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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Telephone Tales, Or, Can You Spare a Dime?

I never knew so many hours of fun could be had with just a simple home phone.

Take mine (please). I have two telephones in my apartment, both vintage Soviet models, good, sturdy, and indestructible.

Two may seem a luxury to some people. But one phone doesn't ring, while you can't hear out of the other. Together they made one almost-functioning whole.

But enough about hardware. What really fascinates me are the endless possibilities for "reaching out and touching someone" that the Russian phone system affords.

Not long ago I was sitting in my kitchen, when I heard the little "peeps" that tell you someone is dialing in the other room. This struck me as odd, since I was alone in the apartment except for my dog Sasha, who has yet to master the rotary dial. I ran into the living room. Just as I suspected - empty. So I picked up the phone, and hesitantly said, "Allo? "

Silence. Then "Where did you come from? " squawked an irate female voice. "Put the phone down, and stop bothering us". This was slightly unfair, since it was my phone, but I obediently replaced the receiver.

Wrong numbers, of course, are nothing new. But mine run in cycles. One week I'll get 10 calls for GAI (the traffic police), while at other times I answer frantic requests for the hospital.

Saturday I picked up the phone to hear, for what seemed the 100th time, "Is this the hospital? " Nyet, this is a private apartment", I snapped. (It had been a long day. ) "Really? How did you manage that? " asked my unseen interlocutor. "I've been trying to privatize my apartment for a year now".

I hung up.

Now my phone has a new trick. When I try to dial, I get the radio. Yes, that's right - weather, music, poetry. The other night it was a comedy routine (curiously enough, about hospitals), and I got so engrossed in it I stayed on the line for close to an hour.

Never did make my call - the phone doesn't work. As a phone, that it. Reception is actually quite good on the radio, but I can't change the station.

"Why doesn't she just have it fixed? " I can hear you asking. Sure. All it takes is one simple call - once you find a working avtomat. and if you happen to have, according to the whim of the telefon itself, a 2-kopek or 15-kopek coin, or perhaps a 3-ruble token (I have seen them for sale at the airport).

But that's quibbling. There is a perfectly good telefon-avtomat near my house that takes American dimes.

But what number do you call? If your phone doesn't work only for Moscow calls, that's one repair station. If you can't make calls to other cities, that's another. (How do I know? I can't make any calls).

Then there are the harder questions. Is the trouble in the telephone itself? In the wiring? At the station? All of these require separate phone calls, as well as an engineering degree to locate the problem in the first place.

After being booted around to six different offices, I decided the in-phone radio wasn't so bad after all.

Besides, I was out of dimes.