Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Number, Please

When you grow up without a so called normal childhood you really don't know this until later in life when you learn just what normal is from other people. Each family is an island and until you leave your own island and visit other islands out there in the vast ocean of life you haven't a clue to just what the word normal means to the rest of the world.

For example, during a short period in my teen years my mother would sometimes answer the phone, listen without comment to the person on the other end, put the receiver down, pick up her purse and cigarettes and head out the front door saying, "I'll be back in a few minutes. I have to make a phone call."

This was done because our phone was tapped. By whom I'm not sure. It could have been the Denver police or it could have been the FBI or it could have been both. Our phone was tapped because of the people my mother knew and dated. She knew state politicians, Government officials, and members of the Secret Service. She also knew civil rights activists and members of the Black Panthers. She knew the men and women who kept Denver from burning when Martin Luther King was assassinated.

She was politically involved when doing so was a serious threat to the white men, and they were almost exclusively white men, in charge. Anyway, because of this our phone was tapped and my mother would leave the house whenever she needed to talk to someone without the police or FBI listening in.

Since we were children of a politically active mother we were involved in our own way. Mostly by attending rallies with her, or painting signs during political campaigns, or by going with her when she went to the state Capitol to observe political change in action. Because of our mother we always sat on the State Senate or House floors and never in the balcony. But we also had our own little way of "sticking it to the man."

The phone being tapped was fascinating to us and we were always picking up the receiver to listen to the way our phone did not work like other phones. With an untapped phone when you picked up the receiver you instantaneously heard a dial tone. With our phone you would first heard silence and then the dial tone along with bunch of clicks and a whirling noise. Then if you pushed the disconnect button, but did not take the phone from your ear, you would hear a loud click as if someone was hanging up an extension.

After awhile the thrill of listening to the police/FBI listening to us wore off so we decided to do something else. Once a day, sometimes more, we would dial time/temperature and then throw the phone down the wooden basement steps of our house. It would make a wonderfully loud banging and clanging sound whenever the metal base of the phone hit a step. We varied the time of day we would do this and we varied the moment during the call that we did this. Sometimes we threw it while we were still dialing, sometimes we threw as the line was ringing, sometimes we sent it sailing just as the called connected, sometimes we didn't throw it at all and would just hang up. As we did so we would visualize some agent yanking a set of earphones off his head and swearing as his ears were bombarded with noise or we visualized him yanking the earphones off in anticipation of our throwing the phone when we didn't send it sailing. Our little contribution to the cause.

I did not realize how this little ceremony had turned into a ritual for us until the day I threw the phone down the steps, greatly enjoying the cacophony of noise it made, and then went to get it and set it back on the living room table. Five minutes later my brother walk through the front door, picked up the phone, dialed, walked over to the basement door, opened it, flung the phone it, and then continued on his way through the kitchen and out the back door.

Right fist raised to the sky, "Power to the people."

No comments: