"Mom, what kind of phones do they have?"
We're walking up the steps into an office building,
Or maybe into someone's house.
It doesn't matter, at least not to this ten-year-old boy.
All that matters is the phones.
Once we're inside, his radar kicks in.
Or maybe it's a powerful sense of smell.
He sniffs out telephones wherever they are.
His charms win over homeowners and office staff alike;
He has the run of any place in no time.
Perhaps its his absolute devotion, his artless love, his obvious enthrallment.
Whatever it is, few can resist it.
"Here, honey, did you see this phone?"
He responds instantly, eyes wide, hands poised in anticipation of the discovery
That will soon make them flap with excitement.
"What does it sound like?"
He can scarcely breathe as he awaits the answer.
It always comes, because by now he owns every heart.
"Here, why don't I make it ring for you?"
He freezes, waiting.
His eyes are saucers now.
He stands still, processing, storing the sound in his memory
Alongside countless others.
Then he has to start hopping,
Flapping his hands,
Trilling his tongue,
Until he can contain himself no longer
And must dart from one phone to another,
Dancing the paths that carry conversations back and forth.
The conversations themselves matter little or nothing.
He would ignore them if they didn't come
The medium isn't the message.
It's far more important than that.
If the phones have intercoms,
They'll ring throughout our visit.
Other kids seem to enjoy that, too.
He'll talk to them, as long as there's a phone
He says nothing of substance,
But it's a connection,
And that's more substance than we once dared to hope for.
He turns Lego's into phones.
Old-fashioned ones with a yarn "cord"
And a detachable handset,
And buttons with paper labels that say
"Dail" and "Redail."
And their own ring tones.
He provides all his own sound effects,
Perfectly imitated rings, dial tones, busy signals.
Paper becomes telephones, too.
Complete with bases that let the cordless paper handsets stand upright.
Sometimes they're mounted on the walls.
We can only smile and shake our heads in wonder,
Grateful for this modern marvel that connects us to our son,
Even if only "long-distance."
He sobs, screams, and wails.
"I hate it! I wish we'd never bought it! Take it back!"
When he finally calms down enough,
He tells us through his tears that no matter how hard he tries,
He can't invent a ringtone that makes sense for his new toy,
A white desk phone.
Can't we understand that the ring has to match the color and the shape?
If only he knew how badly we wanted to understand.
But in typical fashion he fixes it himself...
With a black permanent marker.
It's not a white phone any more.
He doesn't play with it.
He doesn't like it.
But at least now that it's black, it can stay in the house
Without driving him out of his mind.
Morning bath time.
Warm water seduces him back to the sleep from which I just roused him.
I used to sit on the toilet lid, wasting time nagging him to wash.
Silly me. I should have known.
Just pick up the phone.
Dial the intercom number that makes the downstairs phone ring.
Put the bathroom phone on "Speaker."
Hurry downstairs where the kitchen phone's intercom rings insistently.
Pick it up and press the "Speaker" button.
"Ok," he says, willing to tune in to me
Because the phone gives our connection meaning.
"I'm washing my feet, and my legs..."
It doesn't work perfectly.
Sometimes I have to nag through the phone,
But it's a lot better than it used to be.
I stop by the cell phone store.
"Do you have any floor models you were about to throw away?
You see, I have an autistic son..."
They always give us a few perfectly authentic replicas.
He has a favorite.
He spent ten dollars of his birthday money
To buy a holster for it
So he can wear it everywhere he goes.
It rings, of course.
It never rang in the store.
It isn't even real.
But it rings for him.
All phones do.
I tell him what this week's topic is.
"What's should I say about telephones, son?" I ask.
He scowls for a few moments.
And off he goes.
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