A Story in Which I Attempt to Explain the Concept of the Phone Book

Saturday, July 2, 2016

I’m working at The Scrap Exchange these days, and studying for CPA exams (which I am taking for somewhat obscure reasons, and which I am hoping very much will be over soon) and that is pretty much all I’m doing. And it’s mostly good, I get to ride my bike to work and I get to wear whatever I want and every day is different. Which seems like about all I can hope for at this point in my life.

We got some funding from Duke through their Doing Good in the Neighborhood program (which we used to rent kudzu-eating goats to clear out some land so we can use it as a garden) and through that hooked up with the DukeEngage program, which has a program that places Duke undergraduates at nonprofits in Durham, North Carolina for six weeks and then moves them to internships in Durham, England for the second half of the summer.

Our intern is really great, I’m not sure what she expected from her summer internship but she has been game for everything we’ve thrown at her. Including goats.

She doesn’t have a car, and we’re pretty close to campus, but it’s a hilly walk and it’s hot here in the summer. She tried Uber but said the economics of Uber to and from work every day are not great. Ann had a bike in her office that came from one of our neighborhood guys who’s a bike guy, he’s always buying bikes and fixing them up and trying to sell them to us. Every now and then Ann will buy one.

So she gave the bike to Anahita to use, and we got her a helmet, and I tried to get the seat raised up so the bike would fit a little better. And that’s how she’s getting to and from work, on one of Robert’s bikes.

Last week, she asked me, “Where can I get denim?”

She said she wanted to make a denim skirt, she liked them and wanted one, but there was something she didn’t like about the ones in the stores. (I don’t remember what she didn’t like about them, but it was something fairly simple.) She said she was going to come to community sewing to see if she could make a denim skirt that she liked.

I suggested a thrift store (or our Pop Up Thrift backstock) and started to tell her where the nearest thrift store is but then remembered that she doesn’t have a car. It’s not that far, but it’s not a great bike ride. Robert (the bike guy) had given Ann a bag of jeans a few weeks ago (it’s the Robert economy, he’s always bringing us random stuff, jeans or cocktail sauce or whatever he ends up with that he thinks might have some value that he can trade for something else) and I had taken one pair that I thought might fit but then I never tried them on. They were sitting on the floor next to my chair. I reached down and picked them up and handed them to her. I said, “Here’s a pair of jeans, you can use these.”

Anahita said, “This place is amazing! Anything you ask for, here it is.”

True that.

On Friday I was talking to her about her schedule, how long is she in England and when does she start school again and does she have time for anything in between. She said she has three weeks after the England internship and she’s going back to stay with her parents. She said, “Back to where it all started.” But then she corrected herself and said that she had to go somewhere she’s never been before, because her parents just moved from Dubai to Qatar. So she’s going to see them in Qatar.

So we talked about moving around and being from different places. She said in Dubai, everyone is from somewhere else so it’s easy, when someone says asks where you’re from they mean where is your family from. Her parents are from India, and she says when she has to give a “permanent” address, she uses her grandfather’s address in India, but if she has to say how long she’s lived at her permanent address, she has to write “zero years.” She said sometimes it’s hard to fill out applications, they can be very confusing.

I told her that I had a similar situation when I left for college (not, however, involving Dubai) — my father was transferred for work from the Buffalo office of his firm to the Kansas City office. So my address on school things was Lake Quivira, Kansas, but I had never been there. People would ask me if I knew this person or that person from Kansas City, and I was like no, I’ve never actually been to Kansas. And they’re like but doesn’t this say you’re from Kansas? So that was complicated for a little while.

And I told her that during my junior year, my parents moved back to Western New York, to the same town we’d been living in before (Orchard Park), in a house on the same street (and built by the same builder — it was like a weird parallel universe experience, all these things that were almost but not quite the same as the house I had grown up in).

And then I tried to tell her about how after my parents moved back, and my brother was visiting after graduating from college, he started getting phone calls at our old phone number, and after the third or fourth call for Dan Currie, the owner of the phone number pulled out the local Boy Scout produced phone book, Who’s Who in Orchard Park, and looked up the number for Currie so they could give my brother’s new number to all of the people calling him at his old number.

And it did not occur to me when I started telling this anecdote how hopelessly confusing it would be for a 20 year-old from Dubai.

I kept seeing this blank quizzical look on her face so I had to try to backtrack through it to explain things, like the concept of the PHONE BOOK.

See there was this book that everyone had that had phone numbers in it, and if you wanted to call someone, you would look up their name, the book was in alphabetical order, so for Currie, you’d go to the Cs then work your way to the Cu’s and look through until you got to Currie and there would be the number.

She was like “Wow … a book? With names … and … numbers?? That’s so … interesting.”

I’m not sure if she even believed me.

Also later I realized that the concept of a phone number that goes with a house, not a person, might not have made sense to her either. Not sure what the landline situation is in Dubai.

After that conversation finished we were talking about her plans for the weekend, she was heading to Asheville with some friends in the program and I asked if she was going to be there for the holiday. She said she was. And then she said, “What is Fourth of July? What is this holiday?”

So I started to explain about the Declaration of Independence and the Revolutionary War, which of course I couldn’t remember any of the details properly and I recited what I meant to be the Declaration of Independence but by the time I got to the end I realized that it was the preamble to the Constitution, which I only know because of Schoolhouse Rock. So then I had to explain Schoolhouse Rock to her (and Saturday cartoons — see there were only three channels, and cartoons were only on Saturdays, just one day a week, that was the only time you could watch them…). And then we went to YouTube and watched the Declaration of Independence Schoolhouse Rock video.

And then she left for the weekend.

She is learning so much at her internship. I hope she appreciates it.

7 Responses to “A Story in Which I Attempt to Explain the Concept of the Phone Book”

  1. worldstouch Says:

    That was hilarious! We learn so much when we are teaching other people American culture, huh?

  2. Molly Says:

    Holy crap, Becks, this makes me miss you so much. I was dying start to finish. (In my head, I hear a high school girl saying, “I was literally dying,” and I groan.)

    Ari was briefly expelled from high school (a decision that was quickly rescinded) for hacking into the phone company and taking calling card numbers. As with your story, there are too many pieces of the story that are now extinct for it to make any sense. It is part of our family lore, but I’m pretty sure the kids still only pretend to remember what a “long distance call” was. I would love to have a supplementary exhibit with the sheets of paper we used to figure out who owed what on our 1112 phone bills.

    We are at a racetrack right now. Aurora is helping out with the Mazda consumer booth because they have their new MX-5 displayed, along with this great Franken-car that is half MX-5 street car and half MX-5 race car, to show that the street car uses the same components that make the model an amazing race car. (Aurora races in their pro series and has her Mazda suit with her, even though she was racing in a Porsche this weekend.). An older couple was looking at the car, and the woman commented that she had a hard time seeing over the dash. Saying “you need the Chicago phone book” is a retro joke now rather than a bit of actual advice, but I swear, even that couple looked at me blankly. I guess we have the double whammy of both being almost 50 and having good memories. (Even though the phone book wasn’t some obscure detail, like who Michael Dorris is.)

    Simone went to a bat mitzvah party held on Ivan Boesky’s former estate (which is his ex-wife’s current estate). The place is, as you would expect, full-on 1980s excessive. I used this in part of my patter about how totally over the top these parties are. But I didn’t encounter a single person who had any idea who Ivan Boesky was. By the time you go down the rabbit hole to explain everything, the story is lost anyway. So I started just saying, “oh, well, never mind because it won’t make sense” — which was kind of depressing.

  3. Cathy Says:

    Ha, love this. It’s right up there with our intern who asked me if The Love Boat was a band. And the video of kids trying to figure out what an LP is (“Oh oh! I think it’s one of those floppy disk things they used on computers [which they only knew because I think they did that one earlier in the “test”]. It’s really REALLY big though…!!) and how to dial an old telephone.

    I’m pretty sure that kids have no idea at all that “ditto” comes from an actual thing. Remember sniffing all that blue ink??

  4. lessisenough Says:

    Here’s another phone book story I was just reminded of that I will not be able to tell to people under the age of 40:

    We were having Sunday dinner at my grandmother’s apartment in Seattle, I think when my family still lived there, so this would be mid-1970s. My father’s cousin (Roy O) and his family are visiting from Montana, he is a forest ranger with the US Forest Service so they have always lived in the middle of the woods. I mean seriously the middle of nowhere, where you have to drive 50 miles to get to the nearest town, and the town has like 100 people in it.

    They have little kids and we are trying to get it so everyone can sit at the table and reach everything, and someone suggests getting the phone book for one of the girls. And Roy O and Mary just look at the person who said that like they are completely crazy — they are like what in the world are you going to do with the phone book?

    And then someone gets the phone book (which is the Seattle city phone book, so it is big, standard phone-book size) and it does provide a functional booster seat and Roy O explains that the phone book where they live is like an inch thick and everyone laughs.

    And I have no idea why I have remembered that incident for lo these many years.

    Maybe I should start a blog where people can tell stories that they can’t tell anywhere else because the stories relate to things that once served an important role in society but are now completely obscure.

  5. Beth Gobble Says:

    You are a hoot!!

  6. Marcia Says:

    That was hilarious.

    Plus, our new employee here is named Anahita.

  7. lessisenough Says:

    A doppleganger! I hope your Anahita is as good as ours was.


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