there were little anomalies throughout the illustration, perhaps a mother cat leading her kittens across an intersection.

After reviewing the cover, one went straight to one’s home phone’s entry.  First you checked to be sure your home was included; then you checked to be sure the number was correct; and then you perused the address.  It was a relief to see that everything was correct.

In the beginning, the only telephone books were those published by telephone companies.  These proprietary phone books have been around since before WWII.  There are so many of these non-telephone company telephone books, no one should be without one.  The question becomes how many of these should I throw away.

Today, there is less need of a printed telephone directory: you can go to the internet, put in the name of a person or business and get the number. 

If we didn’t have a telephone book or didn’t have one for the area in which we needed a number, we’d dial the operator and talk to a person who worked for the telephone company and ask them for the number.  It was all very personal, and these operators were very pleasant and helpful.  Later this service became automated, and we talked to recordings, and later the telephone companies started charging for the service.

The yellow pages were helpful.  If you needed a lumber yard, or an exterminator, or a funeral home, you could go to the yellow pages to find all of the lumber yards, exterminators, or funeral homes in one section of the book.  Of course this is still true, but at least equally easy is going to the internet to do a search for the type of business in your area you seek.

I suppose somewhere in the country, there are still party lines: party lines, for you younger folks, mostly existed in rural areas.  This meant two or more homes shared the same line and the phones would ring in several homes when any one of them received a call.  The trick was recognizing your own personalized ring--two shorts, two longs, etc.  The system worked fine except for one flaw: a nosy neighbor could listen in to your personal phone calls.

I guess the first telephone number was “1.”  Then it expanded to a greater and greater number until it reached seven digits.  Then area codes were added.  With the increase in the number of telephones, often area codes are divided giving folks a new number to remember.

Before there was the advent of cell phones, there was a need for public telephone booths.  You could call anywhere you wanted from one of these booths if you had enough change to satisfy the telephone company.  Today, you would be hard pressed to locate a pay phone.  Apparently, telephone books were pretty valuable items because one could seldom find a phone booth that still had its telephone book attached to the chain.

I never got into cell phone usage.  We, Linda and I, purchased one for Linda years ago because we felt that she needed it when she traveled.  She’s never used it much, and I’ve only used it a couple of times when she made me take it with me.

We do have a double set of wireless phones in our home, but next to my easy chair I have a 1940’s General Electric phone.  I bought it on Ebay and have used it for about 20 years.  It works like a charm.  However, I will admit that it’s a little on the heavy side, but I don’t care to talk on the telephone much anyway.  Oh, yeah, the only other drawback occurs when I make a call and the recording asks me to hit the pound key--not going to happen.

Unlike Navin, I don’t still get excited by the delivery of the new phone book.  I guess I’ve become as jaded as Mr. Hartounian.


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