I never did get back to telling my sea story, did I? Ok, so here’s my first (but definitely not my best—just so you’ll keep coming back):
My first tour of duty was in Naples, Italy; back in the days when you had to call the phone company (Ma Bell) to have your phone delivered and the line hooked up. It was just one of those necessary things you had to do when setting up a home, like turning on the electricity.
But the phone company in Italy wasn’t as quick to respond as AT&T. It often took 6-9 months before they could install a phone, and it was quite expensive. Since we were there for only 2-3 years, it generally wasn’t worth it for the average person to have a phone in their home. Only the Really Important People had telephones at home. The Somewhat Important People had walkie-talkies for emergency use. (Oh gads! That reminds me of yet another sea story—which I’ll save for later.) Since I wasn’t a Really or Somewhat Important Person, I had neither.
Being without a telephone, even in those pre-cellular days, took some getting used to. Combined with the unpredictable traffic and cars of questionable reliability, plans made with friends often fell through. One of the things we learned to do was make 2 or 3 back-up plans. For example, “I’ll meet you at the park at 2:00. If one of us doesn’t make it, let’s meet at the exchange at 5:00. If I don’t catch you there, we’ll meet for dinner at the ristorante at 7:00.”
When I returned to the U.S. two years later, I was setting up my apartment in Newport, Rhode Island. I called the phone company to come out with a new phone and connect me. They told me I had to buy a new phone at the phone store. “What the hell’s a phone store?” I asked. (Ok, I didn’t say “the hell,” but you get the idea.) They gave me the store’s address (it was still run my Ma Bell). So, I drove to the store where I was greeted with phones of all shapes and colors. (But still rotary-dial. Yes, I am that old.) I picked out a wall phone, light green in color, I think, to match my kitchen. Walking out of the store with my phone in a shopping bag, I felt strange. Like the whole world was off-kilter and I didn’t know what was what any more.
When I got home, I pulled the phone out of the bag (still not used to carrying around a telephone in a shopping bag) and placed it on the wall. The line was active. After two years of being nearly incommunicado, a wonderful feeling of peace came over me. I thought “I can talk to anybody, anywhere in the world, right now.” Turns out there wasn’t anyone I particularly wanted to talk to right then, but just knowing I had the ability to was contentment enough.
(Several years later, when I was in grad school studying the history of telecommunications, I realized the whole reason for the phone store and its shopping bag was the huge law suit deregulating AT&T. The final, most noticeable effects all occurred during those years I was overseas.)