Off North Road

Escape of the cordless phones

By Russell Hoxsie - February 8, 2007

I returned a call from the nice woman who writes the Chilmark column for the other local paper to give details of our son's wedding on Saturday. I'm used to leaving a message on an answering machine, but even now, after probably thirty years or more, I am put off by responding "after the beep." In this case, I made an understandable error in leaving a message. Since the number I was responding to was identical to mine except for the last digit, I left the Chilmark reporter's number to return instead of my own, easily corrected but requiring another call to bother the nice woman. Then, I compounded the nuisance by losing her return call to me by pushing the wrong button after the second ring. At least I guess it's what I did. The line went dead, no voice speaking, no dial tone. I called again and talked to her machine. When she called back, she was very understanding, and I ventured to ask if she had as much difficulty as I seem to have with all the new-fangled electronic gadgets about our houses nowadays. "Oh yes, she exclaimed, "It's terrible. Nothing seems to work the way I think it should." I felt as if I had found a fellow sufferer.

Some weeks ago my son talked me into a mutual shopping trip to the Verizon store in Falmouth. He had been hinting for weeks that our home communications equipment was sadly out of date and needed up-grades. We arrived at the store as it opened in the morning and had the full attention of the staff for almost an hour. During that period I scarcely knew what was being said - all in English I hasten to tell - or let alone how I would navigate my way through our new technology, once ensconced at home alone with Mary Ann, my good wife (she refuses even to enter the room when my PC is turned on). I have saved the empty boxes from Verizon bearing bar codes which I was told are essential to claim the generous rebates available on several pieces of equipment we bought, including three portable cordless phones. At this late date, the rebates may have expired.

A raft of problems awaits an elderly couple living alone who embark on the use of portable cordless phones. For one thing, the phones do not stay in one convenient place, as in the old days when the phone company installed them. Of course, the alleged convenience of the new instruments leads to hanging up wherever we happen to be at the end of a call. Actually, we no longer "hang up"; we press an END button or lay the darn thing in the proper position on a flat surface or into a proper (and movable) receptacle. These can be anywhere: on an empty counter space, a bedside table, the kitchen sink, downstairs in my study (there, the places to leave a phone are uncountable and always hidden from direct view), outside the house on the work bench in the shed, or the back porch railing, where I last spoke to the dog who was chasing the cat. When I called my son to help me find two of the phones which were missing, he replied, "Dad, give up waiting on the line for Verizon technical support and remember to push the FIND button at the base of the primary phone stand; it's usually plugged in next to the sink. Then, follow the signals beeping from the lost phones." He seemed a little impatient.

I found the tiny button, which I had never noticed before, and pushed it. Mary Ann rushed into the kitchen asking, "What is that awful noise? It's coming from all over the house. Is something smoking? I think it's the furnace. What are you doing?"

"I'm only trying to find the darn phones," I replied as I lit out to trace the multiple noises. By the time I circuited the house, the high-pitched signals ceased and I had not discovered the phones' hiding places. I pushed the small button again trying to explain to my harried wife what I was doing. "Well, don't let it ring so long this time. I can't stand that high-pitched noise!" Around again I went and found the source in our basement bedroom-office, but no matter how hard I concentrated my gaze, the phones came nowhere into sight and the signal ran out once more. Upstairs again, I pushed the button and raced back down the stairs. Now I was short of breath and very stirred up. Where were those phones? The signal was loudest near the corner of my desk, but until I removed several layers of paper, a box of discs, and the stapler, I couldn't see them. There they lay, silent and naked. I could have strangled them (and, to tell the truth, strangled my young son who had been so enthusiastic about portable cordless phones).

I get over these upsets after a reasonable time and I hope that each crisis brings a bit of learning. Of that I remain unsure and would give quite a lot to return to the hard-wired phones which remain always in their assigned locations and limited to an excursion no longer than the length of their cords.

Let's face it: the electronic revolution is well established ever since Bill Gates and friends invaded our spaces with the magical box, the PC. To push the process forward into new fields of dreams this very week, Bill and friends have loosed another creation upon us, Windows Vista, which promises to be more intuitive, i.e. user friendly. "The older versions were too complicated all along." they admit today.

Good fortune to all you struggling masses out there. By all means, cultivate a couple of young geeks, ply them with pizzas, brownies, and soda and then let them crash in your spare room where you can busy them with your technical support and the pushing of correct buttons when you need them.