REMEMBRANCE OF PHONE NUMBERS PAST
“Remembrance of Phone Numbers Past” was a street performance evoking nostalgia from phone numbers. I performed as “Telephone Operator Loretta,” and was dressed as a 1940s telephone operator, complete with vintage headset. I connected passersby with the earliest telephone number that they remember. All callers were invited to leave a voice message to the past. This project evolved from my love of the old New York City telephone exchanges and from discovering a 1940 New York City telephone directory online at the New York Public Library.
During the performances, I positioned myself on street corners, where I had a vintage telephone with a microphone inside to record the messages to the past. Remembering an old telephone number is generational, and mostly older New Yorkers remembered the named telephone exchanges that also located the areas of the city where they lived, such as STuyvesant 9 and GRamercy 7, which were located in the area of 14th Street. The people who remembered these phone exchanges took great pride in remembering the numbers, the people and the neighborhoods attached to these phone numbers.
Most of the people who I encountered left messages to people from their past, often a deceased parent. After leaving a message to his father who had passed away, one caller said to me, “this was really cathartic.” Leaving messages to childhood homes and childhood friends was a recurrent theme, and a young woman started crying while leaving a message to her mother, who was selling their family home. People left messages to famous people of the past: W. Somerset Maugham, Kitty Carlisle Hart and two people left messages to Marilyn Monroe. Quite a few tourists left messages to relatives at home about their visit to New York City in such languages as Turkish, Finnish, Spanish and Portuguese. Others took the opportunity to complain to Mayor Bloomberg, and one person left a message to “the Old East Village,” talking of how the East Village has changed due to gentrification. One of the most original messages was a rap artist rapping about phone numbers of the past. The recorded messages can be found on my blog.