This week’s costume inspiration came when my pre-teen son held up a phone book and asked what it was. It had been delivered to our door (a surprise, as it’s been years since we’ve received one). A conversation ensued about the days of phone books, telephones with cords, and pay phones.
Would you like to know the materials I used and what it cost to make this costume? Oh, good, because I was going to tell you anyway. The phone is made of cardboard, paint, hot glue, ribbon, pipe cleaners and felt. Most of the supplies I already had but here’s what I bought:
· Black tank top (thrifted): $2
· Black felt and hot glue sticks: $2
Grand total: $4
(You may find it funny that I did not own a black tank top, which is a wardrobe staple. You may have a point. But most of my clothes are pink, polka dot, or pink and polka dot. Polka dots are my staple!)
Some of you instantly recognized the phone number written on the side of the phone. But for those who need the back story, here it is. If you were listening to pop radio stations in the '80s, you heard the song "867-5309" by Tommy Tutone. It’s about a girl’s phone number written on a wall. It’s a very catchy tune and every time I hear it on the radio (at least once a month), immediately I am transported back in time to the 80s, an era of memorable pop tunes, vinyl record stores, feathered, teased hair and pay phones (and I remember this decade with major nostalgia. I love the 80s!).
The song “867-5309” made it all the way up to the #4 song on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1982. Apparently fans of the song obsessively called this number in various area codes. Those with the phone number 867-5309 began changing their number so as to avoid hundreds of calls (some during the middle of the night) to their number, asking for Jenny.
Anyway, back to the present and a talk with my son about phones. “When I was a kid, phones were different,” I explained as I rocked back and forth on my porch rocker and adjusted the afghan across my lap. (Just kidding. I had to insert a Little Old Lady moment there. No porch. No rocker. No afghan. I’m 41, not even close to being a little old lady, but in telling my son about the days of corded telephones, I might as well be talking about a time when dinosaurs rambled around, looking for phone booths.) In 1999, I knew only a few people with cell phones. Everyone had a home phone, attached to the wall. Now, many of us use cell phones as our only phone. Sixteen years ago isn’t long in the earth’s history, but in phone history, a lot has changed in that time.
Even into my twenties, pay phones were ubiquitous—in restaurants, gas stations and on many corners. Some had phone books on a shelf under the pay phone, or dangling from a metal cord. These days phone booths are nearly extinct. Most had folding doors but here’s a photo of some cool cylindrical phone booths with curved doors at the former Central Library in San Diego, before it closed.
(photo courtesy of tripadvistor.com/email4saundra)
We have a gigantic, beautiful new library now, which I like, but I’m nostalgic for the old-school one that reminds me of libraries I visited as a child.
Seeing a pay phone isn’t as rare as finding a phone booth, but it’s still unusual. Sometimes I see the empty metal shell where a pay phone used to live. Some of them have been removed from their stands. In the last few years I’ve tried a few pay phones, just to see if they still work. Some have no dial tone. Some do! I love them because they take me back to my teens and memories of using pay phones. I like that they required coins, not a credit cards. I like their push buttons and hearing an actual dial tone. Those were the days of memorizing friends’ phone numbers because we didn't have phones that memorized numbers for you. (My grandparents had a rotary phone well into the ‘80s—that could be a whole separate blog post. With rotary phones, you literally were dialing around a circle dial, not punching in numbers.)
In looking online for phone booth photos, I came across something that made my day. Phone booths are being made into mini libraries! These darling structures bring together several things I love: reading, community, and small houses. Phone booths are no longer needed, but they are getting new lives as mini libraries:
(photo courtesy of futurestudio.typepad.com)
What happy luck that the arrival of a phone book by our doorstep led to a fun costume that stirs up nostalgia for me. Communication is something all people can relate to, but pay phones are a cultural reference for those of us old enough to vote. I don’t ever want to be one of those people who starts conversations with “Remember the good old days?” The past, present and future have both good and bad aspects. But reflecting on something from the past that evokes happy memories is time well spent.
I hope you enjoyed our little trip down memory lane. This costume has a personal meaning for me, given all the pay phones I used during my chatty teens and twenties (which led to my chatty thirties and forties on cell phones). Some may think I’m too chatty, but I claim I’m exactly chatty enough. We humans are communicative by nature. So as the 1980s AT&T commercials advised, “Reach out and touch someone (by phone). Reach out and just say ‘hi’.” Give someone a call. Right now!