When I was about eight years old, my cousin changed my life. He introduced me to a telephone line that would connect me to Santa Claus. Santa would always pick up the phone and asked me what I wanted for Christmas even though it was still November. However what my cousin did not tell me was that my side of the conversation was being charged around the clock for the privilege of being heard by Santa Claus. I should have been tipped off by the fact that the number began with 976. I did not care though because I was working on getting my Nintendo.
Then my addiction grew. Suddenly Santa Claus was not enough. I had to talk to other fictional characters. I had to hear the Easter Bunny sing his all new Easter Bunny songs. All of my imaginary friends suggested that I get my parents’ permission before dialing, but I knew that my parents would only say no, and why let something like the word “no” get in the way of something so beautiful? My favorite phone line dealt with a role playing game. Basically the setting was an adventure that required you to use the keypad to direct the action. It was like Dungeons and Dragons, but without the stigma or the need to roll any dice.
All good things must come to an end. I remember the day the phone bill came. My mother came to pick my sister and me up from school, and everything seemed normal except for one thing – my mother remained silent the whole way home. She did not speak to me except to tell me that Christmas would be cancelled that year. My father was waiting for us when we got to the door. He was going through page after page of the phone bill. I don’t know how many trees had to be sacrificed to produce that bill, but the stack was fatter than the broad side of a toaster. My father was about to give me a gift, and believe it or not, it was not a Nintendo.
As soon as I cleared the door, my father demanded answers and I was not forthcoming. All the reasons I had to explain my actions were not very good ones. I stammered around for a bit, I tried to blame my sister, but my parents knew who to blame. My father took off his belt, and folded it in half. He slapped it up against the palm of his left hand, and the sheer snapping sound ran a cold feeling up my spine. That cold feeling was soon replaced by my father’s cheap leather belt. The faster I ran, the faster my father ran. Then I got the bad idea of becoming defiant. In my mind, I thought my father would see me through a different light if I stood up to him. That was a bad idea, because the only the only thing it did was get him angrier and allow him to catch his second breath.
Years passed before my parents trusted me to use the phone again. They would not even allow me to pick up the phone, as if Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny were one the other line wondering why I had not been calling. I was already a teenager, and my mother would still pick up the other line just to make sure I was talking to another human being. By the way, I ended up getting that Nintendo, but not before atoning for my sins – and in the end, it was the man with the belt rather than the man with the beard who got it for me.
[Photo by me and the sysop]