Sunday, June 14, 2009

The sad ending of Old Yellerpages

As my wife Kara and I pulled into our driveway recently, we noticed the herald of a new era: under our neighbor’s mailbox, you could see the corner of a phonebook sticking out of the mulch like a hand popping out of a grave in a horror movie.

“Wow, Jimmy’s really hanging in there with the phonebook thing,” Kara said.

For the past few months, our neighbor Jimmy has been practicing civil disobedience by refusing to touch the gift that the Phonebook Fairy dropped as it idled past in its ’89 Buick Century station wagon. As days turned into weeks with the phonebook sitting in its plastic-baggie sarcophagus at the end of his driveway, we figured that Jimmy just had priorities other than rescuing the abandoned compendium. After a while, the phonebook became part of the landscape; it seemed as if it had been there since the time when hair bands ruled and Blockbuster Video had a viable business model.

I realized that we were witnessing the beginning of a social movement when Jimmy mulched over the phonebook, leaving just the one corner sticking out. You don’t bury the phonebook halfway in your mulch unless you’re looking to make a point similar to the one made by displaying a human head at the entrance to your village.

When I was a kid, the phonebook was the most looked-at item in the house that wasn’t a swimsuit issue. The pages would be falling out of the binding before a replacement arrived. The majority of my math education came from memorizing phone numbers so that I wouldn’t have to kneel on the kitchen counter to get to the phonebook cabinet. These days, I can’t remember how to do long division, but I can still rattle off the old phone numbers for houses that my friends haven’t lived in for twenty years. If my head were a beer stein, it would hold only the foam.

I’m already looking forward to telling my future son old fogey stories about my childhood, getting all nostalgic about things I never really enjoyed in the first place.

“You used to call a phone number to get a weather report?” he will ask, wide-eyed.

“It was 936-1212, and it took fifteen minutes to dial on a rotary phone,” I will reply. “Wait until I tell you about busy signals. And sorry I can’t help with your math homework. Go talk to Mom.”

I thought about these things as we picked up our own phonebook at the end of the driveway a few months ago. “Oh, good. A phonebook,” Kara said. “That would be really useful if the Internet hadn’t been invented.”

We reluctantly brought it inside like we were adopting a stray kitten. Unsure of what to do with it from there, we stuffed it in a drawer on top of its plastic-wrapped predecessor, where it will sit until we locate a kid who needs a booster seat for a barber chair. Once a staple of our lives, the phonebook has become spam that’s harder to delete.

The next time around, I’m thinking of joining Jimmy’s movement. Surely, a rain-soaked, biodegrading phonebook would help to ward off the delivery of future editions.

Besides, did you know that an area the size of nine-hundred football fields is cut down in the Brazilian rainforest every day to support our phonebook industry? I just made that number up, but maybe it’s true. Anyway, I don’t see why Brazilians need so many football fields.

The next time I bump into Jimmy, I’ll have to thank him for his inspiration. Through his quiet leadership, he has taught us that you don’t have to just accept everything that’s dumped in or around your mailbox. You can bring a horse to water, but you can’t make its fingers do the walking.

You can really get Mike Todd’s number at


  1. Great insight... I came home just this past week to find my yellowpages sitting at my door. I brought them in, but don't know what to do with them now.

    Perhaps we should start a recycling program for those that need them more.

    For all of your blog readers, please send your unused phone books to:

    Josh Perlson
    24 Ben & Jerrys Pike
    Newten, PA 33212

    Josh will be able to furnish his car, office chair, dining room set and if you are all generous, even his wife's car. Your donation will give him the chance to see over the dashboard, across the dinner table and enjoy a more fulfilling life.

  2. Allen stocked all our old phone books in the hallway closet - we had quite a stack going on. He was mortified when I mentioned getting rid of them. All of them. What do we do when the power's out and we can't use the Internet to look up phone numbers?!

  3. I'm old school, I gotta keep at least one of those things around. What if some businesses do not believe in the internet, or if their site is just that impossible to navigate. Anna brings up a good point also, what if the power goes out. You can't use the internet if the power is out.

  4. 411


    And it's not the business that controls it, it's the same company that prints the phone book.

  5. Hello - my name is Sheri and I use a phonebook. (cue the screams and teeth gnashing) I can't help it. It's such a habit. By the time I remember that I can look it up online, I've already got the book out and my magnifiying glasses on. I rmember being a kid and when the new phone book came, my mom would painstakingly copy all the numbers scribbled on the cover of the old book to the cover of the new book before throwing hte old one away. You will have fun telling your son about all the things you have to 'go through' to get old. Like "Dad, wtf? You had to use a phone with a cord attached to a wall? What kind of barbarians were you? You played music by scraping a needle across a piece of plastic? Amazing!!"

  6. Mike, I think you misspelled 'soccer'.

  7. Okay, first I read this to myself and laughed. Then I read it out loud to my husband and laughed even harder. (Wait till you've been married 14 years and have 3 kids, Mike. Making each other listen while you read aloud blog posts or news articles is what passes for entertainment. Just wait, next we'll be reading the phone book to each other...)

    Not only did we have rotary phones and busy signals, but our "township" in the country had a "party line," where you actually SHARED a phone line with OTHER PEOPLE. You picked up the phone to see if Sally and Farmer Ted were talking first before you could dial. That was just WEIRD. I'm pretty sure teenagers today could not survive such primitivity.

  8. I couple weeks back I was helping my parents get rid of some "books" so we weren't left to buying another bookshelf... As I was going through I found five copies of "Catcher in the Rye" (one for each kid my step-father, Tom, says), nine million Agatha Christi books (they are classics my mother replies as I stare at the two boxes of what looks like half eaten books) and finally, no joke about this number, 16 phonebooks. I scream out WHY?! My mother looks at me as if to say... uh oh, I think Emily hit the jackpot of our ridiculousness and then says talk to Tom.

    One of these phonebooks dated back to 1989. As I show Tom this, I wonder to myself how does a person manage to convince himself that a 1989 phonebook from Henderson, Neveda is worth packing at least five times. This is how many times, that I know of, he has moved since then.

    Yet I can't wait until my children come across my stash of Food and Wine magazines. I know what I'll be saying to them... "but what if I come across a particular bottle of wine and I have no idea what to pair it with BUT remember which volume it was in!" I just can't wait :)

  9. You know what else has been lost in the vortex of an ever growing technology... T.V. guides. I remember as a kid you had no idea what was on without that thing. It was a crutch, and God help you if you lost it. My dad would kick my ass from here till Sunday, cause that's when the new one came.