J-Zone's Pay Phone Pimpin'
Retired MC/producer J-Zone still collects cassettes and misses the days of pay phone efficiency. J-Zone's book, Root for the Villain: Rap, Bullshit, and a Celebration of Failure is out now.
» Breaking down the pay phone's role in good communication.
Just the other day, it occurred to me – Clark Kent didn't morph into Superman in a T-Mobile store. Then another epiphany – if we communicated with the sole intent of getting to the God damn point in the most expeditious manner possible, we'd all be much more productive. Both of these brain farts point to one common denominator: the long lost and underutilized public pay phone.
As a child of the '80s and teenager of the '90s, the pay phone set the parameters for any communication that wasn't face to face. Those parameters were four minutes and $0.25. It was akin to playing Jeopardy! – the clock was running, you had to come up with an answer and if you crapped out, Alex Trebek (or the girl you were booty calling) would let you know your fate within a matter of minutes.
Once that call was connected, your pennies were funneling down the drain. When attempting to gauge if you and the girl you were calling were going to meet up later, you got straight to the point. No bullshit. Technically, you could extend your talk time if you had extra change to feed the pay phone, but that change could be used more astutely (like to call a more receptive girl or buy a slice of pizza). So, it was usually the $0.25 / four minute plan. About 70 percent of the time, the girl's parent or sibling would answer the phone. That stall tactic ate up about 90 seconds of your call, leaving you with 2:30 to close the deal. It took about 30 seconds for the girl to come to the phone, so now you have a succinct two minutes to convince her to come meet you for some White Castle burgers and a possible make-out session. Your rap had to be fuckin' fierce to close this deal in that lilliputian window of time.
More often than not, I failed, but Pay Phone Pimpin' made me a master communicator. Why? Because conversation is that much more potent when you're paying by the minute for it. I truly believe that the NBA lockout could be resolved if they negotiated via pay phone.
“Look man, the operator is about to cut me off and I'm fresh out of change. Shit or get off the pot; how the fuck can we solve this?”
To my chagrin, the gradual disappearance of the pay phone and the emergence of the flaky, ambiguous, and indirect concept of incessant texting has destroyed my social gumption and made communicating a royal drag. There's nothing more unnerving than watching a grown man fully-engaged in an all-day text-a-thon with a woman, attempting to see where he stands in his quest for some tail. Put some bass in your voice muthafucka, you're 35 years old. If a 30-something woman sends me a “wink” via text, I think that's permission to show up to her door, dick in hand. But if she picks up the fuckin' phone and tells me she's not interested, I respect her stance and move on. Dating and texting are Mobil fuel and a matchbook – nothing good can come of that combo. There were no “OMG”, “LOL”, “IDK”, emoticon-semi-colon-smiley face combos when engaging in some stone cold pay phone pimpin'. The goal was to get to the point: get the girl outside and / or see where you stood. Nowadays, the social protocol is to do six hours of back and forth texting and “LOL” / “wink” balderdash just to find out you're in the Friend Zone anyway. Oops.
In the days of the mighty pay phone, 25 cents would've brought me to the same conclusion in a modicum of time – four short minutes. Closure is golden and so underrated. I had the rest of the day to play ball, study horticulture, watch Head of the Class, or jerk off to the girl chillin' on Ice-T's album covers holding the shotgun.