I was startled from sleep late one night in February of ’72 when a phone rang in Room #362 at Hedrick Hall on the UCLA campus—the room I shared with Mel, a pre-law undergraduate. The jarring sound scared the shit out of us. We weren’t accustomed to the phone ringing. In fact, this was the first time it had rung—we’d never paid to have it hooked up, and only used it as a nut cracker. Our dorm room wasn’t the neatest of places and the phone was hard to find. It kept ringing as we ripped through piles of dirty clothes, dusty text books and empty beer bottles. We finally found it behind a pizza box.
I pulled a sour-smelling sock off the receiver and barked, “Hello?”
I hung up and waited a moment before lifting the receiver and pressing it to my ear. A dial tone! Somewhere on the UCLA campus where dorm phone lines originated, an operator must have accidentally pulled the cord on somebody’s service. A mistake had been made while reconnecting the cord and service had been transferrd to our room. Mel and I were suddenly on the receiving end of free and unlimited phone service.
My propensity to chatter had been curtailed by the expense of long-distance calls, but this was like letting the genie out of the bottle. I immediately dialed my girlfriend (the future Mrs. Chatterbox) who was attending a university near San Francisco. She was also startled to receive a call in the middle of the night. When I explained about the phone, she told me to hang up quickly before the police arrived. I told her to stop being such a Tricia Nixon. There wasn’t any way we could get in trouble over this. She finally calmed down. We chatted for three hours.
The next morning, Mel called his folks in Colorado and talked with them for a few hours. Jay from down the hall—famous for his giant red Afro and never one to miss out on a freebie—knew a girl in Australia and rang her up. He let me and Mel speak to her. We took turns chewing the fat with her and laughed when she said we had cute accents. We booted Jay out of our room when he decided to see who was home at the White House.
Curly-haired Barry Ginsberg was a friend who also lived on our floor. He was battling a bad case of crabs at the time so we wouldn’t let him sit on our beds while he phoned his parents in New York. He’d been working hard to lose the nasally New York accent, but it came back thick and heavy when he spoke with his parents. He stood in the middle of our room and scratched his crotch, insisting to his parents that he only socialized with nice girls. He later told us that his folks, in the best matchmaker tradition, had a nice Jewish girl lined up for him. We hoped her daddy owned a penicillin factory.
Out of our gang, only lanky Phil Whipple refused to make any calls, claiming it was wrong to do so without paying for them. Phil was the wet blanket of our group even though he liked to smoke pot. He had his sights set on the priesthood and claimed our phone was a hotline to hell.
Ignoring Phil’s admonition that we were doing something wrong, Mel and I allowed friends to make calls to Houston, Rome, Madrid, Johannesburg, New Delhi and Singapore among others. I suppose my conscience should have been bothered by what we were doing, but I couldn’t help thinking about all the pay phones that had screwed me out of dimes and quarters while I shot the shit with the future Mrs. Chatterbox, and I could only imagine how many more times in the future I would be similarly cheated.
One morning several weeks later, I picked up the phone and the dial tone was gone, the line dead. The error had finally been caught. A part of me was relieved, but it was rough going back to the pay phone down the hall.
To this day I feel a pang of guilt when I imagine the expression on some student’s face at receiving a phone bill for ten thousand bucks.
Submitted to the guys at Dude Write.