Matthew Simmons

from A Jello Horse

The House of 2000 Telephones is on a residential street in a small town in the tip of northeastern Kansas. It was set up by a civic-minded citizen intent on making an attraction more important than The House of 1000 Telephones in southwestern Kansas.

It has two other distinctions: it is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week except for Christmas day, and every single phone in The House of 2000 Telephones works and is a separate line.

When you walk into The House of 2000 Telephones, some of them are ringing. At any one time, says your guide to The House of 2000 Telephones, at least a dozen of them are ringing. We never answer them as they are all wrong numbers. Not a single one of the phones in The House of 2000 Telephones is listed. We don’t even know what they are, so we never give them out. No one ever calls The House of 2000 Telephones on purpose.

That’s very interesting, you tell the guide.

While you are here, says the guide to The House of 2000 Telephones, feel free to look around at the many different styles we have collected over the years, and please, feel free to answer one or two of the calls. We only ask that you do not tell them that they have reached The House of 2000 Telephones. Pretend you are answering your personal phone. Tell them they have the wrong number. And after that, see if they would like to talk.

You walk around The House of 2000 Telephones and look at each one. They all have cards, explaining what kind of telephone they are. Here is an art deco design, a black phone with a rotary and a large handset. Here is a vintage candlestick phone with an earpiece like a saltshaker and a wide blower. Here is a rotary payphone, and its return is empty. A card taped to the phone says: Everybody checks. Don’t be ashamed. Here is an old Mickey Mouse phone. Here is a pushbutton wall phone in pea soup green. Here is a yellow slimline.

Some have a second card, too. One says: In June of 1987, a man answered this phone and spoke to a woman for two hours. They were married months later.

One says: In January of 1994, a man answered this phone and talked a teenager out of suicide.

One says: In August of 1982, a woman answered this phone and spoke to then President Ronald Reagan about Iran because he believed he had called his Secretary of State.

One says: In September of 1990, a woman answered this phone and spoke to a stranger for an hour, and discovered that the stranger was—quite likely—her biological father.

One says: In October of 1985, a man answered this phone and spoke to someone who insisted she was Amelia Earhart and that the year was actually 1935, and that she was calling her mother.

One says: In May of 1999, a man answered this phone and heard someone speaking in a language that he was almost 100% certain was not human, as it sounded to him like whale song.

One says: As far as we know, this phone is the only one we’ve never heard ring in our years of operation.

You walk through The House of 2000 Telephones, and look at a phone shaped like a football, a phone shaped like a Smurf, a phone shaped like a penis (in the Adults Only, Please room), a phone shaped like a mini-phone booth, a phone shaped like an apple, a phone shaped like a tornado carrying a house into the air. There is a green donut handbag phone, and a blue donut handbag phone, and a red donut handbag phone. There is a room of princess phones. There is a room of phones used in crimes in one way or another—a Rogues Gallery of phones with cords that choked wives and husbands and mothers and snitches, phones that have dents and chips on the handset where they were used to bludgeon wives and husbands and fathers and snitches. Phones used to call bomb threats. Phones used in the commission of voter fraud.

You walk around looking at phones and sometimes they ring. A phone that looks like the red phone from the Batman TV show rings. A wall phone rings. An eggshell colored plastic phone with a round face and buttons rings and you pick it up.

Hey, says the person on the other end of the line. It’s me. It’s your brother. I thought you might still be out of town, he says.

Yes, you say, or no. I’m home now. It occurs to you that this is, in fact, your brother.

So, he says, I’ve been thinking.

I really think you should just move out here to Seattle. You don’t have a good job, he says. (He’s right. You work at an inbound call center.) You need medical benefits. There are more jobs like that here than where you are. You could be around us. (He is married.) Family. I think you’d like it. (He’s probably right. You visited Seattle when he got married and liked it very much. It was green, and big. And also small. You could walk from place to place, buy a bicycle. The museums were bigger, and the neighborhoods diverse. Seattle is a nice place. You could go there.) Think about it when your lease is up, he says.

I will, you say.

Is that a phone ringing, he asks.

Yeah, I think so, you say. Neighbors, you say, I should go.

Okay, he says, I’ll talk to you later.

You hang up and walk to the exit. The guide says, Did you talk to anyone interesting?

You say, Sort of.

Matthew Simmons lives in Seattle with his cat, Emmett. He is, among other things, The Man Who Couldn’t Blog.

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