Tommy’s Phone

I’ve been getting my hair cut at Compo Center Barber Shop for over 30 years. (No jokes, please, about why I need to.)

But until last weekend, I never noticed the phone.

Tommy Ghianuly

Compo Barber Shop’s walls are filled with photos of historic Westport. And a rotary phone sits on the counter.

It’s a throwback — to the days, say, of striped poles and barbers in white uniforms.

“It rings loud,” longtime owner Tom Ghianuly explains. “We can hear it over the clippers and whatnot.”

There’s just one problem: Younger customers can’t use it.

They warily stick their fingers in the dial holes, then push futilely. They have no idea you are supposed to turn the dial all the way, until it goes no further.

That’s okay. There’s no reason to borrow Tommy’s rotary phone.

Even 8-year-olds have cells.

23 responses to “Tommy’s Phone

  1. Bruce Nemirow

    Younger people would be confused by a dial tone.

  2. Arlene aavellanet

    I have an antique candlestick phone that we still use. My 6 yr old niece walked by it and whispered to her Dad, “What’s that.”

  3. CA-7-9048 our old Westport number…I,ve never forgotten it…..

  4. Sadly… Classic!

  5. Barbara Wanamaker

    Even before CA7 (and CL9) how about 2-2415?

  6. Michael Calise

    Calise’s Food Market was 3257

  7. That was my dad’s barbershop and we even went there as small fry girls until we demanded Rico’s Salon! Classic.

  8. Joyce Bottone

    Love your blog. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. You bring a smile to my face every time you remind me that the old Westport, which I grew up in, still exists a precious ways. I remember when there was only 226 or 227!

  9. Catherine Davis

    Watch the reaction of someone under about 13 when you ask them to “turn it clockwise/counterclockwise”

  10. Tom Allen '66

    A few years ago when I began my second stint at a big NY publishing house (the first one ended in ’80) I spied a group of new interns gathered around a cubicle that until days before had been occupied by a guy who’d edited the company magazine for 40 years. I wandered over to see what had attracted their attention. It was a…manual typewriter that the retired editor had left behind. “How do you work it?” one of the interns asked. I searched for two pieces of paper, slipped them in and batted out a few sentences. “Wowwwwwwww,” they said in unison. I told them that when I’d worked there the first time everyone used a Remington Standard manual, and everyone smoked. On deadline days dozens of typewriters were clattering, writers and editors were yelling and clouds of cigarette smoke wafted. “I could never work in that kind of environment,” one of the guys said. “How could anyone?”

  11. A few years ago a twenty something neighbor came over and asked if he could use our phone as the battery on his cell was dead. I said “sure, it’s on the wall in the kitchen – help yourself.” The phone in question is a handsome 1956 Western Electric rotary wall phone – you know, the ones with a handset suitable for home defense? The build quality of this phone is outstanding and the sound is superb. No reason to replace it. Anyway, the neighbor disappeared into our kitchen but emerged a while later with a sheepish look on his face and question. This was his question: “How do you use that phone?” That was when first realized I was getting old.

  12. Tom Allen '66

    Morley, my parents had one of those wall phones installed in our kitchen on Treadwell Ave. in Saugatuck in the early 60s. They took it with them when they moved across the river to Otter Trail (off Imperial) in ’75 where it remained until my mother moved to Meadow Ridge in ’04. It was the perfect phone. We had a Mickey Mouse rotary phone in our NY apt so our kids knew how to use a rotary. None of their friends had a clue.

  13. Nice story Tom, people once got very attached to their phones – as they were a big part of life. To this day I can remember as a kid assessing how much trouble I was in by the manner in which my mother would dial the phone; impatient, almost violent dialing assuredly meant dead man walking…

    • Morley’s comment made me think of something else. Back in the day of kitchen phones, parents knew exactly who called their kids. Kids learned how to talk to adults (“Well, good evening, Mrs. Cleaver. Is Theodore home?”). Conversations were seldom private.

      Then came the big day when a teenager was lucky enough to get his or her own phone, and could talk in private. Nirvana was having your own number (called a “line”).

      Nowadays, parents have no clue who is calling their kids. Actually, kids never call. They text. Or Snapchat. We adults are just so clueless.

  14. My five year old is quite aware of a rotary phone because of her great-grandmother… So of course there is an app for that!!! And now my smart has a rotary to dial if you choose with sound effects My five year old is quite aware of a rotary phone because of her great-grandmother… So of course there is an app for that!!! And now my smartphone has a rotary to dial if she chooses with sound.

  15. Tom Allen '66

    No privacy in our house growing up, Dan. My parents had a Princess phone in their bedroom but it was guaranteed that someone was always listening downstairs on the kitchen phone. I remember my sister Suzy ’65 listening in on a 6:30 Saturday AM phone conversation my mother had with one of my friend’s distraught mothers about the rip-roaring time he and I had the previous day/night in Port Chester. Suzy placed her hand over the receiver and told me what was afoot. “What should I do,?” I asked. “Run,” she replied. Yup, chatting with parents on the phone or in person on date pick-up was an artful dance from which there was no escape. Rich, my 22 y/o daughter has a rotary ring on her iPhone.

    • Very funny Tom. Your post reminded my of something I hadn’t thought of well, since perhaps it happened. I was listening in on a conversation with my mother and her mother (we’d all get on extensions for family calls like that) and sometimes the long-distance connections weren’t so great. Or perhaps it was my grandmother’s hearing. But Nana had said something particularly witty and my mom replied with some surprise, “Gee, mom, you’re really with it!” There was a rather tense silence that seemed to last a long while. And then my grandmother remarked, “Well, Ruth, I may be old and wrinkled, but that’s not very nice to say.” It took a little for them to realize that what my mother had NOT said was, “Gee mom, you’re really withered.” Misunderstandings or not, back then, there were certainly more shared conversations — and the ability to accurately detect the emotions in those conversations. We knew when to RUUUUN!

  16. Not that I’m a survivalist or anything but I will confess to a certain smug feeling when, a few years ago, we had that semi-nationwide electrical outage and most of our neighbors were developing full body sweats as a result of their inability to use their cell phones – or even their wireless landline phones. With SNET’s monster generator on Myrtle Avenue sounding like something from a ocean going tug, the low voltage power running to our set of vintage phones was perfect. I think we dreamed up reasons to make calls that hot summer day. Just because.

  17. Dan, I’ve found that the princess phone in my bedroom is a great deterrent to the frustrating habit of family members taking portable phones to far corners of the house. When the handy relic does get used, it reminds me how much more I used to like the phone numbers of friends that included smaller numbers, and thus quicker dialing times. Still, people (kids too) persist in using phrases like “dial a number” which helps thwart that notion of feeling just a teeny bit outdated. When I was in college in VT in the 70s, living off campus, I had a 10-*party-line* phone. (Yes, TEN!) Not getting my particular *ring* right in early morning hours, I’d pick up the *receiver* and likely hear something like, “Ayuh, Maatha I’m comin’ in fram the bahn now, cows ah done, is breakf…” But I think it was more the 1.5-gallon hot water tank that got me back on campus!

    • NPR’s “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered” hosts often say they have an interviewee “on the line.” I am sure that person is talking on a cell or portable phone. There is something about the expression that makes me feel NPR is old and outdated.

      • Jo Shields (and daughter)

        But I love it anyway! (And my daughter who is an intern with NPR jokes that she takes particular offense with your comment, and completely disagrees. NPR may be a long-standing institution but it certainly makes great efforts to stay on top of everything that’s current as well as keeping up with the ever-changing technological world. Look at the $10 million grant that WNYC recently received to keep radio and the digital side of technology intertwined. She respectfully thinks you should take a different *line* of reasoning.)

  18. Kurt Brockwell

    Dan thanks for sharing. I couldn’t help but notice the picture behind the phone. It’s a picture of my father Jim, brother Mark and nephew Cole Brockwell (now 13). The great thing about this barbershop is the generations of family whose picture hangs behind that classic phone.