Calling Time

I always loved the fact that you could dial a phone number and get a recording with the time. 484-7070 got you some variant on: “The time is *Eleven* *Twenty* *Two*. Phone Mountain Bell. Downtown temperature: *Fifty* *Six*.” The voice was a male without much personality, somewhere between Paul Harvey and Earl Nightingale in sonority. The middle part never changed: We were always to phone Ma Bell, as if there had been any alternative during those days.

There was a joke of the day sixty miles away in Denver: “Ear Whacks.” When I worked at the answering service, I’d sometimes use our Denver line to listen to it. Did it have an ad? I don’t remember. I don’t even remember any of its jokes. Must have been an ad, though. Anyway, it came and went.

Good old Time, though, or Time & Temperature as it was more accurately known (nobody mentioned phoning Mountain Bell), was around till I moved away. In ’76, I was rehearsing a show at Laurel—the community center in the former Laurel Street Elementary School, a near-clone of the now-demolished Laporte Avenue School (see photo) where I went to kindergarten—and there was a phone on a desk in the open floor with a dial lock on it. I felt obliged by some sort of honor code to defeat that, which I did by rhythmically engaging the hook button to mimic the pulse dial signal. I wasn’t doing it to rob them of anything that cost money, though, so I only called Time. It was the principle of the thing. (Tough number, too, with those sevens and zeros to keep straight. Talk about cultivating a skill that is now completely useless.)



two kids and a toy tractor

When I was four or five, I was hanging around quietly inside and Dad came into the room. The room where I was! And he started talking. To me! I was interested, of course, and as much as his words, I was interested in a small cellophane bag of red pistachio nuts that he was eating as he talked to me. He asked me if I was interested in something called Vacation Bible School. Thinking at the time that it had something to do with the pistachio nuts, I said sure, and he nodded and left, taking the bag with him, and leaving me with an outsized craving for the pistachios.

Vacation Bible School was held at the old First Christian Church downtown, where Dad was the organist. I know I attended at least one service, and was amused by a joke Reverend Charles Patchen told during his sermon:

A fellow was visiting an insane asylum, and his guide showed him a young man clutching a large doll. “This unfortunate fellow was in love with a girl he wanted to marry,” he explained. “But she left him for another man.” The visitor shook his head sadly, and they came to the next cell where a patient was trying over and over to hit his head on the padded walls. “What about this one?” asked the visitor. “This is the fellow that got her.”

(Another church joke I recall involved a saloon parrot being moved to a church, where he looked at the minister and said, “New bartender,” then at the choir, “new chorus girls,” and finally at the audience. “…But the same old crowd.” I eventually learned the joke it was cleaned up from, where the former abode had been a cathouse, but I digress.) I sometimes wonder whose idea it had been for Dad to ask me, a young heathen, to go in for games and indoctrination. His own? Really?

The VBS was held, it turns out, in one of the ground-floor classrooms. Actually, the room was a couple of steps below ground level. The teacher was a very happy woman, and she said we were going to play a game where one little boy or girl would go outside and the others would choose an item in the room, and then the little boy (I hoped it would be a boy. Me!) or girl (No, Me.) would come back in and try to guess it. I must have held my hand up really good, because she chose Me! to go outside first. The room door closed behind me, and I looked down the hall. Both ends led outside, but the back seemed more direct. I went down the hall and stood outside. Then I looked over and saw the windows. One of them was the class window. I went over to the class window and looked in, and everybody started laughing and smiling and pointing. At me! So I waved at them and I smiled too.

The teacher didn’t smile. She made herself heard through the glass and told me to come right back inside. I did, and what happened next was a bit indistinct to me. I gathered that she was upset, but I couldn’t see why. All I did was go outside, like she said. I’m pretty sure that the teacher never, at any point, realized that I hadn’t deliberately disobeyed her in order to be a hell-raising hooligan and a bad example.

Anyway, that was the end of Vacation Bible School for me. I was just too much of a rebel for them.

Taken about a year before the story’s events, this seems to date from 1961 when Uncle Don and Aunt Nell drove through with Andy and Betsy. I must have been extraordinarily generous that day, to be able to watch calmly as another human being sits on my tractor, which had a chain-wheel drive and could really move on a good sidewalk, or even on ours. Not too long after that, we moved out of town, where the only pavement had a widely disregarded 45 MPH speed limit. (Once in a while, we’d have the diversion of another crash down at the corner where the road curved. Drinkers coming down from the Deerheart Inn were often able to keep it together right up to the time they literally hit that curve.) After a time of frustration, the tractor was given to the family next door, who had a cement deck and some sidewalks. During the time the Glass kids were wrecking it, I rode it more than I’d had a chance to since we moved out of town, pretty much commandeering it whenever I wanted, because of it being rightfully mine and all that. It was particularly fun when they had put in the cement floor for the garage. I could go in all directions, and the tractor was actually lighter once they’d busted the pretend engine off anyway.