“The new phone book’s here!” is the rallying cry of Steve Martin’s character, Navin Johnson, in 1979’s The Jerk. Lovably inept Navin couldn’t wait to flip through the directory du jour in search of his own name, his assurance that “I’m a somebody!” Granted, Navin’s charm was that he was a child in a grown man’s body. And damn if his excitement over the phone book didn’t perfectly capture my own ’70s childhood.
As kids, the phonebook was a goldmine not just of information but entertainment. Part social register and part pranksters’ playbook, our local listings were the source of countless hours of distraction. First, we’d look up our own names for that whole “your name in lights” existential glow. Then, we’d check out the names of our friends or perhaps our latest crush (the pre-teen version of the drive-by). Next we might find a listing for Cunningham and call them to ask if Richie or The Fonz were around. We were masters of our phone domain and thought we were hilarious.
Yesterday our new phone book arrived and, for the first time, I didn’t even bother pretending we needed a hard copy. It went straight to the recycling bin.
If I need a number, I’ll Google it. Those who still enjoy harassing strangers have ample online resources to pursue their passion. It takes little creativity to glimpse into the world of others these days. So much is shared that the days of staring at someone’s street address, wondering who they were and whether they’d be at the skating rink on Friday night, seem like the Dark Ages. Part of me relishes those innocent times, when information was scarce and we kids relied on each others’ imaginations (and perhaps a little help from Ma Bell) to make us somebodies.
If you’re slightly less excited than Navin about the arrival of your new phone book, Google yourself (again) and click here for tips on proper recycling or opting out of phone book delivery entirely.
Tags: phone book, Steve Martin, The Jerk