WHO ARE YOU AND WHY ARE YOU CALLING ME? – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #46

From Fandango:

“I was watching “Jimmy Kimmel Live” last week and he and his sidekick, Guillermo, paid a visit to the New Yorker magazine in an effort to get a cartoon published in the magazine. Neither was successful, but Jimmy came up with this cartoon, which serves as the inspiration for this week’s provocative question:
CDAE46BB-E23E-40BF-BDB9-14331575A5F4The cartoon shows a picture of a young man sitting in a jail cell with headphones on. He’s busy using his smartphone when the prison guard apparently advises the guy in the cell that he’s entitled to a phone call. The guy then asks the guard, “What’s a phone call?”

So here’s the question:

Question of the week #47

I grew up before mobile phones — or at least before mobile phones became popular and common. Garry and I were among the earliest users of cell phones. Garry was always out in the field and he really needed a phone. Even back then … the early 1990s … there weren’t many functioning payphones. Most of the booths had broken or entirely missing phones.

The first phone I bought for Garry was the size of a brick and weighed at least as much and possibly more. On the other hand, that phone could connect with anyone anywhere. It was very much like the big “field phones” the telephone technicians used.

One day, the Blackberry came out and for years that was our phone. Garry loved his Blackberry. It had good sound and he could actually hear when he used it … and he could read (and send) email. I had a phone too, which was good because I was always looking for a job and I needed to find a quiet corner to set up interviews. Sometimes the phone WAS the interview.

Texting hadn’t arrived yet and phones were not miniature computers. They were small, portable telephones that also had email and calendar. Which was what I needed.

And the granddaddy of them all:

The standard black dial telephone

But how do I feel about taking on the phone? There was a time when the phone rang and I knew it was a friend. Or someone who wanted to talk to a parent, a brother, a husband, even your child.  But now? The phone is nothing but a noisy, device large used to try to scam you out of money or steal your personal information. It’s rarely fun.

I have three or four people — close family and dear friends — to whom I enjoy talking. Otherwise, I’d rather use email. The joy of email for me is its wonderful silence. My cell is always dining and ringing and jingling and binging and bonging. It never stops updating so as soon as you think you know how it works, they decide it needs to be fixed. When it is actually broken and needs to be fixed? That’s a wholly different story and usually costs you money.

With the exception of good friends and family, I don’t want to use the phone. I have to beat myself up to actually make a phone call, even if it’s important. Email is great because I can ignore it until I feel like doing something about it. I never learned to text, probably because that would mean I’d have to leave my phone on and people would actually CALL me. I don’t want them to call me. I’m very happy to not have something ringing all the time.

The thing I don’t understand about mobile phones is that they never shut up. They are always making some kind of noise. It’s like being on an electronic leash: you are never out of touch. It’s why when people ask if I have a smartphone, I say “no.” I do have one. I just don’t use it any more than I have to … and I do NOT give out the phone number.

My favorite calls are from Indians or Pakistanis who say their names are “Bob” and they are calling from Texas. And they know a Nigerian prince. Moreover, if you give them all your personal information, you can inherit a fortune and never have to worry about money again.

My all-time favorite call was a woman who called to ask for money to be collected for women who’ve had breast cancer. The money, she averred, would be given directly to people who had cancer and needed help. I told her she could call me back when my check was ready.

Modern telephone technology has taken all the fun out of making phone calls just as “modern airplanes” have taken all the romance out of travel. From all of this, I have concluded that progress is good but not every change is going to improve your life.  The only thing I hope for is that people will get tired of living on their phones and start to consider the possibilities of conversations.

And sometimes, enjoy the amazing possibilities of quiet and even silence.

LONG DISTANCE LIFE – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I used to have a vibrant and full social life with lots of lunch dates with women and dinners with couples. There were trips to museums and shows with friends, dinner parties at people’s homes, meetings with fellow volunteers and ‘play dates’ with our children.

This sounds normal, but it assumes that your friends actually live near you. That was the case when I was younger – not so much anymore. Now I’m removed from most of my friends – separated by geography. My closest friend moved from the next town to Virginia many years ago. Another close friend moved to Florida. Two other couples moved to LA and Portland, Oregon, respectively.

Several good friends live in New York City which is driveable, but very inconvenient. We often spend over two hours in the car one way and have to pay $30 or more to park our car when we get there. Two other friends live in Massachusetts, a two and a half hour drive, which is not taken often.

Other nearby friends have drifted away over the years, like the parents of my kids’ friends who were apparently only convenience or proximity friends. Add to this the fact that my wonderful daughter has lived in LA for almost ten years!

The upshot of all this is that my connection with the people I love is more electronic these days than face to face. I have had to adjust to a life of texts and emails and the occasional phone call. I actually make ‘dates’ with one friend to have a long phone conversation every few weeks to stay caught up and to just chat.

My daughter and I have long phone conversations about everything but she hates the phone so this doesn’t happen as often as I would like. I love talking on the phone so staying in touch by phone satisfies my desire for connection.

It seems that my everyday contact is more and more through texts and emails, which are good for some things but not for others. It’s great to be able to share a cute photo of my dogs or show off the new lamp, or dress I just bought. My daughter has sent me selfies from the dressing room of a store to help her pick which outfit to buy. That is great. So is sending quick news flashes about insignificant happenings.

It falls short, however, when complex things are going on in your life or when there’s an emotional issue that requires more than a few lines to explain. Sometimes you just need a reassuring voice in your ear. On the other hand, sometimes a few lines of moral support from a distant friend can be very meaningful and helpful. Not quite a hug, but not all that bad.

My intimate conversations are mostly done by phone now. I have a few close friends nearby but they are not retired yet and have very busy lives. So finding time to sit and talk isn’t always easy, even when we live down the road.

I’ve gotten used to this situation and can feel satisfied after a good phone talk in lieu of an in-person interaction. I don’t love Face time or Skype. I don’t feel seeing a small, usually distorted photo of my friend on a small screen, really adds anything to the conversation.

My son has also moved one and a half hours away so we talk on the phone every day and text a lot – mostly jokes and memes and quick updates. I still feel very close to him, which may be easier because I get to see him every few weeks.

These in-person visits add to the relationship because they give us time to just hang out together. I’ve realized how important that is. I’m closer to my boat friends because we spend lots of time sitting on each other’s boats, talking laughing, drinking or just reading together. It’s this unstructured time I miss most when I have to rely on my cell phone for personal contact.

My future holds more texts, emails and ‘phone dates’ and less in-person contact as more friends retire and move away. I’ve coped so far, so I guess I’ll just get to love my phone more as my main contact with the outside world.

ORDERING A NEW PHONE – REALLY! – Marilyn Armstrong

I gave in. The flip phone was not working for me. I needed a phone with something resembling a keypad. Using the multiple hits required on the flip phone keys plus my inability to find text markers in case I might WANT to text meant it wasn’t working. I also couldn’t find any way to save phone numbers although I’m pretty sure there IS a way to do it.

This is what I have. It was free. And worth every penny!

On the other hand, I don’t need the internet — just the ability to phone someone in case of an emergency (like — the phone is down at home or we are on the road and typically lost), so I had to carry a notepad with friends’ numbers and the phone number for the electric company who do not seem to “get” that when the electricity is “out,” so is your wi-fi as well as the TV and telephone cable, heat, and the well pump. And pretty much everything else, come to think of it.

In the mail! I even bought a case for it. Wow, eh?

I also wanted a phone that would link to my wi-fi at home because it makes life simpler. Right now, I have — for $14.50 — unlimited text and phone. That price won’t change, either. So it was $80 for an LG3 LTE phone – plus $2 shipping.  This time, they are supposedly sending a manual.

I’ll believe it when I see it.

I almost never use our cell phone. It’s the emergency phone for when we are on the road or the power at home is out … or Charter has gone down and taken the phone with it.

For someone who is pretty savvy around cameras and computers, I am a total dummy around telephones and printers. Not just cell phones. Regular phones, too. I have some kind of mental disconnect. I can’t change ink in my printer, haven’t figured out how to make copies or use the scanner. So for me to actually get a phone that might work is a giant step.

They have pretty good prices on “fancy” phones, too, but what do I need fancy for? I always have a camera with me and usually have a Kindle in case I have some dire need for the internet while away from home. If I’m on vacation, I have my Mac with me AND the Kindle. And I’m not 100% sure, but I think there’s a wi-fi link in my cameras, too. I have no idea how to use it, but it’s there.

I do not use a telephone for anything financial. I’ve been hacked once and that was enough. I canceled a credit card because it got hacked once and then someone tried to hack it a second time. I figured those people (Walmart) need a better security service before I’ll use their card. I don’t need it anyway.

So sometime this week, I’ll have to take a very deep breath and try to figure out how to use the phone. I’m already scared and I don’t even have the phone.

MAKING A DOCTOR’S APPOINTMENT AT UMASS MEMORIAL

MORNING QUARTET

I was having a dream about how I hadn’t yet managed to see a doctor about whatever it was that happened to me a few weeks ago. Two weeks? Three?

For the past few weeks, they’ve been researching my Pacemaker. Apparently my telling them that I can’t have an MRI because it would suck the Pacemaker out of my chest leaving me bleeding and quite probably, dead as the proverbial door nail.

What make door nails deader than other things? Has anyone done any research on this issue? No? Well, isn’t it about time?

The Front Door at UMass Memorial where they said I didn’t have an appointment

Meanwhile, back at the doctor and hospital, apparently a mere patient with the implant can’t say “No, don’t do that, it will kill me.” There are all these privacy laws in place, so mere information from the original source — me — is inadequate to stop the progress of grinding towards this very expensive test that I don’t merely not need, but which would end my life.

It took almost a week of research by the doctor’s nurse to track down my device and note that it cannot be allowed anywhere near those big magnets. She called the manufacturer, but privacy laws forbade them from saying anything about it. That I had the information was apparently irrelevant. Calling my cardiologist — again — was a no go. Privacy laws.

Meanwhile, I got a call from the MRI people to schedule an appointment. I had already had this same discussion with the nurse and said “No, no, no MRI no, not ever” but UMass Memorial does not give up easily.

So I said “I can’t have an MRI. I have a Pacemaker. A metal one. NO MRI. Never ever.”

“When did you get the Pacemaker?”

“Four years ago,” I replied.

“Oh,” she said.

That was the end of that call. Next I heard from the nurse who said she was really sorry about that call from the MRI group, but she had explained it, really she had and I said I believed her, really I did.

Yesterday I got a bundle of papers from Blue Cross to announce that they were happy to pay the gazillion dollars it would cost for the MRI that I can’t have because — y’know — it would kill me.

Valet parking at UMass Memorial — where they said I didn’t have an appointment

I sighed. Put the papers on the kitchen counter and went on with my day, pretending nothing had happened. It was too stupid and I just couldn’t deal with more stupidity. Especially medical stupidity.

But all night, I dreamed that I was trying to just talk to a doctor to see if anything even needed to be done for this “issue,” whatever it is. I think it’s related to my migraines  — a complicated, advanced version of the aura you get before a migraine. If you get migraines — with auras — you know what I mean. It affects your sight and makes you dizzy, sometimes nauseated … and occasionally gives every evidence of your having a stroke. But it isn’t a stroke. It just looks like one.

Another view of UMass Memorial — where they still said I didn’t have an appointment

It goes away without a trace and no amount of testing or tracking will find any evidence that it happened. Moreover, there are a dozen other things it could also be, all of which leave nothing in their wake. They happen, they scare the pants off you and yours — and vanish.

And may — or may not — ever occur again.

More parking lots at (you guessed it) UMass Memorial

This has happened a few times through my 71 years. For a while, after  one or another surgery when I was terribly thin — emaciated — it happened fairly often. Good thing I weighed so little since strong men had to haul my butt upstairs until I came to. Since the cancer and heart surgery, the worst part has been occasional dizziness, but none of those screaming seizures.

I had one, though, a few weeks ago for no apparent reason. Although I don’t think it was important and still don’t think it was medically significant, my doctor thinks I should at least have a chat with a neurologist. I agreed to the chat because how big a deal should it be to see a doctor and talk a bit?

After last night’s dream, I took a deep breath and called the nurse at my doctor’s office who assured me that they shouldn’t be sending me paperwork agreeing to the MRI I can’t have and she would call the hospital and make sure a doctor — or nurse, but anyone someone medical — would call me. Soon.

I hung up. That was the second call.

The phone rang. It was the MRI group trying to set up another appointment. I said “NO MRI I HAVE A METAL PACEMAKER” and she said “Then how about an EEG?” I breathed again. Deeply. Slowly. Counting.

More views of the excessive amount of snow on the grounds of UMass Memorial

The next thing she did was ask me why I didn’t show up at my March 15th appointment. That was the one I went to where they sent us home because they said there was no appointment or maybe the nurse had screwed up the paperwork, but one way or the other, we went home.

I said “We were there. We were told there WAS no appointment and they sent us home.”

“That’s impossible,” she said.

“Would you like to see the photographs I took of the hospital? And the receipt for the parking? Would you like signed papers from my husband and I attesting to having been there and being turned away as not having an appointment?”

She said that couldn’t be because things like that don’t happen at UMass Memorial. Breathe, Marilyn. Breathe.

“I would like to talk to a doctor before I make any other arrangements. Let’s see if I even need testing.” So she connected me to the Neurology Department. They asked me my name. “Marilyn Armstrong,” I said.

She said “You don’t have to be hostile!”

The trip home from that missing appointment

I said I wasn’t being hostile. That was my name. She asked me for my last name again and I said “Armstrong.” Silence. “I still need your last name,” she said and I said (louder) “Armstrong,” so she hung up. Still breathing slowly I called again. Asked for neurology. Gave my name. Was questioned (again) about how come I never showed up for my March 15th appointment. Said I had but was told there was no appointment. Was assured that couldn’t have happened. Whatever.

“Be that as it may,” said I, “I would like to talk to a doctor. Or a nurse. Or a nurse practitioner. Or even a receptionist.” She asked me where I’d like to be seen and I said Worcester, so she connected me to the Bolton office which is 50 miles northwest of here and nowhere near Worcester.

I hung up and called back. Determination is my middle name. The remnants of the blizzard from two days before March 15 when I didn’t have an appointment

I told her — this time — that a doctor was supposed to call me this morning, but instead I heard from the testing department about setting up an MRI or some other test, but before we set up tests, can I — pause, pause, breathe in, breathe out — please talk to a medical person. So we can decide if I need testing.

She said a doctor would call and I said “Well, I’m off to the Oncologist today, so if no one calls soon, it will have to be tomorrow . I repeated my phone number, name, date of birth and reminded her that this was the ONLY telephone number I have and it is NOT a cell phone. Try to deal with the concept of it not being a cell phone. In other words, please don’t text me.

After which I hung up and couldn’t find my new blue jeans. I gave up on that and wore the blue pants I bought months ago and forgot I owned. Went to get coffee and an English muffin with raspberry jelly.

And then I wrote this post.

How many calls was that? I’m pretty sure it was four, a basic quartet, but it gets difficult to count what with the transfers, hang ups, and calling back.

Lovely view of beautiful glass building at UMass Memorial.

Garry thought I sounded cranky so I explained and he said “Oh,” and offered to refill my cup. I still have to go to the oncologist and hope I still don’t have cancer.

It’s noon. So many more things could yet happen today. Maybe I should call off the doctor and go back to bed.

Nah. Let’s get it done already. Deferring the event will just make it even more complicated.

TELEPHONE PEOPLE – BY ELLIN CURLEY

The world can be divided in many ways – Republicans V. Democrats, religious people V. non religious people, cat people V. dog people. Here’s another way – people who love the phone V. people who hate it.

I love talking on the phone. I have many close friends who live far away now and it’s the next best thing to spending time with them in person. You can have real conversations that drift from one topic to the next. You can even interrupt each other! You don’t get the subtleties of body language that you get in person, but you’re actually engaging with the real person. You can remember why you loved this person in the first place.

Another important advantage of phones is laughter. We can hear our friends laugh at our jokes and our friends can hear us laugh at theirs. We get to laugh TOGETHER, which is huge. Laughter is a powerful bond. Most women list a sense of humor as one of the things they most value in a man. Sharing laughter is one of the great joys in life. You can’t get it in a text. Typing LOL is not the same thing!

When I was dating online, I discovered that liking someone’s emails was NOT a good indicator that I would like them in person. But liking someone on the phone gave me a pretty good chance that I would like them in person. That’s when I fully realized that writing and talking are on two separate planes. Talking is personal. It reveals personality and connects people on an emotional, visceral level. You get most of what you get when you are physically with someone.

Emailing may tell you the writing style of the person but not their speaking style or their personal “je ne sais quoi”. In texting, people tend to write shortened sentences with abbreviations and even Emojis. So you don’t even get the “voice” or writing style of the person. The time lag with texts also annoys me. Write then wait. Read then write. Rinse and repeat.

Try watching a movie or TV show and hit pause for twenty seconds after each person speaks. Not very gratifying. In fact, it will probably drive you crazy.

To me, texting is great for short, immediate communications. Like: “In traffic. Running 15 minutes late.” OR “What time do you want us for dinner?” Otherwise, not really communications.

Nevertheless, I understand that some people are just not phone people. My daughter is a phonophobe. She would rather talk for an hour every few weeks and text in between to stay in touch. My mother hated the phone. When I was growing up, she would have me call people to change or cancel appointments for her so she would not get “stuck” talking on the phone.

My husband, Tom, is also not a phone person. When we were dating, it didn’t even occur to him to talk on the phone the nights we weren’t seeing each other. Once I started the pattern, he was fine with it. But he wouldn’t have done it on his own.

I think the younger generations are growing up totally immersed in texting and internet communications. They may never learn the pleasure you can get from a long phone conversation with a friend. They may not even have long conversations in person anymore either. From what I hear, kids spend time online even when they are physically with other people. The art of the conversation may be dying out altogether.

I guess I shouldn’t be worrying about fewer people talking on the phone. I should be worrying about fewer people talking to each other — at all!

STUPIDIZATION

Thinking is out of fashion. Brains are dead gray lumps of matter. They have no use, but are merely taking up space inside our skulls. How do I know this?

Last week Charter turned off first our cable box, then, our telephone. Eventually they re-provisioned the telephone and some hours later, they fixed our cable box. Since then, our phone has been wonky. It rings, but when I answer it, there’s just silence. Or I call and I hear someone pick up, but all I hear after that is … nothing.

It’s intermittent. Sometimes, it works, other times, not. And we all know that an intermittent problems is the hardest to pin down.

My best friend and I had a whole afternoon of trying to talk to each other by phone and only because we are both very determined, stubborn women did we finally connect. Her cell phone will not speak to my landline and it doesn’t matter who calls who. Something is broken.

Today, I tried to get an appointment with my oncologist. Not only is it that time of year again, but I have a hard thing in one breast that I need to make sure isn’t serious. I don’t think it is. I think it’s scar tissue. Adhesions, if you like. However, I can’t simply ignore it. I had to make an appointment with my oncologist at Dana-Farber.

No answer at the front desk, so I left a message to call me back. They tried, but could not get through. I called them again, but I couldn’t get through. Eventually, I got through using a different number — and they got back to me using sheer persistence.

With utmost reluctance and trepidation, I realized I was going to have to call Charter. Again. I had no way to know how many calls I had missed. I couldn’t continue to ignore the problem.

Serendipity header -2-AtteanView_051

The call went surprisingly well. I got through to an agent in record time … a couple of minutes, even including my usual hostility fueled interface with the robotic telephone interference system. I got a fellow who found my account and quickly ascertained that the phone was not holding the signal after connection. He said there was no point in trying to fix it remotely. He would have to send an actual human technician to see what’s wrong. Holy expletive, Batman! He also said he’d put a note in the record so the tech would know to come even if I didn’t answer the call, being as I wasn’t consistently able to receive calls.

Two hours later, the phone rang. I could see it was Charter Communications, but surprise! Only silence from the other end. I took courage in hand and called them back. After getting a person — navigating the robot was a little more difficult this time — I got a young lady. I explained they had called me and I needed to know why. Eventually, she ascertained that it must have something to do with my appointment with the technician for the day after tomorrow.

I said, yes, indeed. Our phone was only intermittently able to receive calls, which is why we needed the technician. She explained that the technician’s have to call to confirm the appointment, or they won’t come. I took a deep breath and pointed out that the guy who is coming is the telephone technician whose job it is to fix broken phone service. And that there should be notes to that effect in my file.

She averred that this was true. She said she would try to make sure that the technician — THE TELEPHONE REPAIR TECHNICIAN — understood that OUR PHONE ISN’T WORKING PROPERLY and he could not rely on getting telephone call through to us.


“Do you have an alternate phone number?” she asked.

“Not really,” I replied.

“Because he will need to call you.”

“The phone is broken. He’s the phone technician. Don’t you think he should be able to put these two pieces of information together? Wouldn’t that suggest that calling me might not work out?”

“I suppose,” she said, tentatively. I could hear the doubt in her voice. She wasn’t entirely clear on how these separate pieces of information were related.

“Seriously, just tell him to come. Don’t call. Just show up. I promise, on my honor, we will be here. I cannot promise the phone will ring, or if it rings, that I will hear anything when I answer it. Because that’s the problem. That’s why he’s coming. That’s what he is supposed to fix.”


And that’s where we left it. Is it me? Am I expecting too much? Shouldn’t the guy coming to fix the phone be able to deduce that there’s a problem — some kind of malfunction — involving the telephone. Their telephone service. Ergo ipso, calling to confirm the appointment might not work out?

Are they putting something in the water? The air? Is this one of the effects of global climate change, the stupidization of humanity?

DO YOU REMEMBER?

WHAT TECHNOLOGY DO I MISS? I DON’T MISS TECHNOLOGY. I MISS CIVILIZATION.

Telephones on which both you and the party to whom you were speaking could hear each other.

Sound tracks on movies where dialogue was louder than background music.

72-Mobile and Regular Phones_07

Silence when you were out and not near a phone. Being out of touch was wonderful — the whole point of vacation.

People walking on the street without things stuck in their ears, paying attention to where they were walking. Saying “hi” and smiling when they passed by.

Conversations which were not constantly interrupted by tweets, dings, beeps, and ringing.

Good manners. “Please” and “thank you” being part of normal human intercourse.

The customer always being right. I’d settle for the customer occasionally being treated with respect.

Complete sentences with words spelled correctly and including punctuation.

Full-service gas stations where they cleaned your windshield.