Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Phone Book: A Tale of Terror

I hate phone books. Once upon a time, they had a useful place in life. If you needed to know a phone number or look for a business, the phone book was your go-to guy. You probably had a few different phone books, all of varying usefulness. I lived out in the country, so we had our little local phone book that was about as thick as a people magazine, but if you wanted to go to a movie in town, you got out the Kalamazoo phone book, which was substantially larger.

Then, a strange thing happened. That thing was the internet. Now, if I want to go to the movies, I get on my computer and in less than a minute I can know what the times are at every movie theatre in Kalamazoo. But still, the phone books come.

I don't know when my friendship with and reliance upon the phone book soured. Probably when I realized I was getting four or five of them a year. And they were heavy. And also, I didn't use them.

At first, I diligently kept them. But I never used them, and more kept coming. And coming. And then, something strange happened.

When we moved into our new house, we got a phone book within days. It was hanging from our mailbox like a little "Welcome Home" present. So, I left it out there. "Maybe whoever left it will get the hint. They won't want to waste the phone book." It stayed out there, hanging from my mailbox like a rotting head on a pike during Tudor times. But instead of sending the message, "Please don't fuck the queen," it apparently sent the message, "Bring me more phone books." Because that's just what happened. In a few weeks, our rain-swollen phone book and dirty, torn bag had been replaced by a brand new phone book wrapped in shiny plastic. I still wouldn't allow it into the house. My neglect of the phone book and its subsequent replacement became a sick pattern. It was as though the phone book deliverer was saying, "Here, have a second and third and fourth chance to make things right."

One day, I decided to take matters into my own hands. Taking a sharpie marker, I sat in the driveway and wrote a perfectly lovely note on the plastic bag holding the phone book. Something like, "Thank you, but I don't use the phone book." There may or may not have been expletives in it. The next day, the phone book was gone. It seemed like my troubles were over.

A few days later, someone knocked on the door. I figured she was a Jehovah's Witness, because we have a lot of those who come around. But she didn't look like my normal crew of spiritual visitors. And she wasn't holding a bible. She was holding a phone book. With a smile that reminded me quite a bit of Tom Cruise pretending to be normal and friendly on a talk show, she thrust the phone book at me. "I noticed that yours was ruined by the rain."

"Are you the phone book person?" I asked, my hands behind my back. "I don't want any trouble. I just don't want a phone book."

She bent down and placed the phone book in the center of my welcome mat. "I'll just leave this here for you."

For the rest of the day, I avoided going outside. I was sure I would find phone books in my driveway, perhaps arranged in a circle around a honey dew melon with a knife sticking out of it with a little note that said "beware." A friend stopped by to visit. "Hey, this was on your step," he said, and for a minute I thought he might hold up a severed head. It was the phone book. Somehow, that was worse. I grabbed it out of his hand and threw it out the door.

Time has passed. My husband burns the phone books when they come. And they keep coming, like some zombie plague. My son started school, and he's made a lot of friends. Like the family up the road. Now that he's old enough to cross our little low-traffic street, I let him visit on his own. Yesterday he returned home with an orange plastic bag and handed it to me. "What's this?" I asked, reaching inside.

It was a phone book.

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