Phone Book is Treasure Chest of Facts

Phone Book is Treasure Chest of Facts By Bob Karolevitz Have you read a phone book lately?

They have a lot of characters but not much plot.

If your name is Harry Aardvark, you get a good position near the top of the A listings. If you're Thaddeus Zylinkski, you have a good chance of bringing up the rear.

Names like Brown, Smith and Jones take up lots of pages in big city books, but Scandinavian ones are far more numerous in South Dakota.

Just for the heck of it, I counted some names in the Sioux Falls book, and there were 586 Johnsons, 419 Andersons, 309 Nelsons, not to mention scads of Hansons, Petersons and Olsons. There were just 227 Smiths and 127 Joneses.

(I keep telling Phyllis how busy I am; wait till she finds out I had time to count all those names.)

Mostly we use phone books to look up numbers we haven't memorized, but there's lots of other stuff to read if you don't have a newspaper or a juicy novel handy.

For instance, if you want to call somebody in Harare, Zimbabwe, the international area code is 263 and the city code is 4. I'll bet you didn't know that. Well, it's right there in the book, along with numbers to get to Liechtenstein, Mauritius, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

The front pages of every phone book are veritable treasure chests of information you'll probably never use. There are maps of college campuses, voting instructions, what to do if you get obscene calls and warnings not to use your telephone in the bathtub.

You can find how to pay your bill, what time it is in Carson City, Nevada, and even how to get marriage counseling. (I made a note of that last one, just in case.) You can learn about hot lines, warm lines, speed calling, trunk hunting, and how to block 900 calls from your phone if anyone in your house goes in for heavy breathing and sexy come-ons.

If you're tired of reading, you can always run your fingers through the Yellow Pages. They tell you where to buy fish bait, party balloons, oboes, flag poles and slinky lingerie.

Phone books these days also tell you how to hook up to the Internet and how to connect your fax machine. The editors just assume that there's a computer in every home and that we're all just dying to have our very own Web page.

What they don't know is that our phones here at the farm are still the old-fashioned dial kind and that I'm waging an obviously losing battle against electronic progress.

I still have memories of talking to a real live "Central" at the local switchboard. Now a recorded message tells me to Push 1 or Push 2 which I can't do on a rotary phone.

But I'm starting to digress.

In motel and hotel rooms, phone books are usually in the same drawer with the Gideon Bibles. The pages of the former are usually more dog-eared than those of the latter, which gives you some idea of where our priorities lie these days.

As big as they are, phone books still have a way of getting lost. They hide under old newspapers, amid recipe books and in catch-all cupboard drawers. When you need them in a hurry, they are hard to find. They should be chained to the phone so they can't wander off.

Although they're not much in the way of literature — I've never heard of one winning a Pulitzer Prize — phone books will always be a valuable communications tool in every household. After all, you never know when you have to make a call to Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania or Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia.

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