The Phone of All Phones

The New AAA: It Really Does Let Me Call
"Anyone — Anywhere — Anytime"
(Including Ike, Jack, Dick, and Lyndon)

by Leo Vanderpot

Of all the reactions to the events of September 11, 2001 that I experienced, my most practical was the need to get a cell phone.

I live in the woods half-way to Albany and she does not, so our relationship even before that horrible day was based for the most part on infrequent visits and many, many telephone calls. With fear in the air, we needed to be able to reach each other and talk at any time of the day and night, no matter where we were.

She was the first to connect (with AT&T), a deal that put her into cell phone land at a price that neither of us had thought possible just a year ago. I took a research-is-needed-here approach, not unlike that which keeps us an hour and a half apart on most things; hence the geography of our lives, as Trevelyan would say, governs our history.

I set out to avoid James Earl Jones, Jamie Lee Curtis and all the ads in all the newspapers—as tempting as their lower and lower rates seemed to be. Then, one night, in of all venues, my computer, the wonders of wonders appeared.

I was pounding away at the keyboard, trying to meet a deadline for a piece in a journal that wanted to not only publish my memories of my high school sweetheart but was willing to pay me for doing it. This, as every freelance writer knows, is where heaven begins, so I stayed up late to make the 5000 words ready for the morning mail.

Then—as all too often happens—an ad jumped onto my screen with a louder than ever "WHACK!" Naturally, I moved the cursor to the "X" to close this screed from my screen. And I would have done it with a vengeance if they hadn't caught my eye with: "There is no longer such a thing as long distance." That was worth at least one mouse click.

Within 20 minutes, I had signed on and although I paid a lot more than she did—and probably a lot more than I can afford—I got THE PHONE OF ALL PHONES, ANYONE, ANYWHERE, ANYTIME and, as Bob Hope was fond of saying, "I wanna tell ya!"

There is a way of dialing the Triple-A that lets me talk to anyone, anywhere at anytime. So I did it and I dialed and dialed and kept dialing and I reached all the people I really wanted to talk to about this new war we are in. And I got an earful, much of which I managed to tape and transcribe. It's much beyond what the networks and the newspapers are yanging about; it gives a sense of history to what is going on in the heads of people who have lived in times of crisis and it adds a new dimension to the idea of instant communication. Here's a sample of the comments I've gotten on AAA with regard to our current state of affairs, by people in this world and some other worlds, starting with my parents who are both in the latter.

My mother:

Please, not again.

My father:

I opposed World War I and refused to serve in the military. I was given an exemption when I agreed to serve as a merchant seaman during the war. I do not support this or any other war that takes the lives of innocent people. Killing does not stop killing.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy:

I've been talking, uh, with Bobby and Martin, and yesterday LBJ called me long distance. I'm saddened by this turn of events in the Middle East and ask your forgiveness for our sins. Courage!

Lyndon Baines Johnson:

He needed a Gulf of Tonkin and he got one. Is it a gift from heaven or from hell? I don't know. Vietnam is something that I still do not completely understand. I never thought I would be, as most Texans never think they will be, of two minds. Give me fifty years or so and call me back.

Richard Milhous Nixon:

Massive bombing is now in the works but that will not work. Secret massive bombing could work, but it's tricky.

Dwight David Eisenhower:

I haven't seen all the reports. There was one I did see, two days ago, I think it was, about the number of men involved on our side and on their side. It's an astonishing statistic, from my point of view, because, you know, these things have a lot more to do with numbers than with ideas. There's no question in my mind, at least for the moment, that the numbers tell the story. Now, I haven't checked these figures, but it seems to me that, should the numbers I saw have been accurate, and I'm not saying they are, but if they were--well, then, that's the answer. For now, at least.

Jimmy Carter:

Where are the Olympics being held?

Joseph Stalin:

Kill them.


I was glad, as always, to oblige my readers with reprints of past columns that they asked for and I did so, exactly as they appeared in October 1962.

Rich Little:

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

William F. Buckley:

The much maligned (for sumptuously accurate reasons) administrations of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Lyndon Baines Johnson, Jimmy Carter and William Jefferson Clinton would not have handled this potential for war in quite the same way as the incumbent. And yet, these days, when neither God nor man is at Yale, we in Connecticut are taking solace in the presence of religious and biological fortitude in that (once again) bastion of freedom fighters at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, who represent our Republic at its best. In private, I play Bach; in public, I play Wagner.

Jimmy Breslin:

This guy I talked to is one of the few people who knows what is going on with this country's foreign policy, the war and all that stuff. This guy, he's working undercover as a cab driver in Queens. Guy's got fourteen kids. His wife beats him up about twice a week. He plays the horses at OTB, owes the loan sharks a bundle of dough. His brother-in-law is a grave digger at Arlington National Cemetery. Behind all these CIA-supplied cosmetics, this guy has a heart that is bigger than my belly. When I got out of his cab, he answers my question about this bin Laden business.

"See, this guy, the chief, he's like an old-time fighter," he tells me. "Ring wise. The left jab, heh, are you kidding me? That's bin Laden. Always, it's bin Laden, bin Laden, bin Laden, with the jab. The right hand, that's something else. Bin, Laden, bin Laden, see? Now comes the right hand, the power punch. Keep your eye on the right hand. Watch it. Do you see it?"

I come up with: "The last major source of oil on our planet."

"Atta boy," he says.

I almost tipped him beyond my means, remembering just in time that we were both humble folk of the working class. A large tip would have been out of place. Beneath all, I know my place.

Leo Vanderpot lives in Red Hook (Duchess Co.), NY, and writes on an almost regular basis for The Citizen, a monthly print journal that may be local and international in its concerns—except that it is wonderfully too young to be defined. His poem, "Paul Caponigro" is in the latest On The Page Magazine (