Saturday, March 26, 2011


I remember vividly trooping up the wide staircase of Robert E Lee Elementary (Duncan Oklahoma) at some point in the third grade to watch a film.

You have to remember this was in the early 50s, when few homes had TV, and a film in school was an event. In fact we'd looked forward to it for a week, and had fidgeted and waited impatiently for our turn as other classes marched past our first floor classroom door on their way to see "the movie".

When we were finally settled into the desks in the large third floor room and the lights were dimmed we were shown how to use the technological marvel of the age through the story of a boy whose puppy had gone missing. Alas! The boy was an unschooled ninny who did not understand how to use the rotary dial telephone to call the appropriate puppy-seeking authorities. (High Drama! We were as entranced as today's 10-y-o at a "Harry Potter" movie.)

To that point you simply picked up the phone and yelled "Operator! Give me 21!" - or 723 - as the case might be, or "Stumpie Busby's". (Everyone knew Stumpie's number, he was the local bootlegger.) So film star and Puppy-Loser stood and fruitlessly shouted "Operator! Operator!" at the mysterious and previously unheard signal coming from the receiver, the dial tone.

Thankfully Puppy-Loser's kindly Mr. Rogers-like friend came along and showed him, with great care, how one uses a rotary dial. Place your finger in the hole over the number desired and rotate the dial around until it stops. Release, choose your next number, rotate the dial ALLLLLL the way around until it stops, release, repeat, etc. (Four digits in those days!)

"PL" was told he might get a beeping "busy" signal, otherwise wait for the ringing to begin. Your "party" (we called people we phoned the party in those quaint days) will answer the phone. No operator will announce that they are now on the line. You must say, "Hello!" when you pick up a ringing phone, and that is what you wait to hear before speaking.

This was breathtaking stuff which prepared the elementary aged school child to go home and show the parents how to use the baffling rotary phones which were being installed the following weeks. I proudly showed my puzzled parents this new age marvel myself, while my father shook his head in astonishment.

Now, we move 55 years forward. The Shaw guy hands me a "Universal remote" which will supposedly allow me to watch the flat screen high-def TV on my living room wall and then he makes a hasty retreat. Do I get an informative movie, or even a demo on how to use this device, with its hundred buttons, each of which has four dozen functions? No, I get a 75 page instruction book which tells me (supposedly) how to turn on the &^*% TV - but doesn't.

I hold it up and shout Operator! Operator! at it. Nothing. The TV is dark. It's 2011. The operators have all gone home.

I want to go back to third grade.


Anonymous said...


I figure you will be manually use the manual rather than the remote.

Such is the paradox of progress.

Deb said...

Sadly, the manual doesn't do a thing, but turn it on to a dark screen. No picture, no sound, not even static. Watching the dishwasher is more entertaining. At least it makes noise, and there's some suspense about whether the dishes will survive what sounds like a threshing machine. We are flummoxed.

Anonymous said...

Demonic machines in the OC? Must of been big changes during your sabbatical to another land.