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My Bodyguard, My Answering Machine

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WHENEVER a telephone rings in my house, it sets off an outbreak of reflexes that would put Pavlov's dogs to shame. I have a need to answer telephones. I have to know who's calling, even if it's someone selling me storm windows. If I'm not bolting for the phone as if it were my only link to the outside world, I'm trying to figure out ``Jingle Bells'' on the Touch-Tone. Only wet-paint signs have the same kind of allure.

Recently, however, I have been having second thoughts. I find myself on some occasions dancing madly around the room with my hands clasped tightly over my ears, singing loudly to drown out the sound of a ringing phone.

I hope it gets easier.

Increasingly I find I'm not always in the mood to answer the telephone. I want privacy: to finish a chapter in a book, a hot meal, a bath. The ringing phone becomes like junk mail. Sometimes I just don't want to be bothered.

I have a similar relationship, in fact, with my mail. As a free-lance writer, I have unwittingly established a daily (and somewhat piteous) grind of anticipation/disappointment around the arrival of the mailman. Like the telephone, the sound of his truck - which I can now distinguish from all other vehicles, right down to what key his brakes squeal in - triggers a response deep in my being.

Also, as with the telephone, I am generally disappointed. The mail, as a rule, does not bring plum assignments, announcements that I have won the drawing for a free trip to Maui, notes from people who were just thinking of me, or offers of money with no strings attached. More likely it brings bills, coupons, or mail for the woman who used to live here.

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