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The phone that fooled even me

technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology

Simple gray rule

Soft cell: The phone that fooled even me

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1994, The Syracuse Newspapers

I bought a "cellular" phone a few months ago. Yes, I know cellular phones aren't supposed to come with quotation marks as standard equipment, but this one was different.

First, it was very cheap. Second, I wasn't able to call anyone, and nobody could call me, either.

I found it for a dollar. One buck. My wife and I were looking for junk—I mean antiques, of course—at a big flea market, and I spotted boxes upon boxes of "cellular" phones.

"Take two! They're cheap," the man behind the boxes said. I don't like to take too big a risk in financial matters, so I limited myself to one.

It was made in China. Everything seems to be made in China these days. My two digital watches, for instance. And my car's air-conditioner compressor. They work OK. So, I thought, maybe this "cellular" phone is really legit.

I flipped open the little door that covered the bottom half of the phone and saw rows of keys. They looked and felt real, and the labels all made sense.

I pressed the "1" key, and a tone beeped out. I hit the "2" key, and another tone emerged.

Hey, this was getting interesting. The other number keys did the same thing, with all the proper dialing tones.

I hit the pound key. At first nothing happened, then the phone came to life.

"Op-a-raytuh. May ayuh help yew?" a voice said through the earpiece.

Wow! And here I didn't even have a cellular phone license or contract or whatever you call it.

I tried to talk to the operator but seemed to have lost the connection. I hit the pound key again.

"Op-a-raytuh. May ayuh help yew?" the voice said again, in exactly the same strange Southern twang.

I may be dumb sometimes, but I'm not THAT dumb. I hit the pound key two more times.

"Op-a-raytuh. May ayuh help yew? Op-a-raytuh. May ayuh help yew?"

"No thanks," I said into the mouthpiece, hoping anyone who was watching wouldn't realize I'd just been talking into a toy that played a built-in recording.

OK, so I was semi-snookered. What do you expect for a dollar, anyway? Besides, it turned out to be fun. I faked out my neighbors, fooled the UPS driver and made life miserable for my parrot.

But I forgot to pull off the One Big Laugh of the current year when my brother met me at the street corner the other day with a cellular phone in his hand. It looked just like mine.

"Is it real?" I asked.

"Whadda mean, `Is it real?"' he demanded. "This thing cost me a lot of money."

I looked at it closely and took it in my hand. It was a little heavier than mine, and had a row of lights across the top. And as soon as my brother pushed one of the memory keys, the real tones it made were realer than the ones mine made, if you know what I mean.

"It works great, too," my brother said. He was already talking to someone on the phone.

How could I compete with that?

"Looks like my phone," I said casually. "Doesn't sound like it, though."


"The pound key," I said.

He was waving me off, finding it hard to carry on two conversations at once.

"The what?"

I left his question unanswered. Some things you just have to keep to yourself.

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