During one of my recent nights of insomnia, I was shocked by the fact that party lines are back. Hell, did they ever actually go away or did they just die down for a minute while the internet caught steam? Hmmmm, something to ponder.
Well, back in the day, party/chat lines were all the rage. The commercials used to play all the time, not just at late night. Well, the adult ones ran at night, but during the day, the ones that we saw were targeted toward a much younger audience. Fortunately, MrsTDJ aka MrsChatterbox had never had the honor of seeing any of said commercials. Y’all know that Mama TDJ and Daddy TDJ do not play. New readers might wanna mosey over to the “Best of” column on the right and read up on my no nonsense parents here, here or here. I only watched 3 hrs of television a week until I was in the 10th grade. Insert my country cousin, Sunshine. Sunshine is a little younger than me and she was also born to stricter parents than mine. Most of my family lived in the suburbs of Long Island, NY but Sunshine and her parents lived about 2 hrs away in the middle of, well, nowhere. Whenever she came to Long Island, she’d stay a few weeks and alternate between my house and my grandmother’s house. I was allowed to watch a few extra hrs of tv when she was around. YES!!!
Well, one summer that Sunshine came to visit, it was hot as hell. Unbearable hot. Like Africa hot and we New Yorkers were NOT used to it. We’d play outside for an hour and have to come in to recuperate for two hours. We had our guy cousin Slim hanging with us for a few days too. My grandmother and auntie had gone to the store, so we were left to our own devices for about an hour. Slim cut on the tv and we fought over whether to watch One Life to Live or Guiding Light. None of us got to watch lots of tv, but my aunties all watched the stories and we knew enough to know that 2pm was a good slot. I wanted to see Viki and Asa on One Life to Live, while Slim wanted to see the dilly folks on Guiding Light. See? I can’t even remember any of their names because I never had any love for the folks over there.
Anyway, Sunshine and I won, so we proceeded to watch One Life to Live. YAY! During the commercial break, we saw a bunch of teenagers, lounging in a basement, laughing, giggling and passing a telephone around in a circle. They looked like they were having the time of their lives!!!! They showed a little map of what appeared to be Long Island, then showed little lines connecting all these different teenagers, in all the different houses. AMAZING!!! Ever the ringleader, I said, “Let’s call.” Words I’d come to regret in a few weeks.
So we did. We called that day and chatted with teenagers all over New York. We talked to guys and girls close to us in Westbury, Hicksville and Roosevelt, farther away in Jamaica, Roxbury and Astoria, and those really far away in Co-op City, Brownsville and Staten Island. Ohh, the fun we had!! We made plans to meet at Jones Beach, Green Acres Mall, and Jamaica Avenue. Talks of summer bbq’s and swim parties were in full effect. The three of us talked on the party line for hours. Literally. And that weekend, while we were at my house, every time Mama TDJ and Daddy TDJ gave us a few minutes of being unmonitored, we were dialing the party line. We talked and talked and talked.
Fast forward about 3 weeks. After walking in the door from the park, we all knew something was up. My parents were sitting in the living room waiting for us, and Daddy TDJ was holding an envelope. He motioned for us to sit and we did.
“Do you know what I’m holding?”, he said. We looked at each other in confusion. We were still catching our breath from a good game of TV tag that we had played on the walk home. Sunshine poked me so that I would speak up.
“No, Daddy. What is it?”
Daddy TDJ unfolded the paper and it looked like a list of some kind. “This is a phone bill for $1,083.91 worth of party line calls. Does anyone want to explain?”
My heart dropped into my stomach and I could feel Sunshine and Slim each grab one of my hands. Wait, wait, wait!!!! I said the first thing that came to mind, “The party line isn’t free?” Doh!!! Even though my parents were pissed, I could actually see the moment of amusement cross each of their faces. I’d never been a good liar, so they knew that we had genuinely thought we were “partying” for free. As they say, the devil is in the details – never did we notice or pay attention to the small print at the bottom of the screen, or the rushed rhetoric that the announcer spouted at the end of the commercial.
***sigh*** Chalk that one up as an expensive azz life lesson. The “party” is never really free. All our birthday and Christmas money for the next year went to my parents to defray the cost of that damn phone bill. And, the bill for my grandmother’s house came next to the tune of $473.18. The old, frayed paper bills are still in my scrapbook. Geez!! The worst part? We never got to meet any of the cool azz kids that we talked to that summer. Damn party line. I’m gonna sit back and watch a whole new generation get sucked in.
Have any of y’all ever called a party line?