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Day 69. in which Alex is enslaved by the telephone.

I refuse to be a slave to telephone. The telephone exists as a convenience to me. I can call someone if the need arises. But just because the phone is ringing does not mean that I have to answer it.

These are the precepts I want to practice at all times. Some of you know that Dana likes to call me until I answer my cell phone, and generally, I give in and answer it at some point. He's alway leaving me these voice mails that go something like, "I don't know why the hell you have a cell phone if you never answer it! What's the point of having it if it's not turned on!?"

Barbara used to feel this same way about my father. My Dad didn't want to scratch his cell phone. So, to preserve its longevity, he wrapped it up in an old white tube sock with a rubber band around it. It was difficult to reach him because of this. Inevitably, calling Dad on his cell always meant calling his voice mail. I wonder now if this was genius excuse Dad developed to keep from being enslaved by his phone.

I will not answer my phone while I am driving. I cannot. I will not. I wouldn't make it half a mile without killing someone if I did. It scares the hell out of me, frankly, when I am riding in the car with someone who I think is less smart than I am and the same is talking on a cell phone. If I can't do it, how can they? I count the seconds left of my life silently in my head, gripping the arm rest tightly.

There are certain times, of course, in which one must answer the phone if it rings. For example, if you are a 911 dispatcher; it behooves you to answer the phone if it rings. Same for those who are being paid to answer phones - receptionists, customer service, operators.

Many moons ago I worked at a medical answering service. I suppose this is where a lot of my antipathy for the telephone developed. After dispatching calls for eight hours a day at ~ 83 calls in a minute, the last thing you want to do is talk on a phone. This job, like most of my jobs, had many elements of the absurd. I could have 3 calls on my screen completely unrelated: one for the Rape Crisis Hotline, one taking a PBS donation for the local station, and one for Joe's Plumbing. At ~ 83 calls/minute, this tends to make one schizophrenic as you flip between appropriate personalities. One certainly should not answer the Rape Crisis line in the same way one would answer Joe's Plumbing. I made "Operator of the Month" two months in a row! and my then boss is now my sister-in-law!

I do believe answering the telephone is necessary during the hours in which one works. There is a certain obligation to answer the phone. I have a higher respect for fellow workers who answer the phone when I call them. Generally, I know before I even pick up the handset if the person I am about to call will answer it. Some people do and some people don't.

And I am totally with the people who don't, in all cases except for work.

Outside of work, I am no longer obligated to answer the phone simply because you are calling me. I don't care if we are related, if you are my best friend. You could even be the Dalia Lama...though I suspect he'd agreed with me on this point and wouldn't be offended, anyway.

Perhaps this seems rude. But honestly, it isn't personal.

I suspect most people feel like this. I know this is true of my household. There is a long history of phone abuse festering here. The phones are not appreciated and suffer constant maltreatment. Ask Seth about the time he jumped into the pool with my cell phone in his pocket. My phone did not have a chance. I can't count how many phones Dana has tossed around. As a punishment once, I made him carry around this crappy phone with an iconless, dull green display that I bought off of Ebay.

I haven't answered my home phone in about 4 weeks. Every single call to it has gone straight to voice mail. I haven't even checked the voice mail. I wonder what my message limit is? I feel stressed just thinking about having to sit and listen to all of those messages. It fills me with a sense of inexplicable dread.

In this instance, however, it's not because I don't want to answer the phone. I'd love to answer the phone. I'm certain many of those calls I would have enjoyed receiving. But unfortunately, the two handsets I purchased about a year ago now are broken, both victims of abuse. I could foresee this demise when I made the purchase - this is why I bought a phone with two handsets.

This weekend I couldn't answer my cell phone, either. Liam was so sick that Dana and I could barely think of anything else. Its battery ran out and I simply never got around to recharging it.

My brother and his wife showed up on Saturday evening. Christine said, "When you wouldn't answer any of the phones, we thought we better drive down here to make sure you are O.K.!"

I've even listened to voice mails from my family telling me if I didn't call them back, they would call the police to come and check on me. Listening to messages like this just gives me the shivers. I am so scared of police. Kind of like the same way in which I fear clowns. They just give me the geebies.

You think by not answering the phone that you aren't enslaved by it. But this is just a myth. Its very existence turns you into its slave. At 7:15 P.M. tonight, just as I was about to retire upstairs for the night, I had proof of this when I opened up the door to find my Uncle Bill standing there...