The Pay Telephone by Neal Murphy

July 31, 2020 - Teenagers today don’t know much about pay telephones. They have telephones in their room at home, and cell phones to take with them everywhere they go. They are never without the means of communicating with their friends. It was not that way when I was in college in the mid 1950s. Dial phones were relatively new, and a cell phone was just something in the mind of the writer of Dick Tracy. The pay telephone was about the only means of communicating with friends, family, and significant others during my stint in a boarding house near the campus of Stephen F. Austin State College in Nacogdoches, Texas.

I never did like dormitory life, so I always lived in a boarding house. The one I liked was a large, two story home located on the corner of Wettermark and Pecan streets. It contained six large bedrooms, one large community bathroom, and one pay telephone on the wall in the upstairs hall. This telephone was our only means of contact with the outside world.

As I recall, the phone had slots for a nickel, dime, and a quarter. Local calls were a nickel per call. When the phone rang, even in the middle of the night, there was a stampede of hairy-legged boys racing to answer it. Who knew, it could have been a call from their girl friend.

Things went along nicely for a while, until a genius student figured out that he could take a nickel, put it in the entrance of the slot, and put a certain “spin” on the coin which then made it register as a quarter. So, many long-distance calls were made using nickels only. After a couple of months of this, the telephone company got wise. For reasons I could never figure out, one day they took the square coin receptacle out of the phone but left the phone in working order.

What a bonanza this presented to the residents. One could take a quarter, put it in the slot, and then catch it with your other hand as it came out, and use the same coin over and over. We were calling all over the country with a quarter. There were several call-in radio shows in Chicago and Los Angeles which we would call to dedicate songs to our girl friends, with the same quarter. We were really having a ball with that pay telephone. Apparently, none of us ever had a pang of conscience, or felt any remorse for the phone company, we were too busy defrauding Ma Bell.

One day, I came home from classes and noticed that the pay phone was no longer on the wall. Only a couple of wires protruding from a hole where the phone once was greeted us. The telephone company had finally figured out that they were losing money big time on this phone and removed the object of our misdeeds. No longer could I call home, or call my girl friend, or receive calls. Isolation from the rest of the world was our punishment. Truly you do reap what you sow. Wouldn’t a cell phone have come in handy, if only they had been invented in 1955?