You may recall, perhaps against your own wishes, that when cellular phones first appeared they were referred to as “car phones,” owing to their being of a size and weight that required automobiles to transport them. This was the late ’70s, the era up until which many of you had exercised the good judgment to remain unborn. But then suddenly there you are, jostled by a series of contractions, almost alive, your biodegradable packing case buckled into the front seat of a speeding vehicle with more leg room than your current apartment, on the way to the hospital to be slapped and wiped and cleaned and tagged, beside you your father, who‘s just wealthy and silly enough to be holding an immense faux-walnut brick to his head, talking into it. For this is precisely the reason he bought the phone in the first place.
Baby’s coming! We‘re on our way!
Yes, we’re expecting you. You called a few minutes ago, remember?
Yes, but I mean now we‘re really on our way! Right now, as we speak, we’re actually driving in the car!
That‘s . . . just . . . lovely. You’re doing very, very well. Are you driving toward the hospital?
Yes! Yes, doctor! That‘s exactly right!
Well then, I recommend that you continue to drive, in your car, toward the hospital, and soon enough you’ll be relaxing with Valium while we walk around in our masks, groping your wife and slapping and disinfecting your spawn. All right then?
Slapping my what? Doctor? Hello?
If, despite your father‘s car phone, you survive, and on the way home from the hospital you take a break from sleeping, you may notice that on the back of the Plymouth Fury III is what appears to be a remnant from the floor of Alexander Calder’s studio, circa 1962: a strange, thin, black antenna embedded in a ridiculous black epoxy square jutting from the rear window. From the square, the antenna extends in a straight line at a 52-degree angle for perhaps six inches and then continues in a series of coils — perhaps 14 coils, perhaps an inch in diameter — then goes straight again, briefly, before being topped by a dorky li‘l ball bearing.
Antenna bone ’nected to the . . . window bone. Window bone ‘nected to the . . . car bone. Car bone ’nected to the . . . Mom bone. Mom bone ‘nected to the . . . milk bone . . . milk bone ’nected to the . . . mouth bone . . .
Wait; you‘re getting ahead of yourself. The important thing is to hope your father doesn’t get you all killed on the way to the hospital. That way you can get born, and then you‘ll have about 75 years to mess around with the details.
So: As these antennas and the people who drove the cars and talked on the phones became symbols of a new era in petroleum-based communications, cults formed in worship of them — of the people on the phones with the antennas — and these cults eventually created a market for artificial car-phone antennas, which could be purchased at Pep Boys and Kmart and so on for about the same as the cost of gas to get there. These antennas differed from their functional counterparts in that they were entirely wireless: One simply mounted one’s pacifier antenna on the rear window and set about absorbing whatever status one thereby deserved.
It was with just such status symbology in mind that, in 1979, Scott Embry and I decided to equip my mustard 1972 Toyota with a car phone, starting with a Maxell UDXLII 90-minute cassette tape and a $39 cassette deck from Leo‘s Stereo. The phone itself had been built the same year as the Toyota, or thereabouts. A classic rotary model, still manufactured for a time after the first Touch-Tone®s appeared, it also shared, approximately, the Toyota’s mustard color. Most members of the Gururumba tribe of New Guinea could tell by looking at it that this phone had very little to do with automobiles.
Neither the phone nor Scott Embry was a permanent fixture in the Toyota; in fact, they were only there for the afternoon, to try an experiment in socializing, a.k.a. meeting chicks. The recipe went like this: From my parents‘ house, I call Scott at his parents’ house and ask him to give me about 10 seconds and then call me back. We hang up. I press, simultaneously, the Pause, Play and Record buttons on my trusty portable cassette player, the same one I‘d used for all kinds of similar mischief for a good 10 years. The phone rings once. I hit Pause and the recording begins. The phone rings again — not some wimpy electronic ring, but the hearty metallic jangle of an actual bell mounted within the phone for just this purpose — and again. I record 12 or 15 rings, just to be sure, then hit Stop and answer the phone.
“Okay,” I say, and we giggle.
Next step: Pick up Scott, roll down windows, make sure neither of us is more than 17 years old, go meet chicks. Scott laps phone. Dave queues tape, cranks volume, hits Stop. Seek out attractive chicks, precision-timing driving slow in fast lane to meet up at red light. Insert tape. Phone rings. Chicks look over. Scott answers clunky mustard handset Hello? just as I stop tape. Scott performs understated double take toward chicks. Through window offers chicks phone — entire phone — and says, “For you.” Huh-huh-huh-huh-huh. Huh-huh-huh-huh-huh.
“You guys are weird.”
“You guys have some serious problems.”
We only did this twice.
“Hey! Aren’t you the guys with the phone?”
Okay, three times.
* * *
Alexander Calder, uncredited inventor of the artificial car-phone antenna, died back in 1976, but his prototypes live on. And, by following the simple, step-by-step instructions on Meininger Art Supplies From Around the World‘s Kids Art Activity Center’s Calder Mobile page (www.meininger.comArtEdResPagescalder_mobiles.cfm), you and your spawn can make your own “4D drawings” (Calder‘s phrase), with objects easily found around the home, if you live in a Wandix Zippy Foam factory. (More likely found around the Meininger Art Supplies Online Catalog.)
Har de tænkt over hvilke fordele de har af en telefon? (“Have you thought about the advantage you will have with a telephone?”) If so, visit the Telephone Museum in Hellerup, Denmark. Or at least visit its online slide-show page (www.telefonmuseet.dkukdiasdiasmenu.htm), ripe with controversial telephonic imagery.
Societe Generale des Telephones, formerly the first private company to operate the French telephone network (1879–1889) but presently just Fred’s Old Phone Page (http:perso.wanadoo.frfredouille), has authorized the presentation of one of the Internet‘s most truly frightening index pages with its incongruous animated-blood GIFfery. If you’re not scared away by the blood and the equally frightening illustration that accompanies the first page of the English index (http:perso.wanadoo.frfredouilleindex2.htm), you‘ll be pleasantly surprised to find that Fred the Societe has done a bang-up job of presenting the history of the telephone (in France, mostly, but not entirely) without resorting to further violence. Incidentally, the aforementioned nonbleeding (but equally frightening) illustration is a logo colorized from an early Societe-adjacent electrician’s personal stationery (http:perso.wanadoo.frfredouilleenglishlion.htm). So that leaves only the blood-GIF to fear.