Sunday, July 6, 2014

Pay Phone Call

I guess there is now a generation of people who hardly know what a pay phone is, let alone what a phone booth is. But I remember a time where I lived with no phone at all.

I'm not sure we had a phone in Seattle. I didn't have a phone in New York, but there was a phone in the sublet. There must have been a phone in Santa Fe. I know we had a phone in L.A. and certainly my wife and I had a phone in Montana.

But I'm thinking of the Florida panhandle--Grayton Beach, Seaside, Seagrove Beach--of south Walton County. I'm not sure, when Brock, Matt and I lived in that stilt house in "New Grayton", that we had a phone, but perhaps we did. I do know that when I returned to that area I did not.

What I'm specifically thinking of is when I came back maybe the third time to south Walton County and I lived with Brad for a spell, a place east of Seagrove but west of Panama City, and found a job painting houses close to Destin--some place called Topsail, if I remember right. This was all after the fiasco with Teresa, with the Iowa Writers Workshop and being in Seattle. If I remember right . . .

What I do remember right is stopping now and then at a lonely pay phone near the beach to call my parents.To reassure them that I was okay, working, that I was still alive. It was a pay phone near a quiet road under ragged live oak trees. It was not a phone booth. I'm not sure why it was located there, as it was not connected to a store or gas station or such. I'd usually call at night, once a week or two weeks--maybe on my way home from work or coming back from the little store in Seagrove Beach--and the phone had a single light above it and the road would be carless, the landscape desolate in its way. Quiet. Dark. Wind blowing in off the Gulf. The smell of the Gulf and trees and decaying plants and, well, just the sounds and smells peculiar to that region, to the proximity of that heat and saltwater and plant material, the southern sandy loaminess . . . And here I was, not exactly immune to loneliness, making  a brief call to Des Moines, talking to my mother, my father, standing in the cone of light cast over the phone, feeling the aloneness, the alienness of where I was compared to where I had come from, that sense of both failure and survival, of renewal and end-of-youth ennui. I guess. Or, it was just a sad little phone call to my folks at night from a pay phone near the beach.

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