We are crazy for convenience. What exquisite joy we find in negotiating a loan at the drivethrough window or feeding mozzarella to the food processor. Give us a gaspowered machine for chasing leaves off the lawn or a digital watch that wakes us to the tune of Dixie or a Chinese restaurant that will deliver a double order of pork lo mein at three in the morning, no questions asked, and we are happyhappy, indeed. The national purpose is nothing less than victory over time, place and perspiration. A knack for sending shuttles into space would mean nothing if, on earth, we were not-able to activate the microwave oven and, 30 seconds later, withdraw the consummate raspberry soufflé. And so it was inevitable that this marvellous America, this place of ease and availability, would find the means of attaining, with minimum effort, what once required such fuss and bother: perfect sex.
There are two options, each no more than a phone call away. One involves contacting any of several firms specializing in adult communication services and stating your purpose—that is, to talk dirty and have the favor returned. After being informed as to fees (typically, $35 per half-hour) and credit arrangements (major cards accepted), the customer hangs up and is soon buzzed back by a woman prepared to engage in the kind of conversation that might have sent D.H. Lawrence fleeing to a chapel for early vespers. You name it, you got it.
Perhaps the client wants to explore the pleasures of mud wrestling in the nude or the erotic potential of his old terry-cloth bathrobe. Maybe he prefers a frank exchange on topics ranging from mirrored ceilings to stainless steel leg irons. His specialty might be animal behavior—say he is a big brave rhinoceros and she a bashful water buffalo—or it could be, too, that he wants nothing more elaborate than an earful of heavy breathing, professionally rendered. Asked what a customer could expect from such inspired chatter, a telephone hostess in Denver replied simply that each party would find the conversation immensely rewarding. “We talk until we both. . . .” Let us not concern ourselves here with specifics of the guarantee. Her point was that, in dialogues such as these, there would be no need to signal when through.
While clearly a major advance in
shop-at-home convenience, the service will strike some as extravagant. Limited funds need not cause hardship, however, since a no-frills alternative exists. In New York there is now a number that allows the caller access to a recording unlike all other telephone playbacks. The voice on the other end is not that of the doctor telling you he has gone again to Aruba. It is not the airline ticket agent claiming your call will be answered in order. Nor is this a spokesman for the electric company saying he realizes power is out in your area and that all available personnel have been dispatched. No, these are the voices of Jody and Sandra, Melinda and Bonnie, women who say their considerable and urgent needs might be met in heroic fashion by whom? By you, of course. For 15 cents a call, a person can be endlessly reassured.
Needless to say, the idea has been a grand success. Approximately 500,000
‘Americans finally found the means of easily attaininy what once required fuss and bother:perfect sex'
calls are made daily to what is known unofficially as “dial-a-porn”—so many, in fact, that authorities in New York claim that the revenue has helped hold down phone rates. Ma Bell, which profits immensely from the service, nevertheless expresses shock and dismay at the whole tawdry affair. (“It’s not money we choose to make,” said a harried Bell company spokesman.) But, really, what can be done? Government antimonopoly rulings demanded that the utility cease operating “dial-it” numbers—those that in more innocent days supplied a time check or weather forecast—and, as a result, Bell leased the lines to private investors. Among them is High Society, a magazine of the sort teenage boys tuck into schoolbooks aiming to make social studies that much more interesting and their fathers hide on shelves far above the workbench. What little was left to the imagination on High Society’s pages now sizzles along the telephone lines.
Of course, decent people are aghast. The U.S. government is not able to shut down the service without compromising First Amendment freedoms (let us nev-
er say that High Society was permitted to undermine the Constitution), and folks are wondering what ever became of community standards, anyway? Receiving an unwanted obscene call is one thing. Ordering up your own makes it hard to tell who is the weirdo, after all.
Most upsetting is that many patrons of dial-a-porn turn out to be under the age of consent. As might have been expected, the youth of America, ever resourceful, had little trouble getting hold of the forbidden phone numbers and soon began calling—and calling and calling. “I found out when I got my phone bill,” said a woman in Owensboro, Ky. “It was $200! And the next month it was $189. My boys and all their friends were using my phone to call those numbers in New York. . . She recalled one morning at breakfast when her youngest son, 14, dialled the number and handed her the phone with a cheery, “Here Mommy, listen to this!” What does this say about our culture? Our men and women? Our young people, our families? Heavy thinkers already are worrying that the popularity of dirty telephone talk must mean that we have become a terrifically lonely, sad and isolated bunch. Insecure and unhappy in our real-life relationships, we look for fantasy substitutes. Ordinary existence doesn’t thrill us sufficiently. We have lost perspective. We want more than our share. Morality has abandoned the land of Jerry Falwell and Oral Roberts. “It’s a serious matter,” said an official in Virginia after discovering that state employees had placed 2,500 calls to the High Society number. “I don’t want to see it brought to the level of levity.”
Yet that may be where the matter belongs. Too much can be made of such things, too much worry expended. We may be lonely, sad and isolated. We may long too much for the unattainable and have hopelessly immature notions of sexual fulfilment. But levity—ah, levity—is something we still haven’t lost. At one office in the New York suburbs, employees have been dialling the hotline and deftly switching the calls to unsuspecting colleagues. Solid citizens accustomed only to the voices of wives and mothers now may pick up their receivers and hear quite distinctly: “Hi, I’m Randy, and I want you to talk dirty to me.” For us, cheap thrills are always the best.
Fred Bruning is a writer with Newsday in New York.
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