ONCE I LIVED with a woman who had worked for the telephone company and got two color phones for free. Also long cords. When we split up, I got custody of the phones. I moved into a one-room furnished apartment and took the phones with me. I had one installed at one end of the room and the other at the other end, but I kept both on a little table that they could both reach because I got the long cords, too. I love the way they looked together.
This is a column about telephones.
I had a green phone and a white phone and when anyone called it rang like a four-alarmer in a fire house. One day I got offered an answering service. The offer came in the mail from a firm that must have bought my name from the telephone company -- two phones, after all. They offered me one month's service for free. I accepted.
My friend has a phone in his bathroom. I have always wanted a phone in my bathroom, but I consider it somehow perverted, like mirrors on the bedroom ceiling. Sometimes when I call my friend he's in the bathroom. I understand that. Sometime, though, he calls me from the bathroom. That I don't understand. It bothers me a lot. A phone in the bathroom -- it's perverted.
So then I had two color phones and two long cords and an answering service, only no one ever called. I would hurry home after graduate school to my room with my two telephones and call my service on one of them. Some nights I called on the green phone and some nights on the white phone. No matter what phone I used, I never had any messages.
After a while, it got embarrassing to call the service. The operators would say things like, "Still no calls, Mr. Cohen" or "Nothing yet, Mr. Cohen" or, worst of all, "Gee, no one ever calls you," and I imagined the operators sitting around like old ladies at some swimming pool, imagining me ugly and thinking of whom they knew who was also ugly that they could fix me up with. Just calling the service got to be painful, like always calling a girl who always had to wash her hair. At the end of the month, I canceled the service and when the man called to ask why I told him he had a lousy service. I never got any messages.
I knew someone once who could let the phone ring without answering it. Most people can not do that. I can not do that. This guy could do that. The phone would ring and ring. I just drove me crazy. It seemed unnatural -- a lie. It was like saying you're not home, when you were. Not honest. "What if it's important?" I used to say. "They'll call back," he used to say. "What if someone's died?" I would ask. "Then they're dead," he would reply. My God, it used to drive me crazy. There's nothing worse than an unanswered phone.
When I moved to Washington, I took the color phones with me. I could not take the long cords, but I had the phones, which was what counted.I realized by then that I liked the phones very much and that I wanted more of them. I found that I liked the look of phones. They look important. They enhance your image. I knew a guy who had one in his car that did not work. He used it to impress. It impressed.
After a while, I no longer wanted two color phones. I wanted one phone with two lines. This is called a key model, and while it is more expensive, it means you can put someone on hold. Putting people on hold is real power. I once put someone on hold and went out to lunch. I loved that. What I don't love is when someone puts me on hold and my other line rings. I don't know if I can put the person who has me on hold on hold himself. It's a minor consideration, though. The important thing about key models, you have to admit, is that they look important.
I knew a guy once who had the world's biggest Rolodex. It was sort of the battleship of Rolodexes -- two wheels of thousands of cards -- and it just squatted impressively on his desk. I was fascinated with the thing and went and priced it -- $75 or something. What made this remarkable is that this guy did almost no work. This led to Cohen's rule on Rolodexes: the size of one's Rolodex is inversely proportional to one's worth to the organization. This is similar to Cohen's rule concerning bedrooms: The more lavish a couple's bedroom, the more meager their sex life.
In due course, I traded my two color phones for a pushbutton model. This bothered me because pushbuttons cost more and they account. I maintain, for most wrong numbers -- haste makes waste, as it were. But I got the phones anyway and have wondered all this time what the little star is for and the little square. I wonder also if I am paying for two buttons I can't use.
Later, I switched to key models. I kept the pushbuttons and the color sets and moved up to the key models so I could have two different lines on one phone. If you have two different lines on two different phones, people think you're not married and are trying to hide things from your parents. Now there is only one thing more that I'm going to get.
An unlisted number so no one can call.