Sunday, October 5, 2014

Number, please.

For years I haven't had cable tv... and honestly I was quite happy without it.  Gradually over time however, Time Warner kept increasing my Internet bill well above the $44 a month I started out with.  When I called to complain about the almost $20/month increase, I was told the best thing they could do was give me a bundle which included basic cable, Internet and digital home phone for basically the same cost as what I was paying for Internet only.  I reluctantly agreed.

I'm not impressed with having cable back.  There are only a handful of shows I watch -- and even those can be found online if you know where to look.  Every time I turn on the tv I find myself watching old re-runs of shows I've seen 1,000 times --- which are also available online.  Not impressed.

The home phone was something I was excited about.  I HATE talking on cell phones.  Even routing them through traditional corded phones doesn't help with the initial connection quality of the cell phone which sometimes can be an annoyance.  So now the "home phone" has become my default telephone system when I'm at home... saving the cell (and my battery life) for texting and use when I am out and about.

For the first time in years, I now had a new telephone number.  My cell number hasn't changed in a decade and it is one of the few numbers I still have committed to memory.  But as I would tell people my primary number had changed, I found myself struggling to remember the new set of 7 digits.  The solution?  I gave my phone number an exchange name.

In the first half of the 20th century, telephone numbers had words and letters in front of them known as exchange names.  The names/exchanges served a few purposes.  Back then, operators either manually connected the call (before dial service) or helped in looking up numbers and connecting long distance calls.  The exchange acted like a mini area code -- all the phones in a certain area would be part of that exchange...making the operators job easier for connecting your call.  The words also made it easier for people to REMEMBER the phone number (does anyone even commit phone numbers to memory anymore?) since words tend to be easier to remember than a long chain of random numbers.

Exchange numbers were made famous in popular songs and movies of this time.  Glenn Miller's PEnnsylvania 6-5000 was a hit song using the telephone number of the Pennsylvania Hotel.  The movie BUtterfield 8  starring Elizabeth Taylor is also a telephone number exchange.  The PE in PEnnsylvania corresponds to 73 on your dial.  BU in BUtterfield would be 28.  If you were calling the Pennsylvania hotel, you'd dial 736-5000.  But PEnnsylvania 6-5000 (or PE6-5000) is an easier way to remember the number...and lends itself nicely to a song.  :)

With the introduction of area codes and direct dialing, exchange names faded into the past... dropping names and numbers and using only their numerical counter parts.  There is a scene in the 1970s sitcom All in the Family where Edith Bunker has to make an emergency call to the doctor in the middle of the night.  She begins to dial and says (I forget the exact number she uses) "PL 4.....oh wait!  They're using numbers now!"  She grabs for her phone book, looks up the number and begins to dial again saying, "754....." before coming to the realization that, "It's the same thing!"  Oh Edith.. how I loved you.

Sadly my new number which begins with 260 doesn't lend itself to many great exchange names.  I ruled out any word starting with BO because I don't need people thinking of body odor when they called.  I thought about ANgelus 0  since I have a great love for Latin (and it is the name of a Catholic prayer) -- but the "s" sound in Angelus and the "z" sound of zero gave me an instant lisp when reciting the number.  I settled on "COmmodore 0".  The fictional exchange name did indeed make the number far easier to remember.

Being the vintage geek that I am, when recording my answering machine message (I wasn't paying $3.40 a month for Time Warner digital voicemail), I simply recorded, "You have reached COmmodore 0-1234 (obviously that's not the real number), please leave a message."  I figured anyone who knows me well and heard the message would laugh it off... and anyone I don't know will get confused (such as the telemarketers who began calling me the day after I got the number activated).

When I came home from Church this morning, the machine (for the first time) was blinking that I had a message.  Curious as to who called me so early, I pressed play.  Sure enough it was a telemarketer -- I could hear the call center chatter in the background.  Before the caller hung up, I could hear him say excitedly, "Oh wow!  He uses an exchange name!!" before the call disconnected.  Yes sir I do...but I'm still not answering your survey or buying your products.  :)