“What did you do in school today?”
It was a Tuesday night in the early spring and I had spent the day arguing – unsuccessfully – that low income consumers should be automatically enrolled in the Phone Company’s “Lifeline” service and they should get additional services beyond local calling. The Phone Company’s lawyers didn’t agree; they wanted each customer to sign up and prove eligibility. And they were adamantly against any services beyond basic “dial tone”. I was edgy and tense and so I had put on my shorts and gone out for a run.
Eli, my seven year old son, had put on his roller blades and he was gliding along – a bit unsteadily – next to me,
“Oh we had a great day, Dad.”
“What did you do?”
“For lunch.” He said, “I had a sandwich a pack of potato chips and a carrot and a donut.”
“What sort of donut?”
“Dad,” he said’ “it had frosting on the top and on the bottom. It was a little hard but if you pushed you could go right through it and it was just like the inside of an apple pie when you bit it. It was really good.”
“And what did you do in the morning?”
“We had computer class. Say, Dad did you know that in Turkey they have this rule that a boy, a special boy, can be President of the United States for an hour and he can he do anything he wants.”
“Really? He can be President of the United States?”
“He can. And there is this place that you go and you say what you would do if you were president. Do you want to know what I said?”
“I said that I would lower all the prices for poor people by five cents. They would get poor cards. And so when they wanted to buy something they could get it. But they couldn’t get something like Nintendo 64 they could get food or books or a house or clothing.”
“Why is that?”
“They would have to have things that are simple things that you need.”
“And the way it would work is that you would go to this place where they have this rack with a hole in it and you could reach in and get five dollars and there would be a law that says you could only take five dollars and then when you used it up you could come back.”
“I get it.”
“And there is this machine that if you took eight dollars it would pick your pocket and wouldn’t let you get away.”
“You mean if you tried to take more than five.”
“Did you invent that machine?”
“Yeah.” He looked so proud of himself that he almost fell over.
“That’s a great machine.” I said.
“Wouldn’t it be cool?” He shook his head in amazement at the very thought.
“It would. You know your idea is sort of like something that I am working on.”
“What is that?”
“Well I am working on a project in the capital – where they make the laws – that would let people who are poor get a credit on their phone bill. Do you know what voice mail is?”
“How about call waiting?”
“No.” He said. ‟What’s call waiting?”
“That if someone calls you and you are on the phone when the call comes, your phones beeps a couple of times to tell you have a call.”
“And then you go on hold?”
“Good, that’s right. Anyway, some people are saying that voicemail and call waiting are extravagances and people shouldn’t be allowed to use their credits to get voice mail or call waiting.” I wondered whether he would know what credits meant.
He looked as if he was still with me so I went on. “And some of us are saying that they should be able to, cause for a mom who is working or trying to get a job she might need to get a message.”
He waved his arms. “Wait a minute, let me see if I have this straight. You get to use the phone for free if you are poor and then you … get to get messages….” He sort of petered out as he got to the end of the sentence.
“Sort of. Let me ask you this. Do you think that you should be able to get voice mail and call waiting if you were poor or are they an extravagance?”
“Dad I don’t know what an extravagant is.”
“Remember you were saying that you shouldn’t be able to spend poor dollars on Nintendo 64?”
“Cause it should be for things like food and books and stuff. Houses.”
‛Right. Do you think call waiting and call forwarding are like Nintendo 64?”
“I just think you should get them as part of having the phone.”
“Now you are talking.”
We came up to the house. I was still in the mood to run some more, but he was looking tired. I couldn’t tell if it was the skating or the making of public policy.
“Dad,” he said, “I am going to drop off here.”
“I will see you inside.”
He turned into the driveway and began skating down toward the house. I kept on running, but I wished that he was still with me. I wondered what he would think about automatic enrollment.
– Jay Duret