Friendship, Lifestyle

On the Radical Joy of an Aimless Phone Call

Published on 4 minutes read
Words by Emma Firth, Imagery by Laura Serejo Genes
"I’m not suggesting that phone calls replace face-to-face, arms wrapped round another, interaction. No. It’s just a different kind of togetherness. A different art of listening. In this social setting all other senses are dialled down. You can simply concentrate on the sonic boom of a person’s voice, letting it wash over you."

Of all the John Hughes film endings, Some Kind of Wonderful is almost certainly the most chaotic. As though they’d shot five different scenes and, in a state of either laziness or lunacy, thought “fuck it!” Cut them all together to tie up the final five minutes before the closing credits. Still, I hate to hate on this movie. Truly. Because despite this, it holds up as a mastery of late 80’s cine-magic, features in my opinion one of the best kissing scenes, and — true to coming of age script both on screen and in life — is as much about weaning off parental guidance as it is just, like, Getting The Girl.

“Oh, you’re only 18 years old, for Christ’s sake!” Keith’s dad shouts across the room.

Keith: “Then I'm 19, then I'm 20! When does my life belong to me?”

Rewatching that plaintive scene, it made me think — building a life of one’s own, affirmations of adulthood, appears to be the makeup for most (at least traditional) milestones. Moments we get greedy for — or are enveloped in — that can spark equal part excitement, part anxiety. First love; first pay cheques; leaving home; travelling alone; passing your driving test; turning 20, 30, 40...

But what about the baby milestones? You know, the other firsts that arrived pre-teenagedom? The ones we trivialise. Perhaps even forget the power it held over us at the time (such is the case with memories that have been woefully overwritten with noise, more life experience, miscellaneous sensations). Riding a bike without stabilizers, say, or your first sleepover party, or finally falling in love with a book, living inside its pages from start to the sad finish.

In the early ‘00s, nine years old, I remember very distinctly arranging to speak to a friend after school: my first long-distance play date. I was so nervous, so wanting this experience to be essentially perfect and un-boring, worried there would be gulfs of loud silences to fill, that I strategized, made revision notes and scribbled down every ‘interesting’ topic conversation starter I could think of on Post-it notes. Boxes to tick once I had covered each talking point.

If ever there were rankings of personal growth, honestly this is creeping the top ten. Present me would go back and hug kid-sized me. Tell her it will all be OK. You don’t need the list. You see, pointlessly hanging on the phone these days without any agenda is, as those closest to me will attest, what I deem to be one of life’s most nourishing and immediate of pleasures. The peak of technological communication.

Text message? Too clinical, lacking tenderness, tone far too easily misread. Voice notes? Capacious room to overthink a response. Zoom? Heinous. One phone call with someone you love, comparatively — at its finest — is a mutually involved, meandering experience. Confronting and comforting, mundane and momentous, all at once.

The matter marvellously random. Aimless. Though it would be remiss to ignore a semblance of structure, a sort of code of conduct that differs from person to person — the singular intimacy that is the first exchange.

Apparently when Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, made the first call to his assistant in 1876 he settled on: “Mr Watson, come here, I want to see you.” I love this aural history. I love an opener, any beginning really. I love that this connective tissue has been formed over days, months, years, decades in some cases. When I pick up the phone to my best friend I’ll yelp excitedly: “Angel!!!!” With another, we’ve stopped saying hi altogether and simply launch into the most bonkers observation of the day. My sister will likely bounce between a variety of non-sensical nicknames, a mythical language constructed as children and, crucially, one that only we understand. Me and my boyfriend oftentimes debut a call confused, feigning bad reception for 30 seconds: helloooooooo??!! When he answers the phone to one friend, I’ve discovered his version of ‘hey’ is always the same bit: “‘Two large pepperonis, French fries, and a side of spaghetti Bolognese.” The order changes, but it will always start with pizza...

The rest is but a joyful mystery. Never quite knowing, caring, how long the conversation will end up clocking in at (though, so long are freeform ramblings with my mate Flora, 45 minutes feels like a quick catch up). It’s all part of its unending appeal. The fact is ‘I Just Called To Say I Love You’ conversations are, by their very nature, not convenient. Nor are they chore-like. Preceding these unplanned tête-à-têtes, I’ll likely be doing something else. Deep into some Wikipedia wormhole. Walking. Working. Cooking. About to fall asleep. But then someone’s name flashes across my screen, giddiness takes over, and I’ll drop everything to hang out together, apart.

Like in When Harry Met Sally... two friends in different locations, but with the same exact view, in televisual synchronicity. The split screen in that scene is significant; mirroring that reassuring feeling when it’s as though a friend, or lover, is suddenly in the same room as you. Close to you. Forgetting only until you hang up, cheeks flushed and hot, that a device was propped firmly to your ear the whole time.

"Harry: You sleeping?

Sally: No, I was watching Casablanca.

Harry: Channel please.

Sally: Eleven.

Harry: Thank you, got it. Now you're telling me you will be happier with Victor Laszlo than Humphrey Bogart?

Sally: When did I say that?

Harry: When we drove to New York.

Sally: I never said that, I would never have said that.

Harry: Alright, fine. Have it your way."

I’m not suggesting that phone calls replace face-to-face, arms wrapped round another, interaction. No. It’s just a different kind of togetherness. A different art of listening. In this social setting all other senses are dialled down. You can simply concentrate on the sonic boom of a person’s voice, letting it wash over you. Here, transforming briefly into a magician who reads body language without the need for sight. The half-sound married with a pause which signals a smile, or a person’s laugh that you have triggered. I’m sure my steady peppering of “wait, one last thing” could be viewed as bordering on selfish, never quite wanting to reach the conversational punchline. Really, I just want to hear what you have to say for a few more minutes. Before the credits roll...

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