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Life as performance art

Life as performance art

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By Fr. G. Corwin Stoppel

You may remember your telephone number from when you were growing up. If you are of a certain age or older, it was probably four digits. Ours was 5150.

Later, the first two letters of a name or word were added as a prefix. We became ATlas 5150.

When a sixth number was added later, life became more complicated. Still, as long as you were calling within the same exchange, it wasn’t a dreaded long-distance call.

In my first parish two exchanges met in my office, so it was long-distance to call between the desk and the wall. Some of our thriftier residents circumvented the system by calling me on one phone, asked me to dial someone on the other exchange and pass the message back and forth.

That wasn’t always possible because we were on party lines. The only person who loved those lines was our next-door neighbor who was skilled at “rubbering”: lifting the receiver off the cradle, covering the mouthpiece and listening to the “news.” National security has nothing that could compare to Mrs. Jensen, who kept tabs on everyone and everything.

Television meant an antenna on the roof, a Motorola rotor and dial, and a choice of stations: ABC, CBS or NBC. My parents were CBS people, dating back to hearing Edward R Morrow broadcast on the radio from Europe. Father believed NBC stood for No Big Comedians such as Jack Benny, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Fred Wynn and others.

The thrifty used “rabbit ears” antenna accessorized by tinfoil. This meant no one had to run outside to shoo the birds on the rooftop antenna from fouling up the signal.

I am ready to return to that era. One of the four mega-corporations that monopolize electronic communications was insistent that Madame’s smart phone (I use the word ‘smart’ with caution) was outdated. We were bombarded by an array of “plans” which, as I see it, are not well planned. There were more choices and options than the menu of a pretentious restaurant.

As we were making progress on the telephone side of things, a smiling young man behind the counter wanted to address our television “issues.” Sure enough, an even-bigger array of choices: channels, services, plans and so on.

Hours later we escaped, returning with a telephone that doesn’t work because Madame is one of those rare women without fingerprints, plus we have a cable box incompatible with something or the other.

There is some good news. Despite technological challenges du jour, the robo-callers are still having success getting through to us. Someone from the credit card company wants to update us, someone else wants to sell us health insurance and we have opportunities to spend three days at a luxury resort just for taking a “brief” survey.

Even better, we have a reasonable hope of making the equipment work in time for all the robotic political calls, the negative accusations about the caller’s opponents and how they are going to straighten out all the messes.

The first one who promises to return dial telephones and three television networks is getting my vote!