The last time I tried using a pay phone was on the corner of 5th avenue and 27th street. I had to get a surprise phone call to a friend who had, just that evening, landed in Los Angeles from Colombo. I seem to continually lose contact with friends and remain unmotivated to do anything to stop them as they become acquaintances. One of the contributing factors at the time must surely have been my reluctance to get a new phone after my old one snapped in half.
I had five dollars in quarters, a long distance prepaid phone card, and my friend’s old number. The pay phone triplets, adorned with graffiti and fast food garbage, did not work as effortlessly as I had hoped. All my quarters turned into dial tones and when I did finally get through — on a pay phone duet around the corner — I did not have enough quarters to leave a proper message on my friend’s voicemail. We did manage to get in touch, but I soon fell back into the old habit and we became strangers.
I can draw no mental picture of our time in Lower East Side, nor do I remember the specific circumstances in which we took the train to Philadelphia and spent the day doing nothing. But strangely enough, whenever I am in LES, I think of it as ‘her neighborhood’, though many forgettable and regrettable things have happened in the neighborhood since I last saw her near Tompkins Square. I’m sure Philadelphia, though I am yet to return, suffers the same fate. In all honesty, I don’t quiet remember her face. But some features in strangers’ faces are odd versions of ‘her face’.
You may have heard the news already: they’re getting rid of pay phones in the city. Because death is insufficient to properly dismember one’s nostalgia in preparation for the coming of the future, pay phones are not only being gotten rid of, but are being replaced by Link NYC, a shining totem of technology that provides wifi, free calls, USB-ports for charging your phones, on whose side pedestrians can “view public service announcements and more relevant advertising on two 55” HD displays.”
No doubt the triplets on 5th avenue and 27th, and the twins further down the block will be gotten rid of too. And a Link will take their place. And by any measure, it will provide more public service than the quintet ever could, and would not require one to rub one’s ear once-removed with those of strangers’.
But I still cannot help but lament the loss of pay phones. I walked by the quintet with the assurance that they share the burden of memory. Now the city’s getting rid of them and it feels personal.
- HJ from The Ana Banana Team.
photo by Nina and Dmitry Sviridov Vozdvyzhensky