Sometimes, on rare days, I get to party like it’s 1989. 

Mark LaFlamme

It doesn’t happen often. In this lame age where contacts are tracked down chiefly through email, Google searches, Facebook or — God help me — LinkedIn, the closest I get to gumshoe sleuthing is when I literally step in a pile of gum on the sidewalk while hustling to my computer. 

But I got a taste of those old-school thrills recently, mainly because the people I was tracking were older folks who have no use whatsoever for that newfangled interweb, which some consider to be little more than porno machines. 

In pursuit of one such octogenarian a couple weeks ago, I found myself reaching for a source of information so ancient and obsolete, merely knowing about it will get you classified as an old dude in an instant. 

“Anybody know where we keep the phone books these days?” I asked the newsroom. 

I was surrounded mostly by interns and newer hires, who blinked up at me with utter bewilderment, their young minds puzzling over the oddness of my question. 

“Phone… book?” one of them marveled. “Is that like a catalogue featuring the newer Android devices or something?” 

“What?” I said, flustered. “No. It’s a book of phone numbers and addresses for local people, alphabetized by last name.” 

More blinks of confusion. 

“You mean like Zabasearch? On the web?” 

Ah, who needed them. After a short search, I found the phone books in a dusty corner of the newsroom — a time-forgotten area where we keep relics such as maps, rolodexes, calculators, binders and a fellow named Martin, who was once in charge of the newsroom archives. Martin had grown a very long beard since I’d last seen him. 

“You need me to look something up?” he asked, hopefully. “I think I can get that microfilm machine up and running.” 

“No, sorry. Just looking for the phone books.” 

Martin looked sad and deflated as he pointed to the top of a filing cabinet where the phone books resided. 

Say what you want about the archaic nature of phone books, but with one of them, I found exactly what I was looking for in about six seconds. There it was, the phone number and street address for the man I sought, and I didn’t have to sign up for anything, endure pop-up ads for male enhancement drugs or complete one of those infuriating “Are you human?” bot filters that demand you click every photo that features a fire hydrant. 

I asked Martin for a rotary phone so I could call the phone number I’d found, but Martin had gone back to sleep, kicking and twitching as he dreamed of simpler times. 

I didn’t recognize the Lewiston street name the phone book had provided, so I reached for one of THE maps we keep of the Lewiston-Auburn area. Who needs Google maps when you have the real thing sitting right in front of you, and all you have to do is figure out where A and 3 intersect to find the address you’re looking for. 

Off I wheeled to the Pleasant Street neighborhood, and to the specific address provided by the phone book. There I experienced yet another throwback bit of old-time journalism: a knock on a door followed by a face-to-face conversation with a by God human. 

“Doesn’t live here no more,” the young lady told me. “Moved away ’bout six months ago. Left his washer and dryer and everything. If you came for those, tough cookies, bub. They’re mine now.” 

“Not interested in the appliances,” I assured her. “Do you know where the fellow moved to?” 

“Nope,” the lass said, obviously relieved that I hadn’t come for the Maytag. “But the lady across the street will. Say something nice about her dog, and she’ll tell you everything she knows.” 

Off I went, across the street to a quiet little house with flowers growing in window boxes and a nice brass knocker on the door. 

“Afternoon, ma’am,” I said, when an older woman opened said door. “Say, that’s a fine Shih Tzu you got there. My leg hasn’t had a workout like this in a long time.” 

The lady brightened at once and indeed, she told me everything she knew. The man I was after had moved to New Mexico, she said, to be closer to his son, who was recently retired from the Navy. She couldn’t remember which city, but it had a long name that was kind of hard to say. 

“Albuquerque?” I asked. 

“Bless you, young man,” she said and handed me a handkerchief.  

The nice lady invited me into her parlor and produced a leather bound book that was bursting at the binding, so jammed full it was with scraps of paper, photographs, pamphlets, matchbooks, you name it. 

After a painstaking page-by-page search, she was able to locate one particular scrap of paper (the back of a Chinese takeout menu) that had information she believed would help. It was the name, phone number and workplace of the man’s eldest daughter.  

It would have been easy to dig out my phone and call the daughter, but I was loving this low-tech approach and surely the octogenarian in New Mexico would appreciate my no-tech efforts. 

The daughter, as it happens, works at a place not far from my house, so I popped in on my way home. She was working and due for a smoke break. 

“Why are you looking for him?” she asked, lighting up in the parking lot. 

I told her about the story I was working on. Pure fluff, I assured her. No funny business. 

Satisfied, she went digging through her purse. 

I fully expected the woman to pull out a cellphone to look up her dad’s number, thereby ending my low-tech streak, but nope. This lady was a real sport. What she produced was an old-fangled address book, a bulky red thing that actually said “Address Book” on the cover in gold letters. 

She flipped a couple pages, found what she was after, and turned the book so that I could read it. 

“Better call before 8,” she told me. “He’s got Bingo Tuesday and Thursday nights.” 

I pulled out a pen and scribbled the phone number on the back of my hand.  That’s how we did it back in the day, you know. 

If I had been truly committed to this Luddite excursion, I would have called the fellow from a pay phone on the corner and then wrote up my notes on an old Imperial typewriter with manual return. 

I couldn’t find a pay phone, unfortunately, and those things probably only accept Bitcoin these days. The best I could do was to call him from a landline. 

He answered on the third ring. I introduced myself and told him what I was after. 

“What’s all that?” he said when I was finished. “I’m sorry, young man. My hearing aid is next to useless on the phone. Sounds like you’re talking at me from the bottom of an oil drum. Send me an email, why don’t you? The address is listed on my Facebook page. Or hit me up on Gab. You DO have a Gab account, doncha?” 

In the end, I connected with him through Facebook messenger. It was a good interview, but I had to pause many times to interpret the man’s use of acronyms and internet slang — what the hell does “IMO” mean, and what is a colon with a vertical line next to it supposed to denote? 

A the end of the conversations, he recommended a podcast I might like and named the subreddit where I could find it. 

I have a feeling that if I’d told the old-timer that I was thinking about writing my story on a manual typewriter, he’d have called me a pure fool and suggested I pick up a computer with an AMD Ryzen 9 processor and 12 cores and that I use elliptic curve encryption to protect my files. 

I threw my spiral notebook out on the way home.

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