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Harris Blackwood: With phone books, our fingers used to do the walking
Harris Blackwood
Harris Blackwood

In the Steve Martin movie, “The Jerk,” there is a scene outside the gas station where his character, Navin Johnson, works. It is the delivery of the phone book and for the first time, Navin’s name and phone number are listed.

“I’m somebody,” he exclaims, jumping around. “Things are going to start happening to me now.”

I was shocked the other day to find out that we still get a phone book. I haven’t seen one around our house for years.

In my first anchor experience on television, I had to sit on a couple of Atlanta phone books, which were about three inches thick. Things did start happening to me because of a phone book.

When I was little, my uncle, George Blackwood, worked for a printing and bindery business that printed telephone books from all over the place. I don’t know if they are even still in business. The thing I remember most is that Uncle George would put me in a little box and let me ride down the track of metal rollers that took the finished books to the end of the line.

I’m sure we violated some kind of rule, but it has been over 50 years and George has been dead for about 45 years. I think the statute of limitations has passed.

I also recently took one of those tags that come on pillows and mattresses warning, “Do not remove under penalty of law.” There is a small prison in Nebraska where they lock up the violators. I have a friend in Nebraska named Fred Zwonechek. Fred might come and visit me and bring me a hacksaw baked in a cake.

But back to phone books. I miss phone books. At one time, my dad and his three brothers were the only Blackwoods listed in the Atlanta phone book. During the heyday of the Blackwood Brothers Quartet, people would occasionally call and ask if we were relatives or had their phone number. Turns out we were something like fifth cousins, twice removed.

I’ve never quite understood the whole twice-removed thing, but that’s a column for another day.

When phone books were in vogue, you could tell something about someone by their telephone prefix. Many people used a word concocted from the corresponding letters on the phone. Our first phone number was Plaza-5-6029. Plaza was the prefix for 7 and 5. I don’t know why you just couldn’t say 755-6029.

When Channel 17 came on the air, one of their regular advertisers was the Armstrong Slipcover Co. They made clear vinyl slipcovers to cover your living room sofa and chair. Over 40 years later, I can remember that their phone number was Jackson 2-0100. I never owned any vinyl slipcovers, but remember that they would stick to you in certain seasons of the year.

The Empire Today flooring company has generated customers for years by having jingle singers perform their phone number 800-588-2300. I know the phone number by heart.

Phone books served an important function when you wanted to order a pizza or dedicate a record to someone on a radio station. Now you can do that online.

I may hang on to our new phone book. I’m not sure whom I will need to call.

By the way, don’t call our number. The only people who use that number are telemarketers and political pollsters. I don’t answer anymore.

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