Much as I tire of talking on the phone, I took the cellular appendage not as a status symbol or a look-at-me-I'm-at-the-symphony-I'm-getting-an-important-call-I-must-be-a-brain-surgeon-symbol. The cell phone equaled freedom. Or so I thought.
All my grown-up and semi-grown-up jobs depended on co-dependant relationships with telephones.
The phone was so integral to our public service during the five years I worked as an evening assistant in the Literature Department of the Main Public Library that I sometimes answered my home phone, "Literature Department!"
As reporters at The Hamilton Journal-News, we so relied on the returned lies in the returned calls from sources that we begged our colleagues to listen for our phones when we left our desks to pee.
The addiction extended even to my house where, through the settled darkness of the living room, I'd measure my popularity every evening by the messages registered in red numbers on the answering machine. Or I'd constantly check messages from wherever I was -- interrupting fellowships, clipping conversations and dismissing myself from countless dinner tables to listen to messages.
Other people made me this way.
I've never really cared for the phone. Back in the late 1980s when I was poorer than I am now, I didn't have a landline then either. I had access to phones at work, and I was content to catch up with family, firm up my weekend calendar and make doctor's appointments from there.
Then everyone made me feel like an aberration, like I had chest hair or a sixth finger, for not having a phone. So I finally got one.
And, except for my mom and bothersome editors calling me in on my time off, it rarely rang.
People had threatened that "emergencies" would occur without my knowledge because I didn't have a phone -- but most of the family members who were gonna die did so before I got the phone, so it never really came to pass. But for a while I kept it because I'm a dutiful daughter and because my brother Kenny started having babies and so did my best friend, Mina.
Throughout the joyous grind of being a sister, daughter, cousin, friend and now aunt, I'd go through phases of unplugging the phone, turning the ringer all the way down or yanking out the answering machine. It was delicious.
Was someone calling? Who cares? Rings or voices weren't sounding in my house.
I'm really a gregarious misanthrope who needs people but who recoils when the sucking noise starts. And phones facilitate the sucking noise, that suctioning when people have unlimited, day-or-night access.
It's selfish. On both parts.
It's selfish of people to break through my hard-won solitude just to talk about ... nothing. And it's selfish to alienate myself from basic human interaction because I can be curmudgeonly, fixated on sentences and no good at being disingenuous.
Plus, I've got unfinished business with Cincinnati Bell, and the thought of a lump-sum payment is disconcerting. It's not that much money, but it still re-orders my priorities.
So the cell phone was, I thought, a compromise. My friend, Cheryl, gave it to me and all I have to do is load it with minutes. Still, it's not good enough.
There isn't a whole mess of folks who even have the cell number, but people who do carp that "it's never on," "you never answer it," "I can't get through" or "you never have any minutes."
It's guaranteed that I'll have minutes at least twice a month -- on pay weekends and, since nights and weekends are free, sometimes the early part of the following week.
My life is turning toward a full frontal demand for full access. There's the book, a new niece, aging parents (sorry, Mom and Dad) and an increasingly demanding schedule that's challenging the confines of my CityBeat voice mailbox.
I have dreams of standing on line at the phone company with the rest of the wage slaves. It's my turn. I write the check. I wait the entire next day for the phone guy to come and inspect my wires and assign me a phone number.
Begrudgingly, I call the short list of family, friends and associates who say they need my number. Then I wait for the phone to ring.
I'm close but, like I said, it's just a dream I'm having.
Until then, hit me on my cellie. And good luck with that.
Hear Kathy's commentaries on National Public Radio's All Things Considered.