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JACK SMITH

The Man in the Crass Booth : For 50 Cents, a New Telephone Service Can Put You in the Midst of a Traffic Jam or an Orgy

October 05, 1986|JACK SMITH

That men and women have reached a new low in trust and commitment seems evident to me in the success of a new kind of pay phone booth known as The Excuse Booth.

According to Newsweek, this disgraceful device has already been installed in about 80 bars in the country and is making money for the telephone companies and the bar proprietors.

As Newsweek says, The Excuse Booth is "a cross between a phone booth and a sound studio."

Besides the telephone, it has a selection panel offering the user his choice of 16 different background sound effects that will be played when he calls.

I use the word his not as a generic but as a masculine pronoun, since I assume that The Excuse Booth will be used more often by men than by women.

As Newsweek points out, it is designed for the man who is "male bonding with his buddies at a local watering hole" and wants to conceal his whereabouts from his wife or girlfriend. It hardly seems likely that there would be anyone else he would need to deceive.

For 50 cents a minute, The Excuse Booth will play background noises to give the impression that he is: (1) at an urban intersection; (2) in a traffic jam; (3) at an airport; (4) in a rain storm; (5) at an orgy; (6) in a strip club; (7) at the office; (8) on a farm; (9) in an Italian restaurant; (10) at a railroad crossing; (11) in a jungle; (12) at a party; (13) at a police station; (14) in a riot; (15) in a beauty shop, and (16) silence.

Evidently the "silence" option is for those who don't want to misrepresent their location but merely want to make a phone call.

There seems to be something ironic or even sadistic about a few of the choices. Why would a man want his wife or girlfriend to think he was at an orgy, or a party, or at a strip club? Unless he wanted to break up the relationship.

Also, the beauty-shop option seems to have been thrown in just in case a woman wants to use the booth.

But what could possibly be the background noise of a beauty shop? A chattering hairdresser? Gossiping customers? The whoosh of a rinse? These don't seem very convincing.

Most of the other choices seem implausible to me.

If I called my wife and told her I was in a traffic jam, she'd say, "How can you be phoning if you're in a traffic jam?"

What would I say to that?

If I told her I was in a police station, she'd want to come down and bail me out.

If I told her I was in a rainstorm, she'd say, "Well, why don't you roll up your windows and come on home?"

If I told her I was at an orgy, backed up, as Newsweek says, by "a compendium of moans and groans," she'd say, "Well, you can stay there, as far as I'm concerned."

If I told her I was in an Italian restaurant, backed up, I suppose, by a waiter singing an aria from "La Traviata," she'd say, "Good, don't expect any pasta when you get home."

The only plausible excuse in the lot is the office alibi, and the wife has probably heard that one so many times she won't believe it.

What bothers me about The Excuse Booth is the cynicism of the telephone company or the booth's manufacturers, whoever they may be, in fostering deceit between the sexes for money. It is not only greedy and meretricious but also downright immoral.

Anyway, sensible women will overlook a certain amount of male bonding. As Stephanie Brush writes in a section on "The Male Bonding Imperative" in her wise and hilarious book, "Men: An Owner's Manual":

"You should never feel jealous or left out if your man wants to spend a lot of time at drinking establishments 'powering down brews'; getting tight as an owl; watching wide-screen gridiron events; talking in an extremely loud voice; and getting to know members of his own gender on a more intimate level. If you don't allow him to do these things he will ultimately resent you."

When I was a young reporter, I did quite a lot of male bonding in bars or at the Press Club after working hours, and I often telephoned my wife to tell her that I'd be late, but I never misrepresented my location.

I have that to ease my conscience in my old age, at least.

Anyway, wives whose husbands do much male bonding are too smart to fall for any of the excuses on that panel. They can smell a bar over the telephone. They have an almost paranormal sixth sense about such things.

I predict that The Excuse Booth will wreck more marriages than orgies will.

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