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Monday, 30 August 2010

Getting Over the Fear of Phoning

By Ernest Leichter

Bud Abbott: “Hey Lou, can you telephone from a streetcar?”

Lou Costello: “Any moron can do that. A phone is a small instrument used for talking to people who are far away whereas a streetcar is a means of transportation that runs on a track.”
- from an Abbott and Costello comedy routine

I’ve always had a phobia when using a telephone. I probably could spend a huge amount of money on having a psychiatrist discover why I’m so afraid of phoning people. He might determine that this trauma was caused by some bad news that I heard on the phone at an early age. Did my aunt call me to pass on the information that President Roosevelt had just died? Did someone tell me on the phone how ugly I was at the age of four? Unfortunately, I’ll never know.

I love talking to people face to face. It’s stimulating to look someone in the eye and see how they react to something I said. When I was teaching, it was even more enjoyable to present a new idea to a class of 30 youngsters and observe the interest on their faces when they grasped the concept.

When I was young, one of my hobbies was memorizing phone numbers. When I was only six, I memorized the phone numbers of my numerous relatives. My mother would let me dial these numbers when she wanted to talk to one of them. I can still remember my Aunt Lala’s phone number: Bay View 1-4643, and my cousin Henry’s number: Jupiter 6-1352.

We had a rotary phone at that time. I would stick my little finger in the six or seven hole and move it clockwise as far as possible. I would then remove my finger and a coil would snap it back to where it started. After doing this seven times, as if by magic, my aunt would say, “Hello.” I would quickly hand the phone to my mother without saying a word. Mission accomplished.

Even today, the only time I really enjoy using the phone is when I get a recorded voice on the other line. At Kaiser Hospital, a person can get a prescription filled without saying a word by listening to a recording. I often used the recording method in the 1980s and 1990s to get my bank balance. Now, I can do that operation on the computer.

Yes, I have a cell phone, but I use it only in case of an emergency. If my car breaks down on the freeway, the cell phone will act as my security blanket. Occasionally, I call my wife at the supermarket or if I’m away from home for a long period of time, I’ll dial my voicemail.

Often I’ll listen to messages from people that have called me two or three days before. Most of the time, I don’t even bother to turn on my cell phone. Lou Costello was right. Nowadays, you CAN telephone from a streetcar.

In August 2010, all my phobias about using a phone seemed to disappear when we subscribed to a new service called Skype. Skype, for the uninitiated, allows people to talk to each other on the computer and at the same time, see each other on the screen.

Last week my daughter, Sally, called from Auckland, New Zealand. Her face appeared on our 20-inch screen as if she were in the same room. Sally seemed very happy to talk to us. At the time, she was holding my 15-month-old grandson, Nicolo. What a thrill it was to see him mimic my clapping or mimic my thumbs up gesture. His handsome face and his alert eyes filled me with pride.

Sally and I arranged to go online again two hours later when Stella, my five-year-old granddaughter, arrived home from school. It was the first time I heard her speak in English (with a Kiwi accent). She read me one of the books that she brought home from school. Her beautiful face lit up the screen.

This means of communication has done a lot to help me conquer my fear of long distance communication. But it still has its drawbacks.

After talking to Sally and her family for a while, I noticed that my image appeared at the bottom left hand corner of the screen. I couldn’t help but glance occasionally at myself and think: Is my hair combed? Do I have something between my teeth? Is my body too stiff?

I guess eventually, I can adapt to these problems!

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


I remember being so afraid to talk on the phone, (when we first got one when I was 6 or 7) that the blood would rush to my head and I couldn't hear with the roaring sound in my ears! I sure got over that! Now I'm resisting Skype--I don't WANT anyone to see me till I'm out in the world!

Lovely recollection of the rotary dial phone and how resilient you are in entering into the world of visual telecommunications with Skype! I don't think you have a phobia. You were just wanting for the right technology!

Nice article, Ernie. Now, on skype, you can talk with & see your son & his family too. Got to love the technology.

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