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After Work: A Personal Phone Book, Almost Obsolete

Carbon paper, steel-nib pens, typewriter ribbons – and now it’s telephone books!

Dona Gibbs, keyboard and computer screen at the ready, muses on office supplies which are marching off into history.

For more of Dona’s well-organised words please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/after_work/

Every ten years or so, it’s time for a new telephone book. Old numbers are crossed out and new numbers are scribbled in. Arrows and circles run around the margins. In our phone books you’ll find a number for the roofer for a house we no longer own and another for a commuter airline that shut its hanger doors ten years ago. That’s just the beginning of what needs to weeded.

Telephone books develop their own stories if you read between the lines. And that’s probably why we never throw them away. We shove them in a drawer, a cache of the past.

The scribbled in numbers outnumbered the ones I had once neatly transcribed. Whole pages looked like indecipherable code. Truly it was time for a new telephone book.

I walked into an office supply store, one of the big chains. Office supply stores are dangerous for me to wander around in, especially in the early days of September. Even though my school days are long past I find myself yearning for new pencils and craving three-ring binders with crisp, ruled paper and multi-colored dividers.

With a mission –buying a new telephone book –I could stay on track and not be lured away no matter how much the primary colored paperclips beckoned.

I searched up and down the aisles. There were books of blank calendars, record books, blank books for journals, daily planners – all kind of books but no telephone books.

Finally I spotted a salesperson.

“Do you have telephone books?”

She looked puzzled, “Telephone books?”

“You know, blank books that have little alphabetical tabs.”

“People don’t use those anymore,” another passing salesperson chimed in. “They store numbers on their cell phones and computers.”

The two looked at me. They were amused. Telephone books, how quaint.

I did finally find one. In a store where there are seven varieties of sticky tape, there were only two choices of telephone books.

This little chore started me musing about other office supplies that must be hard to track down these days. I haven’t seen carbon paper for years. And that’s one item that I mourn not at all. I have vivid memories making multiple typing errors –errors that had to be corrected on all the copies. I smudged the pages, I smudged my shirt and on one particularly exasperating occasion, I smudged my face. If carbon paper were still required, I would have quit writing years ago.

Bottles of ink can only be found in art supply stores. Ditto for steel nib pens. Hooray, they still can be found. And an even louder hooray, they’re no longer required.

Where would you find a typewriter ribbon, much less a typewriter eraser with the rubber disc and the little brush these days? The clackety-clack of the manual typewriter has long been silenced.

Does anyone still use onionskin paper and those translucent airmail envelopes to write letters going overseas? I doubt it.

There was always something very fulfilling about buying a new ink blotter and slipping it into its leatherette holder. That’s a ritual that’s faded into the past. Few people with the notable exception of ink pen aficionados have any ink to blot.

I cherished my index cards on the wheel that spun so that the names and addresses would be literally at my fingertips. I could probably find one on eBay but not readily available in a modern office supply store.

There was something purposeful about taking a fistful of yellow pencils to the hand cranked pencil sharpener that was attached to the grimy windowsill of the city room of the newsroom where I held my first job. It was a great way to start the day. Sharp pencils, sharp mind and the wonderful scent of cedar shavings. The whir of an electric pencil sharpener isn’t as appealing even though it does a better job and is a lot easier to find these days.

I made my way out of the store with a telephone book. It’s nothing fancy, just a black cover and some uninspired graphic. Oh, I did succumb to one impulse purchase -- a pack of reporter notebooks, the narrow spiral bound ones that fit into a pocket. They’re handy and, who knows when I’ll see them again.


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