Archive for May, 2009


$2000 Telephone

May 20, 2009

There is not a more conscientious bill-payer than Gram. As soon as those bills hit the mailbox, she is on it. No one can accuse Gram of being lax in her payments; in fact, I think such an accusation would be incredibly offensive to her.

Her attentiveness to bills could even be considered a bit extreme. After all, she has lived alone and taken care of herself for over 30 years now, so she had full responsibility for the gas, water, and electric bills. When Gram decided to move in to Mom and Dad’s house, her prompt bill payments came under a little more scrutiny than she had experienced before. Some of the time, she may have objected to this change, but there is one instance in which we are all uniformly grateful that Mom took action.

One day, as Gram sat at her table writing checks, Mom noticed an odd bill sitting on the table. It was an invoice from AT&T for $17.00. This would not have provoked much suspicion, had there not been a second AT&T bill on the table, waiting to be paid as well. Without a cell phone, Gram should only be getting one phone bill each month. When Mom asked Gram what it was for, Gram said she wasn’t sure – but she was not about to default on a bill! Looking more closely at the invoice, Mom noticed that it was for some sort of phone rental agreement.

Flexing her investigative muscles, Mom picked up a phone and called up the number displayed on the bill. After pressing a succession of 1’s and 0’s to reach a customer service representative, Mom finally reached someone who could explain this bill anomaly. What she heard is the kind of news that makes you cover your mouth and attempt quick multiplications in your head.

Apparently, Gram purchased the type of phone you see displayed here around the same time she and Grandpa bought their house, which was decades ago. It was chocolate brown and mounted to the wall in her kitchen. I remember this phone having a very distinctive ring, as if each time someone called, the phone underwent a major struggle just to belt out its tone.

At the time of purchase, it was customary for households to rent their phones from the phone company. They paid a monthly phone rental fee for the use of the phone. When companies switched to charging for service rather than for the telephone itself, they failed to inform Gram. Therefore, at least ten years, Gram had been paying $17.00 per month to rent the phone she was using from the company. Altogether, that trusty brown phone which was mounted to her kitchen wall ended up costing somewhere in the $2,000.00 range.

The phone company said that the only way to get out of this contract was for Gram to mail the phone to an AT&T headquarters or warehouse somewhere. Once they received it, the bills stopped.

If someone had asked me a long time ago what I thought a $2,000 phone would look like, I probably would have imagined a diamond-encrusted phone:

Or perhaps the original Agent Smart shoe phone:

But by the time we returned Gram’s luxurious phone, the off-white receiver did not even match the pasty brown body of the phone. It might have brought $0.25 at a yard sale.

So the next time you hear someone complain about the charges on their cell phone bills, you just think of my wonderful, sweet, unsuspecting grandma and be glad that you are at least paying for a legitimate service.

Love you, Gram!