Monday, August 17, 2009

Fictional Critiques of British and American Phone Booths

Martin Amis via London Fields, you have the floor:

[T]here was a telephone box at the very junction of Lansdowne Crescent and Ladbrooke Grove … There was no one in the telephone box. But there was no telephone in it either. There was no trace of a telephone in it. And there was no hint or vestige of a telephone in the next half-dozen he tried. These little glass ruins seemed only to serve as urinals, as shelters from the rain, and as job-centre clearing-houses for freelance prostitutes and their clients. In widening circles Guy strayed, from one savaged pissoir to another. He hadn’t used a telephone box in years, if indeed he had ever used one. He didn’t know what had happened to them and to vandalism – though a serious glance at the streetpeople who glanced at him so mirthfully, as he rummaged behind the dark glass or stood there shaking his head with his hands on his hips, might have told Guy that vandalism had left telephone boxes far behind. Vandalism had moved on to the human form. People now treated themselves like telephone boxes, ripping out the innards and throwing them away, and plastering their surfaces with sex-signs and graffiti …

Representing Team USA, here’s Jonathan “The Corrections” Franzen:

He marched two blocks in the rain before he found a dial tone. At the first twin phone bank he came to, one instrument was castrated, with colored tassels at the end of its cord, and all that remained of the other was four bolt holes. The phone at the next intersection had chewing gum in its coin slot, and the line of its companion was completely dead. The standard way for a man in Chip’s position to vent his rage was to smash the handset on the box and leave the plastic shards in the gutter, but Chip was in too much a hurry for this. At the corner of Fifth Avenue, he tried a phone that had a dial tone but did not respond when he touched the keypad and did not return his quarter when he hung up nicely or when he picked the handset up and slammed it down. The other phone had a dial tone and took his money, but a Baby Bell voice claimed not to understand what he’d dialed and did not return the money. He tried a second time and lost his last quarter.

He smiled at the SUVs crawling by in ready-to-brake bad-weather automotive postures. The doormen in this neighborhood hosed the sidewalks twice a day, and sanitation trucks with brushes like the mustaches of city cops scoured the streets three times a week, but in New York City you never had to go far to find filth and rage. A nearby street sign seemed to read Filth Avenue. Things cellular were killing public phones. But unlike Denise, who considered cell phones the vulgar accessories of vulgar people, and unlike Gary, who not only didn’t hate them but had bought one for each of his three boys, Chip hated cell phones mainly because he didn’t have one.