Life in a ‘Phoney’ World

Published 11:04 am Thursday, August 27, 2015

Commentary by Dr. Don Newbury

Adults–particularly those longer of tooth–remember when phones were simpler instruments. We even had “tele” in front of “phones.” Today, they’re used for many things—sometimes even for conversations.

My friend, author Caleb Pirtle, left his cell phone behind a few days ago. The oversight reminded him his phone– a virtual appendage–is loosening the grip he thought he once had on “being his own man.” Or is he, brilliant writer that he is, “trapped inside the sound of a dial tone,” as he claims?

Separated from his always-charged phone for mere hours, reflection beckoned. Actually, he’s been “hip-joined” with phones for decades. He once memorized the location of hundreds of pay phones on several interstates. Before cell phones, he tried to remember to take rolls of quarters required for “reaching out”–as well as reaching back. Immersed in words–spoken and written–most of his life, Caleb chooses words carefully and arranges them in fetching order. He could write an engaging piece on crow bars, and may yet. Did I mention he writes EVERY DAY? He blogs at

One reason his writing holds up well is that he centers on experiences common to everyone. Some of us, fidgeting at this very moment, are bemoaning phones—either because they’re lost or because they’re frustrating us with their presence.

Phones help us paint ourselves into tiniest corners; our only option then, it seems, is to apply a second coat. Few situations yank our insecurity chains like phones. Like the anguished young mother–her kitchen a wreck, children screaming and the mortgage due–scrambling to find her phone.

“I wish someone would invent a phone attached to the wall, with a cord on it and a loud ring so its location is never in doubt,” she lamented.

Phones–present or AWOL–can be at the root of panic. Often without warning, it’s like other situations that compound, one example being the kindergartener arriving at school with his hair a tangled mess. Grabbing his comb, his teacher quickly parts and combs, making him more presentable.

That was strike one; strike two was on deck.

Back home that afternoon, the tearful child blubbers to his mom. “I’ve had an awful day, and it was my teacher’s fault. She parts my hair on the wrong side; then, she says I’m holding my crayons in the wrong hand.”

We’ve all been there, our hair hurting by mid-morning, parted on the wrong side or not.

Phones are double-edged swords, but we cling to them, searching for that elusive “bright side” our elders vow to be out there.

I’m advantaged when an unwelcome visitor rings my doorbell. I respond, phone in hand, saying, “Doctor, thank you for calling. Now understanding the dangers of my contagion spreading, I’ll start wearing an oxygen mask immediately. I’ll avoid breathing on anyone, and will honor my 90-day quarantine.” If the visitor hasn’t already scampered, I add, “Let’s see, I know I’ve got an oxygen mask somewhere.”

We are unraveled daily by uninvited phone calls, some of which are painful. I’m amazed at calls from national firms; some of them must seemingly desperate. Perhaps the nation’s best-known appliance retailer lost our business recently when I attempted to order a small plastic dishwasher basket for silver wear. “That’ll be $69.95, plus $7.50 for shipping,” the guy said. I balked, but he called back, “What if we pay the shipping?” Caps this time: “NO!” I found the basket at a used appliance place for $5.00.

My wife, ever alert for whatever is cheaper, signed up with a new electricity provider. Her decision elicited a phone query from the company we’ve used for years. The rep wanted a chance to “beat the offer.” Next year? Maybe. I wished for an “old-time” phone receiver to slam down. That call–lumped with others seeking contributions and/or “my valuable opinion” for various polls–consumes my daily ration of dander in minutes.

Still, though, I’m grateful for life’s diminishing humorous moments. A courthouse friend said Uncle Mort stood in line 30 minutes to ask: “If I get a hip replacement, can I get a half-price gun permit, since I’d no longer be firing from both hips?”


Dr. Newbury is a speaker in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Speaking inquiries/comments to: Web site: Archived at, newbury blog.