WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH ME? I Can't Use A Telephone

Sometimes I get freaked out if I have to call for a pizza, even if I know doing so will result in piping hot pizza. PIZZA.

Mar 27, 2013 at 1:00pm | Leave a comment

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INSIDE I AM DYING

I never wanted to be the kind of reporter who has to ask the "tough" questions.

In fact, I never wanted to be a reporter at all. As a kid, I didn't know what I wanted to do when I grew up, only that I wanted to be able to get the Playboy channel and buy artificially blue foods, both of which were cruelly and inexplicably prohibited in my house.

But I think journalism in particular never appealed to me, because I have always loathed 1) confrontation, 2) facts, and 3) using the phone.

Nowadays, mobilephoneaphobia (say it, it's fun) seems perfectly reasonable. It's easier to use less personal methods of communicating like email and text. The anonymity of the Internet has rendered human interaction meaningless and unnecessary. Most people would rather stay home and watch niche porn than, say, have a romantic dinner followed by an exquisite handjob.

The modern age: it's scary and it's turning us all into compulsively masturbating sociopaths who have better relationships with their microwaves than their mothers.

I'm not a technophobe. I love the Internet and I don't buy that Luddite idea that computers are ruining our ability to feel. If you don't believe me, you should see how emotional I am on Facebook, when I am drunk.

I admit that, in some cases, technology allows us to act irrationally and antisocially. I know many people who would rather participate in a daylong multiple-email volley to solve a dispute at work or with the phone company than make a five-minute phone call. Friends who use online dating sites report being stymied by the usual progression of wink-message-text-disappear, rather than the old, landline finality of verbally setting up dinner.

But I contend that I hated the phone even before there was an Internet to help me antisocially circumvent it. I'm trying to figure out why, because I am turning 30 and that is too damn old to be rude and scared in this particularly tiresome way.

Like a lot of weirdos, I have a "phone voice." It's higher, sweeter and about 3,000% more panic-stricken than my natural speaking register. It's like I become a deferential 8-year-old who is as undone by this particular piece of technology as, say, a turn of the century butler. It should come with an oversized lollipop and a sign that says, "Rob me. I'm dumb."

I have used a phone voice for my entire adult life, even the time in college when I was a customer service representative at a mail order catalog. It was exhausting, and yet I felt powerless to speak normally except when dealing with people who had already knew what I sounded like and could make fun of me accordingly.

Nobody was more delighted by the advent of online food ordering than I was, because calling a restaurant used to fill me with a singular dread. I have a bizarre, middle child's terror of being inconvenient to other people, so asking for something like "dressing on the side" had all the magnitude of requesting, say, a kidney, even in my deferential sexy baby timbre. If I am ordering for a group and somebody wants to see if a dish can be made less spicy or another kind of substitution, good luck, because I'm not about to ask. On the phone, I am ludicrously afraid of mildly irritating a stranger or doing something otherwise "wrong" in this way (potentially because in my family, if you fuck up a pizza, people will act weirdly passive-aggressively toward you for whole days).

I also grew up with a mother who worked late nights, which made the caller-ID-less landline particularly nightmarish. You always picked up, because it could be the hospital saying your parents had been in an accident (I was a paranoid little kid), but that meant that you also answered calls from telemarketers, wrong numbers, perverts, distant incarcerated relatives (really), and a generally terrifying array of strangers.

I was convinced that all the salespeople who called could tell I was lying when I said my mom was "unavailable" and were all already en route to kill me with a tire jack before I would ever see what that call-in show on the Playboy channel looked like, unscrambled.

These, obviously, are problems that have been solved somewhat with current technology. So I think the fact that I still fear the phone is an issue of control -- you don't have the degree of planning you do when having a conversation via email or text message. After I write something out, I have the option to edit or delete it. Even when calling was still the preferred method to get in touch with someone, I'd often write a script on a piece of paper if I was nervous enough about the subject to be discussed. I have a vivid memory of doing this to call in sick for my teenage job at Panera. PANERA.

But even when I actually have a script, I'm still hopeless. This is why I'm so bad at celebrity interviews, and I've done dozens and dozens by now. Once, early in my career and unprepared for a last-minute phoner with Tia Carerre, I left the office where I was supposed to take her call and went and walked around the East Village until I could have been reasonably sure her rep had stopped leaving me messages. I once did the same thing to Oates. From Hall and Oates.

I think of these incidents and many, many more during my nightly Stay Awake and Cringe at the Ceiling exercises.

I've encountered similar problems in my personal life. I had a brief non-relationship with a guy last year who kept asking if he could call me, just to talk. I was repelled. Call to talk about what? Is there something you can't say in a series of text messages that I can respond to in a way carefully calibrated to demonstrate my exceptional cleverness? You know who calls people just to talk? The Long Island Serial Killer.

He thought I was being cagey and emotionally distant. Fair! Fair enough. But it just felt like some kind of weird breach.

In the Edwardian era, before telephones and the far more entertaining Cable Television, unannounced social calls were considered agreeable and polite, since having your neighbors surprise you from time to time was a nice break from other forms of recreation like embroidering.

But nowadays, if somebody came by your parlor on a Sunday evening just because they knew you were going to be home, you'd be like, "What the fuck? I'm in the middle of a "TNG" marathon. Get out of my house. I am fully prepared to be short and stare at you until you take the hint and get the hell out of here. I'm in loose pants."

I realize that the telephone is a normal and accepted way to communicate. Some people would rather just call and ask, "Do you want to get drinks with me this week?" than enjoy a flotilla of carefully noncommittal, well-timed sentence fragments.

I am not one of those people, and should probably not sleep with them.

Here, again, is the rub: control. Even when texting or emailing, I always want the other person to have acted last. I will let them send the final "talk soon," because exiting the conversation first gives me a marginal sense of not having ended it saying something stupid. Like the (multiple) times I have accidentally said, "You, too!" to a TSA agent who wished me a good flight.

This, I realize, is completely psychotic. I'm sure a huge part of my phone anxiety is the concern that, forced to communicate in real time, I will be exposed for the complete moron I am. I'm just not good at improv.

Perhaps this is less of a "Tyra"-worthy phobia and more of a case of prolonged "pussin' out." If asked to talk on the phone, I don't dry heave or cry like I'm being chased by the cotton ball man. I just get very uncomfortable and am unable to form awkward sentences with my usual glittering aplomb.

It's immature, unprofessional, and if I'm being honest, not particularly likeable. While I will never be a great interviewer, I do use the phone a lot for work. It's a silly hangup I ought to sack up and get over for the purposes of my job and common courtesy.

Also a guy I sort of like or whatever occasionally calls me, and each time it floods me anew with a fresh flush of hot fear. How nice it would be to be able to just purr, "Hi, you," in my normal, sultry contralto, instead of stammering and pretending I'm in a tunnel to buy time. (To be fair, I stammer and pretend I'm in a tunnel when I am actually with him, as I am also Cthulhu-level horrified of him in person. As I said, I sort of like him. Being scared of him probably sounds counterintuitive, until you consider how amazing his hair is.)

Have you ever successfully surmounted your own stupid social hangup? Are there any tapes I can listen to to make me not nervous of talking to somebody I just had a perfectly fine time going down on like three hours ago?

Please let me know. In the mean time, as part of my aversion therapy, I'm going to place an extremely elaborate order to Domino's. Talk soon.

 
 

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