Telephone Hour by
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A show-stopping number from “Bye-Bye Birdie”, in which I played Randi in 10th grade, is “The Telephone Hour”. Staged better in the theater than in the truly awful movie, it shows all the teenagers, posing in a multi-level platform-cubicle, gossiping on their princess telephones: “Hi Margie, Hi Helen, What’s the story, morning glory? What’s the word, humming bird” Have you heard about Hugo and Kim?” I loved being in that number, with one leg high up against the side of my box, showing my flexibility. “Did she really get pinned? Did she kiss him and cry? Did he pin the pin on? Or was he too shy?”

Real life wasn’t quite like that. Our house had two phones; one in the kitchen…not a private space. The other was in my parents’ bedroom, on the nightstand between their twin beds. I think it was a big deal when we got our first princess phone. After my homework was done, I loved to sit on the floor between those twin beds and chat for hours with my girlfriends. I’m not sure we had anything important to discuss, but it was fun to catch up on the day’s events, find out who would be going to the Friday night game, or the dance, any news of break-ups or new romances. Stuff like that. Visions of a cordless phone, answering machine or a cellphone was beyond my imagination. Actually being disconnected from the plug in the wall seemed like something from the Jetsons.

Do I miss this lack of connectivity? Not really. I miss the innocence of the era and what it represented in my life. Now that we carry little computers with us at all times, we can be in touch at all times. I was recently reprimanded by my husband, while he was still on Martha’s Vineyard and I was home in Newton, watching a movie one night, for not looking at my emails for a while. What was I doing, he demanded to know? (We’d had a mini-disaster at the Vineyard house that we needed to attend to…why he didn’t CALL me, well, that’s another story. But my phone didn’t ping, warning that a new email had come through, so he sat there, getting angry, rather than calling me!) Yes, we live in a hyper-connected world where we expect people will answer immediately; whether that is possible or not.

The AAA Trip-Tik is another vestige of those by-gone days that wasn’t as perfect as our modern GPS or Waze, but my dad was the master at following the orange high-lighted line to wherever we were going, whether it was up north to Lake Michigan for a vacation, or getting us out to visit his sister in Worcester (I thought that was such a funny word and mispronounced it the first time I saw it on a map). Our trips tended to go through Ohio, so we could visit Mom’s relatives along the way; her brother and nieces in Toledo, her sister and nephew in Cleveland. Then on to the East Coast to take Rick or me to Brandeis. Or pick Rick up at JFK airport upon his return from two years in Israel in 1972. So again, it makes me miss my father tremendously…his great driving and navigational skills (he taught navigation in the Army Air Corps in WWII), his generous spirit and love of family, his warmth and humanity.

While GPS had helped me tremendously (I have no innate sense of direction), I traveled constantly for business during my active working life, long before there was any navigational tool to help me find a new client in a strange city. When I set up the appointment, I would ask the client for directions to his company from the airport (as the common denominator, figuring that I could adjust once I got to my hotel). It is amazing how detailed the directions, with great landmarks, people used to give. I would also allow myself a half hour extra, in case I got lost, and in those days, gas stations actually had LIVE people, so I could always stop and ask for help, which I did, if I needed to. I have never been afraid to ask for help when the need arose. I was NEVER late for an appointment. That would be rude. I believe in good manners; in my professional and personal life.

The pace of life has sped up. We may feel nostalgia for what “used to be”. Technology has improved our lives in many ways, but it pays to remember how to be civil and patient.

 

 

 

Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.


Characterizations: right on!, well written

Comments

  1. John Shutkin says:

    Great story, Betsy, and one I can truly resonate to — starting with the fact that I, too, was in “Bye Bye Birdie” when in high school and (being in the lowly chorus) was also in the terrific “The Telephone Hour” number. However, since my skills were mainly — and literally — behind the scenes, my favorite part of the number was helping our art teacher build and paint the abstract set: huge, brightly colored rectangle backdrops that sat behind the main singers (like Randi), all connected by black lines representing the phone wires. Those black lines would make absolutely no sense to today’s teenagers.

    But I most resonate to your last point. Technology is great for the most part, but civility and patience must still prevail. Thanks for reminding us of this.

  2. Laurie Levy says:

    Loved that scene from “Bye-Bye Birdy,” Betsy. And your observation that princess phones attached to the wall harken back to a simpler time. Trip-Tiks and hand-drawn, detailed maps were my husband’s specialty. I love your example of your husband being angry that you missed his email because your phone didn’t ping. Happens to me with texts all of the time. I have no idea why my phone sometimes doesn’t ping (or maybe it’s my hearing?). At any rate, I fully agree with your conclusion. A bit of patience and civility would help these days.

  3. Marian says:

    Let’s hear it for civility, Betsy, well put. Love your description of that scene in “Bye-bye Birdie.” I think those phone conversations helped everyone feel connected to their friends, no matter how trivial the topics. Now if you get a real voice call, it’s either a scam, nuisance, bot, or, heaven forbid, a real emergency. Your diligence with appointments for your clients is great. I wish they’d teach courtesy and planning ahead in school!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thank you, Marian. I don’t know if planning and courtesy can be taught at school (though I think that it could be part of some executive function curriculum). Some of it needs to be modeled at home as well.

  4. Oh, I love your recitation of the Telephone Hour! It immediately evoked memories of not only my high school production of Bye Bye Birdie but of my own pink Princess telephone. (My number was 213-462-4010 which was just one digit different from the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, so I was constantly getting wrong numbers and finally came up with concise spiel to redirect people.) My boy friend and I would actually fall asleep together over the phone at night.

    I also love that you admit to not having an innate sense of direction…I’m guilty of the same thing but like to think it’s just a matter of paying attention. (I keep meaning to.) I used the Thomas Guide daily when I was a free-lance court reporter running all over the city for depositions.

    So many great memories sparked by this story…but now I have an ear worm, and an image of very flexible you with one leg up. My granddaughter can do that…I NEVER could…not even close!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I remember my phone number too, Barb! Those years meant a lot to us. And welcome to the no sense of direction club. Technology has helped us, but I rather liked getting directions from clients. It was a bonding experience.

      I’m afraid I’ve lost much of that flexibility but still love my Pilates. That keeps me going.

  5. Suzy says:

    As everyone else has said, that telephone hour scene from Bye Bye Birdie is a great memory! I also would chat with my friends for hours, although my parents actually got a separate line for the kids, because they were tired of 3 girls tying up the house phone.

    I mentioned TripTiks in my story too, they were great, and AAA actually still makes them, if you want to indulge your nostalgia! And yes to people giving detailed directions with great landmarks, as well as the ability to stop at a gas station for directions if needed. However, there were times when I got lost in a neighborhood where I was afraid to get out of the car, so I’m very grateful to have GPS now and avoid that problem.

  6. You’re so right Betsy, here’s to a return to civility!

    I remember how grown-up I felt when my parents agreed to let me have an extension in my bedroom, and the hours I must have spent on it when supposedly I was doing my homework!

  7. “Princess phone.” What a stroke of marketing

  8. Joe Lowry says:

    Loved the story. I too think that the level of civil discussion and action has fallen in recent times. I blame some on the 24/7 connections with e-mails and cell phones and the politics of the time. Hopefully, things will get better in the future.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Boy, I hope you are right, Joe. I voted for a different Joe on Monday. Seems like a decent guy who listens, learns and values others’ opinions. Let’s get to a lower temperature in this country and around the world. We all need a good night’s sleep!

  9. All of the above, Betsy, but the Trip-Tik caught my eye. We used to use them on theater tours. AAA would plan out the whole route on a notebook full of flippy maps that zigged and zagged us ‘cross country via magic-markered routes. Little did they know they were planning the routes for rabid outside-agitating thespians.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Weren’t Trip-Tiks the best? I loved those magic-marker-high-lighted routes across the country as well, Charles. AAA didn’t discriminate between my family’s vacations and your rabid agitating thespians!

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