The Open Line

About the time I was a sophomore in high school, I discovered (was told about by a fellow student) the open line, a fluke of the telephone system about as close to Alice’s rabbit hole as we’ll ever get. You dialed a certain number at any time of day, and you were in. In to what? A telephonic space occupied by any and all of the other bored souls who happened to dial that magic number, mostly kids older than me as far as I could tell. This being the telephone system, people talked. Unlike normal telephone conversation, all talk was anonymous, and there was always someone talking, frequently a boy/girl conversation, a kind of faceless seduction. The seduction could never bear fruit of course, because it had to end with the conversation. And these conversations were always at risk of someone else breaking in with their own line of attack. It was a more genteel (or more constrained) time, and no one was ever so bold as to say, “Hey, baby, wanna fuck?” The flirtations were risqué and sometimes ventured the double entendre, but rarely rose to the level of true wit. We were just kids.

I never joined the conversation. It all seemed too daring, beyond the bounds of acceptable behavior, so I remained an audio voyeur. Still, the attraction was strong, as are lots of entryways into the verboten, and many afternoons would find me with the phone pressed to my ear waiting for someone to say something that ranged further than my own paltry imagination, something that opened into a world of human passion or depravity that I otherwise wouldn’t want to hear in the schoolyard where it would be coming from a face I knew.

Now we have the internet which also does not demand real identification. Invented personas abound (or so I’ve been told), along with photo-shopped photos and other forms of unrealized desire. Who can you trust? Perhaps it is all a government conspiracy designed to nurture our most depraved selves the more easily to control our admittedly base nature. The ad men have long known that what really sells is not the supposed virtues of the product but sex. What can you do? I like sex, don’t you?

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