My War With Ma Bell
I know I’m the last of a vanishing breed, and a traitor to my sex, but I honestly think I’d be better off without a telephone.
There’s something about the insistent ringing of that infernal bell that can drive even the most modern housewife to drink. It is no respecter of time or convenience. Any imbecile with the mental age of a five-year-old can dial your number at any time of the day or night, and frequently does.
But by far the most popular time to call is between the hours of five and seven, when you’re cooking dinner, bathing and feeding children and trying to get the living room looking more like itself and less like a church basement after a rummage sale.
None of these calls is for me. They’re for the children, or for my husband, who’s a lawyer. Now I have yet to discover the reason for it, but a lawyer’s clients never call him at his office, probably because he’s too smart to be caught there. He’s always in court, or in conference, or having a snort at the nearest pub.
So they call me, outlining the details of a legal problem that would baffle Blackstone, while pots boil over, doorbells ring and children converge from all directions, crying, quarrelling and generally raising Cain. Taking a message is impossible. There’s never anything to write with anyway, unless you count the blood I’m going to shed the minute I get off the phone, because the baby’s diet currently consists of nothing but freshly sharpened pencils.
I admit that the foregoing contains just a hint of exaggeration. Of course not all calls come during the supper hour. They also occur while you’re in the bath, or locked out on the back veranda in nothing but your nightgown, or just as the baby has finally taken the hint after numerous pleadings and announces, “I have to make—NOW!”
I gave up asking my children answer the phone when I was busy after I overheard one of them say, “Mummy can’t come to the phone right now. She’s making a wee-wee. May I take a message?”
The telephone and my children are bound by the same magnetic attraction as the one between a cobra and a mongoose. As soon as they learn to dial a number your doom is sealed. I can stand their interminable shrieking and giggling with their friends. What I cannot stand, is having to make a vital call, such as to the fire department to announce that the baby has locked himself in the bathroom again, only to discover that the other child hasn’t hung up the receiver at her end, leaving my telephone completely out of commission, me in a fuming rage and my baby unrolling all the toilet paper out the bathroom window.
Actually, now that I think about it, that telephone is probably exacting long-overdue revenge for the indignities inflicted on it by my eldest, then aged two. I must say that the telephone repairman was very understanding. He spliced the cord together after a session with the scissors dismembered it, and removed the bubble gum she worked into the dial. He even replaced the receiver filled with apple juice. But he finally told me that he was sorry, but if she flushed the receiver down the toilet one more time, he would simply have to remove the telephone.