Wrong number

Art Buchwald

August 14, 1991|By Art Buchwald

What if it was the year 1876, and the present phone rules of Judge Harold Greene, who is in charge of breaking up the phone company, were in effect?

This is what might have happened.

Alexander Graham Bell is in his laboratory and speaks into a strange instrument.

"Watson, come here. I want you."

Watson enters from an adjoining room. Bell, pleased as punch, says, "Watson, I have just invented the telephone. With a little fine-tuning we will change the world. Take this phone wire and string it from here to there."

Watson replies, "I can't. If this is a telephone and I'm going to have to take your word for it Judge Greene says I can only string incoming wires that go from there to here."

"Well, then, who can I get to attach the wire to the phone?"

"According to Judge Harold Greene only a Baby Bell telephone company can do that. As I understand it, AT&T is in charge of putting in a dial tone, and GTE makes sure your phone lights up when you lift the receiver off the hook. Sprint will sell you the busy signal, and UPS is the only one allowed to leave your Yellow Pages at your door."

"Watson, I don't like monopolies any more than Judge Greene does, but if I don't get supplies, people will still be using two soup cans and a wax wire to reach out and touch someone."

"Mr. Bell, you have done a wonderful thing, but you are also creating problems. Once your system is activated people will have to decide what kind of phone to buy. Ordinarily they would have to lease Western Electric equipment. But Judge Greene insists that the public can now purchase any phone it wants to, even if it's produced in North Korea and made with used soybean fuses."

"I don't want people to think the thing I invented is a piece of junk."

"They won't if you make them purchase a service contract at the same time."

"Why would anyone need a service contract on a new phone system?"

"It's the law. If you damage the inside of a Mickey Mouse phone that has been previously sealed by an AT&T technician in a Western Union time zone, Greene could sentence you to 15 years in prison."

"That doesn't bother me. If I can invent the telephone, at least I'll be entitled to one free call."

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