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One Ringy Dingy

Old phone numbers are sacred, like old homes and addresses.

I checked out my phone number from when I was a kid, (201) 261–1846 and before that, when there were no area codes, they used a combination of words and numbers, mine was Colfax 1–1846 or more commonly as CO 1–1846. I thought it was assigned after great consternation and deepest thoughts by a mystical high priest, the only number of its kind and one that would be mine for eternity and beyond.

Actually, back then Ma Bell used the name of the local office as the exchange but I like my mystical high priest theory. I couldn’t find out why it was Colfax and not Nincompoop or Biflexual, maybe the office manager’s mother was Sylvia Colfax.

I also couldn’t find who had the number before my family did but I Googled my old number and found two people have it now, Bin Li, 50, of 50 Stuart Place and Xi Pei, 46 of 6 Poplar Ave., both in Oradell. I have no idea why two people at two different addresses have the same telephone number but that’s not really very important.

I felt violated and it was like my house had been burglarized and someone had rummaged through my underwear drawer and stolen my phone number but there was no one to call because it was what the communication carrier companies do, reassigning numbers often within 90 days. So just like that, a defining almost religious ritual of my childhood was stolen by two people named Bin Li and Xi Pei and I would like to confront these heartless bandits and demand the number back but I wouldn’t because it really wasn’t the fault of Bin Li or Xi Pei and they may actually be very nice people.

So, of course, out of great curiosity I called the number and a young voice answered. I don’t know what I expected, maybe a younger version of me would pick up the phone, I don’t know. Maybe I could explain that the number was mine and I wanted it back. But I didn’t because I know it sounded weird.

I told the boy why I was calling and we immediately hit it off, as if we shared a special bond. We got to talking and it turns out he was 10 years-old and his name was coincidentally, Philip, just like me. He told me he went to Memorial School and had a brother and a sister. There was something terribly familiar about his voice and it was really like I had known him my whole life even though I knew that was absurd except in some parallel universe and they don’t exist as far as I know.

Philip asked me if I had any advice for him because his father had died only recently and he really didn’t have anyone to talk to and felt very confused and alone. I told him to never be ashamed of his feelings and to seek out good friends and work to keep them and tell them how important they also were. I told him to go outside a lot, play in the mud and get scrapes and cuts on his knees and even break a bone or two sometimes. I advised Philip to eat healthy, stay away from too much junk and to never, ever smoke because it would be really hard to stop and also to read a lot of books because that will open new worlds to him.

I told Philip that he was unique and amazing just because he could think and feel and that he should nurture his creativity because it would save him in later years of confusion. I told him he was very smart and a very nice boy and to be proud of himself and to also be sensitive to other people, not standing on their feelings and making them feel lousy. Simply, I said, don’t be mean and don’t insult people. But I also told Philip that there will be people who will try to tear him down and that he had to stand up for himself and maybe even get into a fist fight but above all, don’t be bullied and don’t be a bully.

I told Philip that I would like to give him a big hug and a kiss on the head and that he could always call and I would listen to him, no matter how big or little the concerns. I told him he had a long life ahead of him and that it would be a life of wonder and that he should embrace adventures outside of his comfort zone and that he was his own pilot who would have to live with his choices. There would be loves of his life and successes beyond anything he had imagined and he would suffer great losses but would surmount them because he had an inner strength that would never leave him. Never regret the past, just learn from it, I told Philip.

Above all, I told Philip that he was an incredibly valuable addition to the human race and that he should cherish the gift and do everything he could to make others happy and to remember that he is surrounded by fascinations and adventures and love. And I suggested that he get a dog and listen to a lot of different kinds of music.

And with all that said, Philip told me he had to go because his dinner was ready and that his mother had cooked his favorite meal, meatloaf with mashed potatoes and string beans and dessert of jello with fruit, which he didn’t really like. So I bid him farewell, thinking that there were surely a few things I left out in my laundry list of suggestions. But that would be for another day.

About a week later, I called back and a person answered and identified himself as Bin Li. I asked to speak with Philip and he said there was no one there with that name and I asked if he had two sons and a daughter and he said he had just a daughter and her name was Mary.

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Journalist for 40 years and now a creative writer

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Phil Garber

Phil Garber

Journalist for 40 years and now a creative writer

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