The man wouldn’t stand out in a crowd. The first thing I noticed was how his white hair, wavy and meticulously combed, fell over large, tortoiseshell glasses that were surprisingly stylish for a man his age. He had warm brown eyes that matched his polished loafers, khaki pants, chocolate sweater, and herringbone sports jacket. The tie was a chance to offer a pop of color, but it faded into the ecru button down shirt, a washed navy noose, deceptively casual around his neck. He looked like any other gentleman in his early seventies, a good-natured white collar professional who found a monotonous routine soothing rather than dispiriting, the kind of man who didn’t lose patience in a long line and opened doors for strangers.
I probably wouldn’t have noticed him at all were it not for his extraordinary request. I found myself at the cable store, dropping of a defunct box, predictably irritated by the endless screens the customer service representative had to click through in order for me to offload the junker.
The man entered the store and offered me a grin. I smiled back but said nothing. He approached the tech who wasn’t helping a customer. Then he asked a question I never thought I would hear in my lifetime.
“Do you have a phone book?”
He might as well have asked for a gramophone. Or a CD with 1,000 free hours of AOL. A phone book? A phone book! A tangible, physical stack of paper filled with tens of thousands of phone numbers. Why would this pleasant man, who obviously had a job which meant he probably used the internet all day every day, need such a thing?
I still get the Yellow Pages on my doorstep every once in a while, and I despair what to do with it. The fact that phone books exist wasn’t what had me floored. It was the fact that this man obviously went out of his way, even if it was just a block, for the specific purpose of procuring a phone book. I would have been less surprised if a stegosaurus burst through the glass front of the building. Certainly that wouldn’t have been more anachronistic than a human person requesting an environmentally irresponsible, obsolete source of information better suited for lining hamster cages than as a viable reference guide.
They had phone books for the peculiar stranger. They had dozens. He secured it happily, gave me a fake tip of his cap, and left the store. Since it’s Christmastime, my thoughts naturally wandered to the question I’m sure you’re all asking: was he Santa Claus? Did he need the phone book because his printer was on the fritz and it was the best way to mark off who has been naughty and who has been nice?
To me, that’s seriously the only explanation that makes sense. Because the idea that he uses a phone book to look up . . . what? Phone numbers? Is that what’s in that thing? Anyway, the idea that he uses a phone book to look up phone numbers is as crazy as buying a TV guide to look up what’s on TV. Ridiculous.