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March 12, 2006

Hello? Hello? Is Anyone There?

Editorial

Humor by Tom McLaughlin

Oh! The agony of the decision. Sleepless nights. Wrestling with modernity. I had to buy a cell phone because there has been a major theft of pay phones throughout the nation. I don't know where they went, but I think they are probably on a boat for an impoverished third world nation.

I recently went into a convenience store and asked the 14 year old behind the counter where the pay phone was. She looked at me quizzically. I explained it is the phone where you deposit two quarters and talked into it. She told me the only thing outside that took quarters was the machine that squirted air. "You mean that's not free," I asked in disbelief. We were a planet and half apart.

I checked the ads in the morning newspapers and discovered cell phone ads were usually full page. They also had a wide variety of plans. All I really wanted was a phone to contact my daughter on my monthly visits to Middletown. I read each one carefully looking for the word "free." One offered a free phone, free nights and weekends and if I don't use up all my minutes, they would freely roll over into the next month, what ever that meant. Perfect, I thought

On a stop and go shopping trip, soy milk at Super Fresh (did I tell you about my recently developed milk allergy? Okay, another column), some sinus pills at CVS and finally Radio Shack for the phone. This shouldn't take long I thought.

I went in and the sales clerk - 14 years old with one of those nose decorations that have evolved to sprout during puberty - and told her I would like to purchase a phone.

She took me over to the myriad of plug-ins for the home. I said no, I wanted a cell phone.

"You don't have one"? She looked incredulously at me.

"No, this is my first time," I said sheepishly as if I was in a brothel about to be deflowered.

Then she had to call everyone over to see this abnormal human. The clerks came over for a look and the one or two customers in line began to smirk.

After this initial embarrassment, I told the three staring clerks I wanted the free stuff and the roll over.

They eagerly set to work explaining a bizarre set of options that included a free, one-month roadside service if my car broke down.

Declining, I said I wanted the cheapest service possible.

This turned out to be nationwide, free nights and weekends plus 450 minutes. Being slow at math, I translated that into 7.5 hours. I have never spent seven hours on any phone in a month and thought this would be fine.

I humorously asked if I could talk to Wyoming as I was planning a trip to Bareback Mountain. She began to check the location for towers, obviously not a patron of Oscar winning movies, while the other male clerk winked.

I finally got to the point where I had to select the free phone. There were three of them to choose from and I did the "eenie, meanie, minie, moe" decision-making process.

Then we had to choose the telephone number. I naively thought my home number would automatically be the one and was informed by the techno-teenie that this was possible only if I wanted to transfer it to the cell phone and loose at home use. At least I think that is what she said, nasal passages being blocked by the nose jewelry.

I went to pay the bill and discovered my $39.95 monthly service had jumped to $51.25. This included a series of taxes that almost turned my liberal values into a fiscal conservative, god forbid.

Fuming, I nearly cancelled the order until the clerk told me I had 15 days to use the phone and then return everything. It is day three and I haven't taken the phone from the glove compartment yet.

Stay tuned!



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