When I told friends a couple of months ago that I'd be moving from the San Fernando Valley to Manhattan Beach they reacted in different ways. One winced, one gasped, one turned pale and another cringed.
"I sure hope you know what you're letting yourself in for," one of them warned.
"What are you talking about?" I asked. "Manhattan Beach is a terrific community."
"I'm not referring to the community," he said. "I'm referring to the phone company that serves that whole South Bay area."
He then spoke three letters that made my knees go weak. Letters that rank in infamy with KGB, DDT and IRS: "GTE." That's right, GTE. The company reputed to have done for phone service what the Hindenburg did for dirigible travel.
Oh sure, I'd heard horror stories about the GTE phone system for years, but I'd always assumed they were exaggerated. No American telephone service could be that bad. In Egypt or India maybe, but not here. But I should have suspected something when the phone company I was leaving behind in the Valley, Pacific Bell, sent me a sympathy card.
My GTE phone was installed in my new Manhattan Beach house on July 11. It broke down seven minutes later. I walked to a pay phone to report the problem to the service department, and the typical and inevitable phone company conversation ensued:
"What's the trouble?"
"There's no dial tone, nothing."
"Are you calling from that number now?"
"If I were calling from that number now, I wouldn't be reporting the phone broken."
"Is there a number where we can reach you?"
"There will be a number where you can reach me as soon as you come and fix my phone."
I've lost track of the number of times my phone line has broken down since then but I'm developing a close friendship with the repairman. We'll probably exchange cards at Christmas. The only good thing I can say about the service so far is that my phones haven't attacked me in my sleep yet.
Recently I discovered that one of my phones would not make outgoing calls and the other would not receive incoming calls. And one phone would keep ringing after the receiver had been lifted. I'm so tired of hearing that recording saying, "We're sorry, your call cannot be completed as dialed," when I know I've dialed correctly, I'm considering writing, "Sorry, your bill cannot be paid as submitted," on the phone company's next invoice.
What I want to know is, how did the Soviets, the Sandinistas or Col. Moammar Kadafi's operatives manage to infiltrate GTE this way? One of our enemies must have, because surely no company on our side would inflict such service on an innocent population.
One night recently, when my line had broken down yet again, I found myself feeling strangely nostalgic for the bygone days of phone service. So I drove to a friend's house in Studio City, back in Pac-Bell territory, and headed straight for the phone. Cradling the receiver in my arm, I listened in rapture to the sweet purr of the once familiar dial tone. Wonderful memories of uninterrupted phone service came flooding back. Then I dialed up another friend and asked him to call me right back so I could refresh my memory about what the ringing of a phone sounded like. It sounded good. It sounded real good. I called my friend back and pleaded, "Ring it again, Sam. You rang it for her, you can ring it for me."
The GTE repairman was at my house again yesterday. I've seen those TV commercials that say you can establish close relationships over the telephone, but I never dreamed mine would be a close relationship with 611. Anyway, as he left he had good news and bad news. The good news was that equipment modifications are being made in my neighborhood and my phone service should improve.
The bad news was that some people in my prefix area would be assigned a brand new phone number. Including me. GTE somehow found out that I've just spent over $400 having my number printed on new stationery, and that the number has been sent out to clients and potential clients all over the country.
You know what would be perfect? If GTE came out with a phone book that had a picture of The Three Stooges on the cover. But then, maybe that suggestion is a little insulting. To Curly, Larry and Moe.
As I write this my line has gone dead again, but I understand there's a possibility of service being restored in time for me to phone my relatives at Thanksgiving.
Gee. No, GTE.