976 – Uh Oh

Future Perverts

Future Perverts

If you’re American and older than, say, thirty the combination of the numbers 976 should conjure distinct images. Images like lingerie clad nymphs or cheerleaders beckoning your phone call in between reruns of The Price is Right and the People’s Court.

If you’re under thirty or not from the U.S, then in the time it took the thirty and over’s to read the above paragraph and settle into reminiscence you most probably googled “What is a 976 number?” and you should be up to speed.

Though there were many 976 numbers, many of them were adult chat hotlines which you could call for prerecorded sex-talk messages. Every fetish was represented – twins, teens, older women, mechanics, etc. It was the refuge of the forlorn, the lonely, or the curious kid who’s stayed home sick from school.

One day when I was eleven years old, I found myself with a raging temperature – 98.7°F – and milked it into a day home. Staying home from school was glorious, more so if your parents worked. I’d lie in bed, reveling in the jealousy of my siblings, and then mosey to the television. I could eat sandwiches all day and watch TV.


It hasn’t occurred to me until now how similar kid sick days were to adult Saturdays.

On this one particular day, between an episode of The Andy Griffith Show and Gomer Pyle USMC, a woman appeared on my television. She wasn’t wearing much and what she was wearing I had only seen on women in magazines I found stashed around the house. I watched. She told me to call 976-something to talk to her, and being the impressionable young lad that I was, I followed her direct order.

OK, I was eleven. I didn’t know anything about sex. I didn’t know how it worked, who did it, what the concept of it was, or what one had to do to get it. I didn’t even know that generations of women in the future would be withholding it from me. I didn’t know that this woman was going to cause me a major problem in the next few months of my kid-life. So as I listened to the one-side dialogue with a lexicon I had less experience with than ancient Sumerian, I didn’t know any of these things.

All I knew was that I liked it.

I always suffer nostalgia overload on Facebook’s Throwback Thursdays. I know, it proves that I am one of the sheep, but I don’t care. The pictures of people in roller skates, wearing 80s digs, feathered back hair (I had a rat-tail), and using phones that attached to an outlet sends me back into my own world of nostalgia.

It brings me back to a development in the Philadelphia suburbs, playing baseball and getting poison ivy in the summers, building igloos in the winter, playing street hockey in inches of gravel as the winter went to spring, and being forced to rake leaves in the autumn.

It’s pretty idyllic.

Problems arise because when it comes to nostalgia, my brain is a pretty good editor. I remember the good old days of yore and wax reminiscent about things past, and at the same time I am very capable of weeding out the trouble and the bad times. So while I have a clear memory of Katrina (yes, I remember her name) and her bag of lexical sex, my nostalgia brain editor tries to forget what happened next.

What happened next was that after a day of enjoying 976-You Name It, I noticed that there were monetary units at the bottom of the screen and something called a “fee” for services. This hadn’t occurred to me. I was eleven, my understanding of money was right around my understanding of sex, so I was seriously screwed. I knew I was in trouble, and I did what any eleven year-old would do.

I found a partner in crime to share the blame.

Enter my sister Amanda. Amanda was nine years-old and therefore didn’t yet want to cut my fingers off and feed them to a nearby dog. That fun came just two short years later and lasted until she was eighteen. But at the moment, we were still buddies and she would go along with pretty much anything I laid out. So, to her misfortune, I brought her down with me.

It was now that other decisions were made which I would later look back on with profound regret. All I had to do was get Amanda in on one call so we could share the blame and the situation wouldn’t be too bad. But, I figured, I was already down Shit Creek without a paddle, so I might as well enjoy more sex talk.

Did I know why? No.

Did I care why? No.

And so every chance we got for the next three weeks we called a 976 number. Amanda would get on the living room phone and I’d get on the kitchen phone. That way we could laugh with each other at the weird talk coming from the other line. Afterwards, we’d walk away blissfully unaware of anything the woman had been talking about.

I suppose we sensed real trouble at the arrival of a phone bill as thick as a T-bone steak. We were first home after school and upon picking up the weighty envelope, we silently agreed to bury it in the woods and never speak of it again. Unfortunately, my mother arrived home just then and intercepted the phone bill’s Hoffa-like disappearance.

My nostalgia brain editor has been pretty good at blocking out the shrieking, shouting, pleading, and begging that followed. I can’t imagine what was going through my mother’s mind, but she had to be questioning how she had raised two perverts in normal kids’ bodies. I only remember that we offered Mom any series of household chores, an exceptional level of study, anything, for her not to tell Dad. We were young, but we knew that we could negotiate with Mom. She was the level-headed one in the house, the one who could handle a tragedy like this in stride.

My dad was the opposite. His temper famously escalated like that of the incredibly Hulk and he was not exactly known for his calm handling of situations outside of his routine. When he came home that night whistling, we thought it might be OK. But when he stumbled upon the phone bill he quickly turned into the Hulk and the jig was up. Then came more shrieking and yelling that I can’t quite recall, except the gleeful look on my other two siblings faces. They were too young to know what was going on, only that they were not the ones in trouble. So all was well.

Amanda and I were confined to quarters for the better part of a month. There was no television, no after school activities, no weekend fun. If we even looked at a phone, we were glared at with such pure anger that he would run outside screaming. I felt bad about bringing my sister down with me, but this guilt abated as we stumbled into our teen years into what was later known as the Great Teen Wars of 942 Edgewood Lane.

I feel nostalgic about that time, even if it did cause me trouble. I am sitting here now, remembering phones that attached to walls, phone bills that came in the mail, envelopes, televisions with less than 500 channels, bad daytime television, and non-internet porn. I am also remembering when getting into trouble meant trouble with your parents, being grounded meant going to bed without meals, and no Family Ties or Cosby Show. And all was forgiven eventually.

All in all, not a bad Throwback Thursday.

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