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Frosh Phone Follies

By Darshak M. Sanghavi

USING the phone never ceases to fascinate me.

Last fall, I sent New England Telephone an application for phone service on the behalf of my rooming group. They seemed like a group of compassionate people, even wishing students "every success during the upcoming academic year" in the application.

Our phone was connected the day after my three roommates and I arrived during Freshperson Week. I brought along an answering machine, and my roommate Rob came with his brown AT&T phone.

There was one restriction on my answering machine. After three unanswered rings, the machine would kick in, and there was no way to change the setting. Since our room had new desks and chairs that fit snugly into each other, we knew that our answering machine would be a problem the day I fell out of my chair backwards trying to answer the phone before the machine did.

This was a portent of difficulties to follow.

ONE week later, the phone lines in our six-room entry underwent unification. Whenever someone in the entry was called, every telephone rang in synchronized unison. All of us simply had one big phone line. (Our answering machine often took garbled messages for the women upstairs, but only after three respectful rings.) Thankfully, we were cured of this after two weeks or so.

The next month, we received our phone bill. We expected it to be rather expensive, from calling friends and family a lot after getting here. Since the bill was addressed in my name, I had the pleasure of opening it. I did. I was flabbergasted. Blown away.

The bill was for $1500. We used the phone a lot, but not that much.

Apparently, the guys in our room last year had waited a while to pay. We called them to inform them of the dollar amount. With astounding calmness, they apologized and took the bill. No problem, they told us.

Our next bill was rather tame, except for a call to Lander, Wyoming. Although the charge was for only 10 cents, none of us could recall dialing there. None of us had even heard of the place. So my roommate Eric decided to call the number and find out whom they knew at Harvard. He tried hard to communicate with them, but unfortunately they spoke only German. None of us did, and the fellow was convinced Eric was a prank caller and hung up on him.

So we resigned ourselves and paid for the call, and when Lander showed up on the bill again the next month, we were confused all over again.

NOT all of our experiences this year were adverse. Another roommate recalls having a discussion about abortion with a friend located close to Memorial Hall. Since our phone was as just as good as the next one at picking up WHRB while it was broadcasting a football game, my roommate was gratified to hear cheering crowds right after he had made his "big point." The most interference of all, however, results from calling the Quad. Maybe the cosmic background radiation is the problem there, AT&T engineers would tell you.

Then of course, there's the time I called a woman to ask her to the formal. When she picked up the phone, she literally got an electric jolt in her ear from the receiver. Not exactly an auspicious beginning, but she accepted anyway.

Our answering machine had provided Rob with hours of entertainment. He loved to make up cute messages, and my personal favorite was the one that went, "Hello? [five second pause] Hold on, I'll check. [five more seconds] Sorry, he's not here, but NEITHER ARE WE! [hysterical laughing] So please leave a message." Unoriginal as it may be, that one received some priceless replies. However, we changed the message pretty soon.

We didn't want our friends to hate us.

Even simple things can become rather difficult on the phone. Although Eric is a sailor/FOP leader/athlete, he can't seem to master the use of call waiting. One conversation went like this: "Wait, I have to answer the call waiting. [presses button] Hello? Oh wait, I'll try again. [presses button again] Hello? This isn't working. [presses button again, accidently hangs up on both friends] !#$%&)*(*." And then both callers dial back again at the same time.

Call waiting is a necessary evil, like the core curriculum. Or death.

So in two weeks I'll be home. We have a brown AT&T phone there, too. But it works perfectly, always getting connected right where it's supposed to when it's supposed to. It has a long cord that stretches to wherever I want to go. And you could hear a pin drop through the line, if one ever fell. We don't even own an answering machine at home.

So for some reason I just don't feel right asking advice or telling stupid stories to my friends over it. The phone at home is just too perfect for me and my life.

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