Bluebird’s Pillow Book | Le Téléphone Portable

Black and white picture of young Doris Day on an old black telephone
Pillow Talk (1959)
Directed by Michael Gordon
Shown: Doris Day

Time and technology extend like a stretched spine, each vertebrae linked by an intimacy of cartilage, first to last.

But habits— habits are elliptical, rounded as hipbones shrouded by flesh.

Time, technology and habits are part of the skeletal structure of our past, present, future. We do, and do not know, they are there.

Yet, these three things drive humanity forward as one corpuscular body.

Are we our habits?

The phone rings.

The phone rings again.

I pick up. It is New York. It is Paris. It is the little girl who lives down the street.


The line crackles, surges, engages. A voice inscribes the air.

Unconsciously, I cradle the phone to one side: shoulder, phone, ear. My hand grabs up my notebook, my pen.

“I’m listening. Go on.”

In 2006, I got my first cell phone. It was acceptable technology at the time.

On the tiny flip-phone screen, I could check the internet (which I never did), send a text message (which I did not like), or take grainy pinhole photo-esque pictures, while wearing my favorite hat tipped to one side of my head.

What I loved was using this utterly portable phone.

I bought a headset. I called my grandmother. I called my friends. I called The Husband who had gotten a cell phone for working out of town two years before.

Everywhere to everywhere, a conversation. How intoxicating it was.

The flip phone plays the open bars of Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage.”

The song repeats.

I open the phone and press talk. It is New York calling. It is deep South Texas. It is California. It is Florida.

It is the little girl, now grown, who lives down the street calling me on her Bluetooth device on her way to work.


“Guess where I’m calling you from.”

I grab up my notebook. I cannot cradle the phone to my ear, so I slip the headset jack into the cell phone socket.

“The moon. No, tell me. Where are you?”

Time’s spine stretches another inch, or two. The cartilage expands.

The novelty of the cell phone wears off and I return to the house phone, for that is what they are called now.

One phone is a physical address on a grid, and the other is an imaginary address from a satellite in elliptical orbit around the earth.

How many miles away? Tell me. Tell me where you are calling from, tonight.

The new phone in my hands speaks dozens of languages. I only know one.

The new phone talks to me in a solicitous, slightly halting female voice that asks me several times a day what I need. I never know what I need.

And I didn’t mean to rouse her from her digital sleep. I hit the wrong button again.

The new phone is a system of digital nerves having a binary conversation in pulses I cannot picture.

I use my clunky English with the phone. It is patient. It asks me to repeat myself. Nervous now, I slur my words.

Again, it tells me that it cannot understand.

Is there something I can help you with? Anything?

I don’t know. I genuinely don’t know.

The new phone can make anything happen.

The new phone is the ether, the ghost, the smoke on the wind.

The new phone is everywhere at once. Nowhere at once.

A light blinks. The world begins.

The new phone cannot be cradled at all.

I tried it one time.

My ear mashed a dozen buttons at once, causing the phone to start opening my email, set an alarm clock, take half a dozen pictures, look up the word “oblivescence,” play the musical call of a skein of geese, who are migrating to New York, migrating to Paris, crossing deep South Texas with a loud, nasal honk.

All is silent in the house.

Then, the new cell phone sings a whimsical song. Someone is calling me from somewhere.

I tap a button carefully, raise the box to my head:

“Hello? Hello?”

Time roars in my ear. I set my notebook, my pen in my lap with my non-dominant hand.

“I’m listening.”



16 thoughts on “Bluebird’s Pillow Book | Le Téléphone Portable”

  1. Harpy birfdey!

    To be honest, a person of Bigfooted/Wookiesque stature like myself cannot cradle even a regular cordless phone without accidentally speed-ordering a pizza, dialing 911 or voting for Bristol Palin on “Dancing With The Stars.” Thusly, I really avoid cell phones for the same reason that plagues Amy Wong: I tend to swallow them.

  2. Hanging on the Telephone is my ringtone – obvious but sometimes you have to allow yourself to be obvious!

    The incoming telephone call I never like, it always feels like an interruption…it’s ring tone is saying ‘Talk to me now, talk to me now’! I prefer the sleepier laid-back eMail – we each respond in our own time. But then perhaps because I live in slow motion, always catching up…

    1. These days, I’m using all of the clever, nostalgic bleeps and boops that come with my new phone. However, at one point long ago with my old phone, I had different (free and cool) musical ringtones set up for key people— that way I knew exactly who was calling.

      Hanging on the Telephone is such a great, great song, Sam. (I like the obvious. Sometimes, I think it’s the right thing if you’re right on the nose of an idea. Sometimes that choice is just as unexpected as pulling something that’s more far afield.)

      Sometimes I live in slow motion, sometimes I live in fast motion, but I like motion and watching things go…. I’m rarely preoccupied. When I’m here, I’m here.

  3. I’m happy it’s your blogiversary but just thinking about mobile phones [cell phones for you] makes me unhappy. I recently bought one of the Samsung touch things and I loathe it. I just wanted a phone for emergencies but instead I have to unlearn buttons and things that feel right in order to tip toe around swiping and pecking because my fingernails are too long. I love gadgets but not these. I do not love my phone.

  4. Siri and I are no longer speaking after our last unfortunate tiff. I wasn’t very civil. My cellphone is off more than on. I wish I didn’t need one. I don’t know what sort of feebleness this is, but I loathe talking on the phone. Just loathe it.

    Happy Birthday!

  5. First of all congrats on being around for a little more than a year! Way to go. Second, this was a great piece, I loved it Courtenay. All the the different compository pieces that you threaded together so brilliantly, because that is what you do when “you” write creatively. A wonderful read, fun, funny and wonderfully done! 🙂

    1. Thank you! While I’ve been thinking about this milestone for six months, it still snuck up on me! I thought and thought about what I should write on that day. In the end, I wanted to write a follow-up story to the telephone piece from six months ago as I am enamored of my new phone, and communication in general.

      The fact that you think this is wonderfully done and funny, warms my heart. Thank you, Penny. You are such a bright star in the firmament. ❤

Hey there, Cupcake! How are ya?

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