The relentless march of time and technology claimed another victim – the residential phone book.
Phone books hold special nostalgia for me and my family as they were the major resource in my father’s business as a Hollywood researcher. The bulk of work done at de Forest Research was name-checking, and his immense library held every major city phone book, past and present. When a Jonah Cross showed up in a 1930s LA directory, my father recommended “Chinatown’s” producers change their villain’s first name to “Noah,”to avoid any potential lawsuits. My father always jokes that was his one contribution to cinematic art.
As a summer employee of de Forest Research, I logged many hours poring over the fine print on those flimsy pages. I took pleasure in what was basically a mindless, mechanical task by noting certain patterns and coincidences, discovering intriguingly unusual names (who is “Z Methuselah IV”?) and enjoying the occasional accidental poetry in those corner juxtapositions of letters (Zip-Zub, or even better, Boy-Bra).
But then I’m weird.
I can’t really imagine much weeping over the loss of the phone book. Children who need a boost to sit at the family dinner table will have to find a substitute, of course. Still, like an encyclopedia, the phone directory, especially the fat directory of a major city, gave the illusion of completeness. The phone book held an entire world between its pasteboard covers. Of course, the internet holds a far vaster world, yet, lacking the corporeal heft of a dictionary, encyclopedia, or phone book, it feels somehow less complete. We have easy access to the parts but no sense of the whole.