Gather round and let me regale you with a tale from when boys were boys and men were men and various luminaries told magical quips to all their friends. We’ll harken back to the days when girls wore side ponytails and teachers huddled in the hallways after multiple viewings of scud missiles being dropped on a country with a Q in its name. A Q! “What a teaching tool this will be,” they would say to each other. The teachers would then hold hands and go back to the break room to devour their tuna fish sandwiches and graham crackers all to the joy of not having to deal with Tommy Thompson, the ruffian who would smoke cigarettes in class.
Back in the old days of nineteen hundred and ninety-two technology was much different than it was now. Believe me, it was. So after long days and longer nights many people would race back home to the one thing that could make their life complete outside of a shot of whiskey and surprise marathon of Happy Days. One thing that would show that yes, they had indeed made it.
The Answering Machine.
This surprise box did not tell you answers to the questions you asked. That would not be invented until years later under the name of an Internet search engine called “Ask Jeeves.” Spoiler alert. Jeeves had no answers. No, this magical answering box held messages from people who made phone calls. Phone Calls! These existed back then. You would run home see a flashing light and listen to the message. The suspense was palpable. Your heart was racing. Who could it be? A long-lost friend? Someone giving you money? Leonard asking you to come over so you could play his Nintendo?!?! I want to be Mario! You listened to the message and…it was Time Magazine asking your parents to renew their subscription.
You won this round, Time, you always do.
I remember loving to come home to the answering machine having messages on it. My parents and I would be out at some Indian family reunion where my Dad fell asleep again and I would race home to listen to the messages. Before caller ID, you never knew who was calling you. Oh, the surprises, I thought. It was one of the few joys I had in my childhood besides finding a rogue onion ring in my order of French fries from Burger King. Why was I so excited? Mainly because I ordered French fries, but onion rings were so much better and I didn’t know I could replace the number 3 with onion rings so I ended up always getting French fries. Then once in a while, once in a while, glory would strike and there would be a delicious onion ring for me to devour in my mouth and I would savor every last…
Oh, the answering machine. Correct. Moving on.
Nowadays, that joy does not exist anymore. You see everyone back then was adept at leaving messages. People would talk for 30-45 seconds in a clear, concise, manner and all would be right with the world. We now live in an era where everyone has a phone with text messaging capabilities. The last month I have received phone calls from 3 people. Only 3. One is my mother who doesn’t know how to text and if she did it would look something like, “miss u. when u’s coming home? Do u h8 ur mther? U nvr call.”
A phone call from someone makes you feel better about everything. The problem is that I have friends that blatantly refuse to leave messages so you have to call back and say, “I saw you called.” When Alexander Graham Bell invented the phone I bet he never thought that phrase would ever be uttered. Seeing phone calls? The robots are winning. If he knew that would happen he would have bunkered himself so far in the ground that we would be digging him out right now with his skeleton clutching on the remnants of his first made phone and an incessant buzzing sound because it was off the hook.
Since this dawn of a new day has arrived I realized one important thing. I have no idea how to leave a message for anyone anymore. Back in the good old days, I knew exactly what to do. Name. Phone number. Why you’re calling. Goodbye. Hang up. Very simple. Now that I’ve been out of practice I’ve lost all ability to talk like a sane person. The other day I left a message that sounded like the cross between a 9-year-old hopped on pixie stick dust and someone who just got knocked out by Mike Tyson.
“So, um, yeah, I’m calling because, ah, well, it’s 2:30. Oh. Oh. It’s Rahul. Hi. Um, so what time is everyone meeting tomorrow? Because, um, wanted to make sure I’m there when. You know. Just call me back. If that’s cool. I mean it should be cool to call back, right? Hehe. Ok. Bye. Oh. It’s Rahul.”
It was a sad day for the human race. Here I was a 30-year-old college graduate from a fine University talking like one of the Rugrats. I had failed my 12-year-old self. If I could have went back in time at that moment I would have apologized to my 12-year-old self. Then I would have told him that he was going to have his pants pulled down on the way to baseball practice freshman year of high school so make sure he puts a belt on because he’s going to have on briefs and it’s not a good look for him.
Things were simpler in 1992. People called. They left messages. The answering machine lit up and everyone was happy. Now I’ve lost the ability to talk to a machine. The end is nigh.
Only onion rings can save us now.