Veritas  Any Day Now
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Britt Leach


1. This is the phone from my childhood. Gadsden, Alabama in the 1940s; our telephone number was 16. One-six. I remember calling my grandmother, my father's mother, whose telephone number was 1226. One-two-two-six. The phone had no dial, no keypad. Pick up the phone. Silence. Then, "Number, please." That was the operator's voice, a woman, real person, on the end of the line. "Number, please." And I'd tell her my grandmother's number. What did my grandmother and I talk about? I'm not sure; my father, maybe. His being overseas in New Guinea and when he might be home, when the war might end.


2. This is a dial phone; my guess is that it arrived in Gadsden in the late forties or early fifties. I think our number was LI3-0017. That "LI" stood for "Liberty." I'm sure about the one-seven part because I remember that my mother was upset that we couldn't have "LI3-0016." She wanted it because our earlier number had been 16 and that phone number was the sixteenth phone number assigned in Gadsden because we were very prominent people back then and my great-grandfather was the first mayor and had walked all the way back from North or South Carolina after the Civil War. But, no, it was a numbering convention that the telephone company couldn't change. LI3-0017. That was my telephone number during my teenage years even though I wasn't around much to use it. We also had an extension phone upstairs. Two phones in the house. I can't remember any conversations. Except, "Britt! Hang up! I'm on the phone."


3. A touch-tone phone like we had in Gadsden, sometime in the fifties. The same telephone number as the dial phone I think— the telephone number that I called when I called home from out of town. And I have been out of town since 1953. Chattanooga, Chicago, Birmingham, Los Angeles (Venice, Hollywood, Studio City, North Hollywood, Sherman Oaks). I would call home and if my father answered I'd hear, "Heee-lo." That last part clipped, first part extended. "Heeee-lo." And I'd say. "Hello, Papa." For many years I called him Jimmie because that's what my mother called him while he was overseas during the Second World War when I was a child—three, four, five years old—and during that time she didn't encourage my calling him Papa or Daddy. But at some point and for some reason I decided that it might be better to call him Papa. I don't know when I made the decision; I might have been in my thirties or forties. But on the phone when I'd call and say, "Hello, Papa," he'd say, "Here's your mother." Just like that; nothing else. My father and I had a bad time. It was the war. It was my not having an understanding of the effect of the war on him—and on me too I guess. No one to explain it to us. Once I called my shrink in L.A. from a phone booth in Manhattan. I have no memory of what was said.


4. This is an L.A. phone, a Princess I guess. From 1965 through 1990. Not our current phone because our current phones are portable phones and cell phones. Cell phones of course. But let this be the typical phone for my fifteen (15) Los Angeles addresses prior to this address. Fifteen. I can't remember one of my other telephone numbers. I do remember that I once had a telephone listed under the name "Fred T. Thurston." I used that pseudonym because of bad credit—with the phone company and everybody else. "Thurston" was a street in Venice, California. I lived out of my car for a few weeks during that time and of course had no phone. I used a payphone (5) in my attempts to borrow money, for food and such, getting first month's rent together for an apartment. So those conversations must have sounded like, "Please, I need to borrow some more money; I'm living out of my car and...Hello, hello."


6. I met Cathy thirty years ago and became permanently domiciled, and we now have this kind of phone, a portable, and cell phones of course (7). We all must have cell phones, mustn't we? I call her at noon each day at work. I tell her to get up and take a walk. I tell her to leave the office and go to lunch. Her last lunch tab was for $8.12. I remember a recent conversation with Cathy, two days ago. I pulled to the side of the road and called her on my cell. I said, "You know, my birthday is next week; and we always celebrate my birthday week, starting one week before. So we need to start celebrating today." And she said, "When you go to Gelson's make sure you pick up some lettuce." And then she said, "OK. Your birthday week. I'll make you some pasta tonight." I tend to remember my conversations with Cathy even though I sometimes forget details. Say, the fact that she's going away this weekend; I'd forgotten. She reminded me this morning.


8. This is that new gadget. Are telephone conversations becoming less substantive? Maybe I should get one, an iPhone. I don't have many conversations on the telephone these days—any kind of phone, any kind of conversation. I did when I was making my living as an actor; I'd talk with other actors, my friends, commiserate about not having any work. But when I stopped acting I lost friends. I also lost friends when I stopped drinking. And I think I've pissed off my brothers again so I don't hear from Alabama; they don't call, don't return my calls. I think that one of my brothers is mad at me because I got a tattoo; he's my exceedingly clean brother. Or maybe he doesn't like what I write about our father. Maybe he thinks that I'm disrespecting our father. Maybe he doesn't understand that I'm still grieving our father's death and wish that I had understood my father and our estrangement before he died, the stuff about the war, so we could have talked about it. This brother was very close to our father; I wish that I had been. This gadget overheats I hear. So many functions. It does so many things, other than mere conversation. Which is difficult; conversation is difficult. Maybe this gadget exists to make us forget that conversation is difficult. Listen to music instead; surf the web instead. Conversation is difficult.


Pick up the phone. Silence. Then a woman's voice, "Number, please." "One-two-two-six, please. I'm calling my grandmother, my daddy's mother. I want to know when my daddy will be home from the war." ###

















13 July 2007

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