Deoderant, plumbing…

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 3, 1999

that’s a century of progress

By Fran Sharp

So maybe we’ve not seen a hundred years despite what our joints tell us as we struggle from our morning bed, but we’ve seen hundreds of improvements in our lifetimes and just what’s the most important, after all? Importance is a relative thing, depending on who is doing the scoring.

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As a "phone- phanatic," I consider the invention of the private line all-important because when I want to talk, by gum, I want to talk. I don’t want to wait for my neighbor to run out of wind, and yes, young whippersnappers out there, once upon a time, there were "party" lines which held several customers captive at the same phone numbers.

You had to listen for a special ring and if you just picked up the phone to dial (or ask for the operator in the case of Andy Griffith), frequently there was already someone doing the talking for you. There was no "party" atmosphere to it. People would become irate and yell for you to get off the phone. "I know that’s you, Francine. Get off, I have an important call to make. You ratsa-fratsa teenager, I’ll tell your mother!"

And if you didn’t hang up, they would snoop on your conversation and then participate in it just to get you off the phone. Being a teen in the 50s was not without its frustrating situations and taking the phone into the closet via a long cord didn’t help.

You couldn’t hide from those prone-to-violence "party" line members. In checking out the online voting for the Secret Society of Happy People’s list of 100 of the Happiest Events, Inventions and Social Changes of the 20th Century, private phone lines were not mentioned, but call waiting was included in a tie with 3-way calling, caller ID and conference calling.

A woman being interviewed on National Public Radio the other day tried to make the point that to refuse to take a call waiting call is rude. She said the receiver (no pun here) should ring off with the talker and take the call waiting call.

She’s half right, but excuse me, oh self-involved woman, call waiting is rude and I refuse to be a party to it. I would much rather hear the sound of a busy signal than know I am waiting behind door number two to see if the receiver likes door number one better.

So the voters were wrong about call waiting, but my oh my, how right they were about air conditioning (2), e-mail (8), deodorant (9), Dr. Seuss (22), White-Out (57), rural electric coop (67), Margaret Sanger for legalizing birth control (14), and self-adhesive stamps (tied for 35 with cable TV, celebration of cultural diversity, Post-Its, personal cameras, "Sesame Street," "The Wizard of Oz" and answering machines.) And mood rings (78).

The day I got mine I blew breath on it to watch it change, waggled my fingers under hot water, and then stood in front of the fridge with the light shining on my $2.98 bargain as it cooled from warm burgundy to Pacific Ocean blue.

I even took out insurance on my jewel by telling my brother the devil would find out if he bothered my ring and the long-tailed demon would let me know by changing it to purple!

Of course, there are monumental happy changes on the list such as the Civil Rights Act (15), man walking on the moon in 1969 (17), and motorized cars (18).

Each has affected us profoundly, but it’s the simple everyday things in life that make us smile in a special remembering way. A ring to dream by, the knowledge people don’t smell you coming and being able to chat it up whenever we’ve the notion. Or is it that simple people like simple things?

And what was number one? Indoor plumbing. I gave that one a standing ovation.

Fran Sharp is a freelance writer in Alabaster. E-mail her at