Monday, April 06, 2009
Whatever Happened to the Red Phone?
I was watching an episode of Murder, She Wrote last night that centered around the top secret doings of MI5. Jessica had found a body in a hotel room near hers during her visit to London. She of course reported it to the police, but by the time the police arrived the body was gone! This happened to her again later (same body, this time in the kitchen). The police started to warn her about making false reports to the police and how she could get arrested for it. She threatens to go to the press and make it all public.
This is enough for the police to call a bemulleted sleazeball and tell him that that "Fletcher woman" is getting too close for comfort. Herr Mullet rings off from the inspector and picks up the handset of the Red Phone. It requires no dialling for him to reach an old man sipping brandy in a leather chair. They blathered on being purposefully obtuse in order to mislead the viewers to think they wanted to harm Jessica rather than ask her for help in their investigations.
I was immediately distracted by the red phone. How long since I had seen one on TV or in a movie, even ironically? I can't recall, actually. Was there one in Get Smart? I'm not sure...Have we as a people outlived the need for this direct line to some old white guy? What with speed dial, it kind of takes the punch out of the one-line red phone, doesn't it? Besides, what if you're out to lunch at the deli, having a reuben with chips and a pickle and you suddenly see arch enemy number 4 drinking coffee at the next table? Wouldn't you grab your cell, snap a photo and send it to the old fart with an accompanying "OMG guess who I just saw!" rather than choke down your lunch (or abandon it all together), rush back to the office building, flash a badge at security, make your way to the basement, open the secret door behind the out-of-order vending machine, slide down the pole, hop in the mine cart, careen down the steel tracks past the cubicle farms into your office to pick up the red handset to call the old man and get some kind of lip back like, "Are you sure it's #4?"
I'm thinking the cell phone has killed the red phone. It makes me sad in a way, however. I have a real strong nostalgic reaction to 70's and 80's office equipment. I love the rubber fingers that help you flip through paper work, the stamp pads and rubber stamps, the postage stamp moistener, the postage scale, typewriters, and spindles upon which to spear receipts. Having spent a good portion of my childhood playing under the desks in my Grandpa's insurance office probably has a good deal to do with my fascination with this stuff. It probably made me the bureaucrat I am today.
Maybe I'll have one of those red phones installed in tribute to the glory days of communication with one individual that is so important it has a dedicated phone line. Who should it call? I'm thinking Ryan Seacrest. Who would your red phone connect to?