It's not about the house.

Saturday, November 8, 2008


I have bad luck with phones. I always have. Ever since my brother and I learned how to unscrew the mouthpiece of the old handset receiver and take the microphone part out so we could listen in on our big sister’s private conversations without having to stifle our giggles, and ever since we learned how to screw it back in really quickly when we felt a big belch coming on, I have had back luck with phones. They’re always breaking. Either spontaneously, or else people get mad when they hear burping while they’re trying to talk to their boyfriends and they wind up throwing the rust-colored princess phone you got for your eighth-grade graduation present up against the lousy bedroom wall.

Sheesh. I was a tomboy. How was I supposed to know what it felt like to be a teenaged girl? I thought burping was hysterical. Still do.

Anyway, I’m not kidding about the phones. We moved here four years ago, and we have gone through equally as many phones. And that doesn’t even count the bone-white princess one we keep in the drawer for when the power goes out, which also seems to have given up the ghost since the last time I used it. I mean, it works – I could call out for emergencies or pizzas in a hurricane if I had to – but there’s a sound in the background like a constant burp. Which, okay, now I see how that can be annoying…

The first one – a pair of cute little white cordless handsets – did not technically break. Technically, the batteries died and it was some weird brand that I couldn’t get replacement batteries for unless I ordered them online and paid more than I had paid for the phones themselves. No thanks. I got all uppity and emailed them and told them they had to just give me new batteries, goddammit, but they just burped and giggled and told me I should have read the fine print first.

I replaced that with a black one that had just one handset and an answering machine (we aren’t voicemail people very much; we like to see a number flash to tell us someone’s called. We do have caller ID now, although we didn’t used to, but we never scroll down through it to see what we might have missed. If you call us and you don’t leave a message, then we don’t know that you called. It’s like Little House on the freakin’ Prairie around here, I’m telling you.). The black one worked okay for quite a while – almost two full years, in fact. And when the batteries died, I found the correct replacements after only seven stores and two wrong tries (want to know where I found them? Stop & Shop.).

It did start going a little wonky when we switched our service over to Comcast digital. Sometimes people who called would say it rang six or seven times before we answered, when we swore to god we only heard it once. Things like that. I called Comcast and they said it was because certain brands of telephones are incompatible with their digital service. Which I thought was odd, but nice of them to have mentioned before they signed us up. This phone was GE, though. A major, you know, actual thing. Surely GE can’t be one of those incompati-brands. Um… yup. It is. But I decided I could live with its wonky foibles rather than replace the phone, because I knew the phone itself was bound to be breaking soon enough. And I was right.

Sometime over the last year, the buttons just stopped working. You’d push and push and push and never get that satisfying little beep indicating it went through. And then suddenly you would get two or three. So you’d hang up and try again, and you’d swear and think about hurling the damn thing against the wall. Finally, I decided there was no one I needed to call who hadn’t called me first. I’d scroll through the old files of caller ID – sometimes two, three months into the past – until I found whoever it was I was trying to reach out and touch, then I’d just hit “talk” and we’d be off. I kept going to stores with the intention of buying a new one, but I kept choking at the prices. Eighty, a hundred, a hundred and forty dollars for a telephone? Nah. As long as this one technically worked, I figured there was no sense replacing it. Not for that kind of cabbage, anyway.

This idea did not sit so well with Johnny.

So finally, about a month ago – on September 23, in fact – I went to Wal-Fart all determined and prepared to purchase a new phone. All determined and prepared to spend a hundred dollars. And I found one – a two-handset, answering-machine-inclusive one – for forty bucks! I brought it home and set it up and Johnny said “Is it a good brand?” I said “No. I never heard of it. But the old one was GE and that meant nothing in the long run, so who cares?”

Well, something told me to tuck the receipt into my wallet and hang onto it a while. And the reason I was so sure in that paragraph above about the date I bought it, is: the damn thing broke last Thursday afternoon and I brought it and its receipt back to Wal-Fucking-Fart today.

They gave me cash back. I walked to Electronics, fully intending to buy the same damn phone again (because doing the same thing and expecting different results is, I hear, a sign of genius), but they didn’t have it. At least, I didn’t think they did. There was one of them on the display shelf, but the box – which I well recognized, because I had uncharacteristically kept it and re-packed it and returned it moments before – wasn’t on the lower shelf where boxes belong.

I hailed a man. A man with a Wal-Fart lanyard around his neck who just happened to wander into the aisle at the moment that I was settling on something else. “Excuse me,” I said. “If you have it on this shelf but not this one, does that mean you don’t have it in stock?”

He was Indian. India-Indian, not Native-American. And he was one of these employees who try to be very helpful but, when their helpfulness has run its course, just don’t know when it’s time to walk away.

“Yes,” he said. “if it is not on the shelf, then it is out of inventory. I do not know when it might come in. I wish that I could tell you when to expect it, but I cannot. Perhaps, hm…” And he started shifting all the boxes, looking to see if what I wanted was hidden behind.

“No, no,” I said, “but thank you. I know what the box looks like – I just returned one. If it were back there, I would see it. Thank you. Thank you very much for all your help. I guess I’ll just take my time and settle on something different.”

In other words: Thank you, now go away.

But he didn’t.

He stayed there, shuffling boxes, talking to me about telephones. And I stayed there, repeating “Thank you. Okay. Thanks very much,” and thinking: this is one hell of a salesman, I am screwed.

Until, finally, he piped in with this:

“I do not use any of these," he said. "I only use my cellular. I find the home phone isn’t necessary.”

I’ve heard this before. I have friends who do this. I’ve considered doing this myself, except for the following:

“We make a lot of international calls,” I said. “And they cost a lot more from a mobile phone.”

“Oh, no,” he said. “I have Verizon. I call London and Bangladesh all the time. They have an unlimited international plan that costs $14.99 a month.”

Really?” I said. “Unlimited?”

“Well, no, not unlimited. But 500 minutes. Who needs to talk overseas more than that?”

Not us!

“Thanks very much,” I said, offering my hand. “You’re a lousy salesman, but you are a good man. I’ll go home and talk to my husband and call Verizon, and see if we might just cancel our home phone!”

So I came home without a phone and I had some conversations. To make lots more long stories short, here's what I learned:

a. Johnny doesn’t want to cancel our home phone.

b. There is no such Verizon plan.

c. If we canceled our phone service, with the Comcast triple-play package that we now have, we would actually wind up paying more.

d. So we are now phoneless. You can't call me, even if you know my number and you want to. And I have to go back out into retail hell tomorrow, at the very moment that (as I learned out there today) the Christmas season is, for some reason, gearing up.

I told you that I had bad luck with telephones.


LadyCiani said...

splorp! and I have been through not quite as many phones as you, and have also returned the non-working phone within a month of purchase.

For the last two years we have done well with one very similar to this: Uniden with extra cordless handset.

I wanted a unit with answering machine and speaker phone, so we ended up with one that has a corded main base. The cordless that it comes with is neat - you only need to plug in a power cord for the base unit, not a phone jack too.

If the two phones are not enough, you can add cordless phones very easily, but we have found they require both a power cord and phone jack.

beardonaut said...

We, as in Sweden, have the highest fixed phone penetration (now don't go doing something dirty with those words) in the world. I work at a telecom operator, with mobile services, and even I have a fixed phone. At some point I will undoubtedly get rid of it and go all mobile.

I very much doubt any phone operator has 500 minutes of international calls for 14.99 a month. The termination fees alone would eat up those dollars in no time.

poppo said...

I agree with Lady about uniden. Here is one to look at. Sorry I don't know how to do links so here is the url.

Uniden DXAI5588-2
Includes One Year Manufacturer's Warranty
5.8GHz Cordless Phone
Single Line Operation
Caller ID / Call Waiting
Digital Answering System
Hearing Aid Compatible
Trilingual Menu Support
Uniden DXAI5588-2 Includes:
1 Base Station / Cordless Handset
1 Cordless Handset / Charger
More Details
Silver / Black

Renovation Therapy said...

I buy old phones from the 80's at tag sales - the corded ones with the buttons with the big brass bell. They usually cost less than $5 and they never let me down.

Chris said...

Erin just find an old school rotary phone from the 70's they take a beating and come back for more...
This would loook great in the AssVac.