Phone GamesPosted: January 3, 2010
There’s a man named George Washington who lives on the other side of the tracks. We find his name in the phone book. We’ve devoted lots of time to looking up names because Cleveland is a small town and there’s nothing else to do. We are at that awkward age of fourteen when we cannot yet get our drivers’ licenses, but we are no longer children. We are in high school, even though we still have classes at Margaret Green Junior High.
We carry the big black phone over to the coffee table and the three of us sit around it, like it’s a Oija Board, and we anticipate what it will say to us. Instead of boring board games like Monopoly, we like interactive games that involve new technology. I pick up the heavy black receiver and dial 3 and then George’s four numbers.
“Is Martha there?”
“Ain’t no Martha here. You done got the wrong number.” Click.
I dial it again.
“Is this George Washington?”
“Yessum, it is.”
“I’m looking for Martha. Is she there?” I speak in an urgent voice. I bite the insides of my cheeks to keep my voice straight and serious sounding, and the others have couch cushions over their faces to muffle the giggles. “I’d like to speak to Martha.” I say her name strong and loud. I push my flipped hair behind an ear so I can hear his reply better and hold up an open-wide hand so the others will exercise control and their laughter won’t give me away. My fingernails are painted pink-white and already have a few chipped places at the tops of the nails, and I’m wearing a sapphire ring my dad gave me for Christmas. I suspect my mother bought it, but I’m told it is from my father. My hands are ugly, they’ve always been ugly and embarrassing, and I have determined I am never getting married because I don’t want any boy to see my hands.
“I done told ya there ain’t no Martha here. Ain’t no Martha live here.” Click.
The three of us double over and laugh out loud. We are wearing our daddy’s old white shirts—way too large, sleeves rolled up to three-quarter length, long to cover our butts so they won’t look big in our Levi’s. We wear Keds without socks. It’s the fashion fad for Saturdays.
Geri looks up the number of the grocery store at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Court Street.
“Do you have Prince Albert in a can?” she says.
“Yes, we do.”
“Well, you better let him out.” She hangs up the phone, and we laugh again, like we’ve invented this game and these jokes, and this is the first time we’ve played on the phone.
Eenie, meenie, miney, mo. Karyn picks a number.
“Is your refrigerator running?” she says.
“Well, you better catch it.”
My turn. I pick a random number and dial it. I’m going to try something different, I say. I clear my throat and get ready to shift my voice into that of a young child’s.
“Is my mommy there?” I say, in a high pitch, sort of through my nose.
“No honey. You’ve dialed the wrong number.”
“Well I can’t find my mommy.” I sound distressed. I am such a great actress.
“Are you there all by yourself?”
“Where did your mommy go?”
“To the beauty parlor. I can’t find her.” I’m almost in tears.
“What beauty parlor does she go to? Where is it?”
“I don’t know.” I hang up, suck in air, and make a squeaking sound because I’m afraid she is going to try and call my mother.
That was good, they say. Let’s call Mrs. Frazier, they say, and they look up her number. I call with my newly invented line and launch into a lengthy conversation. Our algebra teacher is compassionate and asks all the appropriate questions to rescue this poor little frightened girl, trying to help me locate my mother. Either that, or she knows it is just another bunch of teenagers playing on the phone and she goes along with it. Either way, she’s a good sport.
A car door slams and the mother of the house is home with groceries. We dive to the stereo and put on a Beatles 45 and grab a few tennis rackets and hold them like guitars. I’m Ringo, I say. I’m Paul. No, I’m Paul. I’m John, then. We are three of 73 million who watched them on Ed Sullivan’s stage a few months ago in their first live appearance in the United States.
And when I touch you
I feel happy inside.
It’s such a feeling
That my love I can’t hide
I can’t hide, I can’t hide…
The phone is still sitting there on the coffee table.
“What are y’all doing with the phone?”
Later, when all is still, I whisper, I’m going to call George again.
This is the year before that thriller movie came out, the one about two schoolgirls who played pranks on the phone. One of them tried her newly invented line, “I saw what you did, and I know who you are.” Only she randomly called a man who had just murdered his wife, and he believed that someone really saw him do it, and he went after them, and I still remember the fog that rolled around close to the ground outside the girl’s house and how scared out of my wits I was that the murderer tracked them down and was going to kill them. I didn’t catch a breath until the police and the parents arrived in time to save them.
It put a damper on the phone pranks for a while. I didn’t want George coming after me in a fog.