Below the Beltway


By Gene Weingarten
Sunday, December 30, 2007

Some men my age try to feel younger by getting a bimbo trophy wife. And I probably would, too, except my current wife objects. So, instead, I found a different way to peel the years off. It's cheaper, less stressful, more ethical and, best of all, what you were hoping to do to the bimbo, you get to do to . . . the phone company.

Like virtually everyone in America under 35, and like virtually no one over 35, I am now using only a cellphone. I have given up my land line.

It happened almost by accident. One day, I changed my home phone service from Verizon to Comcast because Comcast had lowered its prices for a Special Introductory Offer. Right from the start, though, there were problems: People whom I phoned were telling me that my voice sounded like it was coming to them across a parking lot from the drive-through speaker at a Popeyes Chicken & Biscuits.

This problem eventually was solved, but soon afterward my phone went dead altogether. Comcast said it would send a guy over to see what was wrong, demanding the customary four-hour "window" during which I would have to stay home. (Have you ever asked the utilities why their window needs to be so panoramic? I did, once, and was immediately transferred to a supervisor, who turned out to be a recording of Beethoven's "Fur Elise" that plays endlessly until you hang up.)

So, I remained at home for four hours, obediently waiting for the Comcast man to come and make my land line phone work. He never arrived. When I finally contacted customer service, someone explained what had happened: Following company procedures, the repairman phoned my home first, and when no one answered the land line that was broken, he canceled the appointment on the theory that no one was home. It was at that very moment that I elected to officially terminate my service by yanking some wires out of the wall.

That was three months ago. Things have gone reasonably well since, except for some rough spots related to the fact that I remain, at the center of my being, an old coot. For example, I see no reason to upgrade my cellphone, which I bought seven years ago and which still works just fine, thank you very much. It is roughly the size of a yogurt container, which seems plenty small to me ¿ I remember when cellphones were the size and texture of bowling balls, dagnabbit. But it seems ludicrously large to my children, whose cellphones are as slim as Necco Wafers and can fit into those otherwise useless tiny pockets inside the pockets of your jeans. Also, I still use that faux-leather protective covering over my phone, which evidently, to young people, is as reliable a signal of fogydom as wearing sandals with socks.

Plus, I don't really know how to use my phone. I can answer it, and make calls, and check my voice mail, but that's it. I had to rely on my son to program in my speed-dial numbers, which is why, when I want to call Eric, the cartoonist who illustrates this column, I have to click on "Big Fat Doodyface." My son won't change it, and I don't know how. And, after seven years, I just now learned that my phone can accept text messages, though it doesn't matter, because I don't know how to retrieve them.

Also, I haven't quite accepted that a cellphone doesn't have, like, extensions all around the house, and that, if it is going to be your only phone, you need to carry it with you wherever you go. Still, I have learned two important facts:

(1) It takes me exactly six rings to rush from my basement to my bedroom; and,

(2) My phone switches to voice mail after five rings.

Gene Weingarten can be reached at

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