As my wife Kara and I pulled into our driveway recently, we noticed the herald of a new era: under our neighbor’s mailbox, you could see the corner of a phonebook sticking out of the mulch like a hand popping out of a grave in a horror movie.
“Wow, Jimmy’s really hanging in there with the phonebook thing,” Kara said.
For the past few months, our neighbor Jimmy has been practicing civil disobedience by refusing to touch the gift that the Phonebook Fairy dropped as it idled past in its ’89 Buick Century station wagon. As days turned into weeks with the phonebook sitting in its plastic-baggie sarcophagus at the end of his driveway, we figured that Jimmy just had priorities other than rescuing the abandoned compendium. After a while, the phonebook became part of the landscape; it seemed as if it had been there since the time when hair bands ruled and Blockbuster Video had a viable business model.
I realized that we were witnessing the beginning of a social movement when Jimmy mulched over the phonebook, leaving just the one corner sticking out. You don’t bury the phonebook halfway in your mulch unless you’re looking to make a point similar to the one made by displaying a human head at the entrance to your village.
When I was a kid, the phonebook was the most looked-at item in the house that wasn’t a swimsuit issue. The pages would be falling out of the binding before a replacement arrived. The majority of my math education came from memorizing phone numbers so that I wouldn’t have to kneel on the kitchen counter to get to the phonebook cabinet. These days, I can’t remember how to do long division, but I can still rattle off the old phone numbers for houses that my friends haven’t lived in for twenty years. If my head were a beer stein, it would hold only the foam.
I’m already looking forward to telling my future son old fogey stories about my childhood, getting all nostalgic about things I never really enjoyed in the first place.
“You used to call a phone number to get a weather report?” he will ask, wide-eyed.
“It was 936-1212, and it took fifteen minutes to dial on a rotary phone,” I will reply. “Wait until I tell you about busy signals. And sorry I can’t help with your math homework. Go talk to Mom.”
I thought about these things as we picked up our own phonebook at the end of the driveway a few months ago. “Oh, good. A phonebook,” Kara said. “That would be really useful if the Internet hadn’t been invented.”
We reluctantly brought it inside like we were adopting a stray kitten. Unsure of what to do with it from there, we stuffed it in a drawer on top of its plastic-wrapped predecessor, where it will sit until we locate a kid who needs a booster seat for a barber chair. Once a staple of our lives, the phonebook has become spam that’s harder to delete.
The next time around, I’m thinking of joining Jimmy’s movement. Surely, a rain-soaked, biodegrading phonebook would help to ward off the delivery of future editions.
Besides, did you know that an area the size of nine-hundred football fields is cut down in the Brazilian rainforest every day to support our phonebook industry? I just made that number up, but maybe it’s true. Anyway, I don’t see why Brazilians need so many football fields.
The next time I bump into Jimmy, I’ll have to thank him for his inspiration. Through his quiet leadership, he has taught us that you don’t have to just accept everything that’s dumped in or around your mailbox. You can bring a horse to water, but you can’t make its fingers do the walking.
You can really get Mike Todd’s number at firstname.lastname@example.org.