An Expensive Call


On the way home, I made a mistake, though I confess it wasn't all my fault. Why did no one inform me that there is no longer such a duck as a public telephone booth? How's a person to call his wife? Or worse, his broker? Why, the public phone is as much a part of American life as pocket lint.


Has someone walked off with them? This is New York where, granted, thieves occasionally make a good haul, but how in the world can even the best of them get away with hiding an entire telephone booth? Would one strap it to one's back with the belt from one's trousers? Never mind. I don't really expect you to have the answer.


I walked all over the city for an hour and found none. Then, as luck and two martinis would have it, I spied one hanging off the outside wall of a crowded delicatessen in a strange part of town. For a moment, I felt like T.E. Lawrence looking at a desert mirage. Alas, the phone failed to operate, possibly due to the curly cord being disconnected, rendering the phone as useless as a boiled shirt on an aardvark. Even worse, the handset smelled as foul as the Fulton Fish Market during a Teamsters' Strike.


Entering the delicatessen hat in hand, I inquired as to the whereabouts of a public telephone with a cord that was affixed as tightly as the day it was born. The kind counterman, I believe his name tag said Harry on it, directed me to a bank around the corner which he believed would have to have a telephone for public use. I immediately repaired to the bank and inquired.


"Yes," said the assistant manager in a manner I thought rather snippy, "We certainly do have a phone as you can see right here on my desk. However, it is solely for the use of bank customers." My response must not have been very persuasive, as said assistant manager glared at me in a most unsympathetic way, much as one would glare at one's doorman if he just stood there without opening the door.


Therefore, despite me not living anywhere near the neighborhood in which I found myself, I was nonetheless forced to open a checking account for their minimum deposit of $300.


I must tell you that, generally, I take my share of hits like a gent, but this is more than one can bear. Where's the public telephone booth, that musty green box with the stamped tin walls that one could fiddle with while waiting for one's party to answer? Those booths may not have smelled like an English garden, but what do you expect? The phone call only cost a nickel.