Rating the Suburbs 2013: Remember When

Dead Ringer 

Part of me is sad children growing up today won't experience the same fear I felt as a kid the first time I heard that one ghost story where the landline telephone is used for terrorizing effect. You know the one: A mysterious and creepy caller keeps ringing the baby sitter on the house phone asking if she's "checked the children."

Eventually, the baby sitter calls the police who trace the line only to deliver the terrifying payoff: "It's coming from inside the house!"

I know, it doesn't really hold up, but that's because the mystery surrounding a ringing telephone started to disappear with the advent of caller ID. The rise and dominance of the smartphone almost makes us forget it was ever there. And with vast numbers of families cashing in their landline for a family plan, a phone connected to the wall with a wire will soon seem as outdated as dialing a number by spinning a silver metal circle.

It is time to write the obituary for the landline. It was solid, it was trusty. Calls weren't dropped. Young children could easily be taught how to dial for help. It was a simple and solid design. It became part of our family. It's why a creepy story about someone using it for sinister purposes seemed so chilling once upon a time.

Nothing has really changed when it comes to placing a phone call, except for the aesthetics. But to me, the landline's golden age was when it still resounded with a sturdy, analog ring. Unlike its successor — the cordless phones of the '80s — there was no battery, no shrill chirp. There was just the sound of a bell inside a plastic case.

And while the iPhone has a decent impersonation of that classic ring, it's all synthetic sheen. The real one had a weight, a vibration, an echo that announced a mystery: Who's on the other end? There was only one way to ever find out.

No matter how convenient my smartphone is, no matter how cool it looks, my Samsung's sedate, almost-apologetic vibrate function will never be able to compete with that. // Jim Vickers

Frozen in Time 

I may not remember my first purchase from the neighborhood ice cream truck, but that sweet melody tempting and pulling me and my brother away from serious matters, such as getting to the next level of Tetris or interrupting Barbie and Ken's umpteenth walk down the aisle, is frozen in my brain to this day.

Hopping on our bikes or racing barefoot down the street (who had the time for shoes?) with those stacks of quarters hot in our little hands were some of the best unexpected moments of my youth. While I could never pinpoint when the ice cream man would show up blaring "Turkey in the Straw" or "Pop Goes the Weasel," I know I was always glad when he did, offering his vast array of cold refreshments to me, my brother and our friends.

And when it came to selecting just one of those prepackaged novelties from the colorful display lacquered to the side of the truck, it was one of the hardest decisions I faced.

My brother, on the other hand, always knew what he wanted without hesitation: the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle popsicle complete with bubble gum eyes. I wavered: Did I want the unusual, yet super-fun Choco Taco? What about the ScrewBall with the added surprise of two gumballs at the bottom of the plastic cone? Or was I feeling patriotic? Then how about the red, white and blue Firecracker? Oh, the agony.

Things are different now. I can drive myself to the grocery store, and I have the funds to buy unlimited Drumsticks whenever I want. I can even track the locations of local ice cream trucks on Facebook and Twitter.

But there's nothing like the luxury and

impulsiveness of hearing the harmonies of the ice cream truck streaming through your window on a hot summer day. The next time you hear it, don't fight it. Grab some change and celebrate your childhood. // Kim Schneider


On A Roll 

If you're not using toilet paper for its intended purpose, you're probably using it to communicate, which is weird. What makes this all the stranger is the message you're sending by toilet papering someone's house is entirely a matter of context.

You can use toilet paper to simply get back at someone, maybe the girl who agreed to be your homecoming date and then told you two weeks later she was going with someone else. Other times it's an on-the-whim prank fueled by souped-up youth and a warm summer night.

Often, it's used as a symbol of affection, like when underclassmen launch a cottony assault on the homes of their graduating seniors so everyone knows an athlete — a senior athlete at that — lives at the home. It's the one time you can challenge their superiority without the fear of any repercussions.

These are the sort of shenanigans that thrive among teens in the suburbs, and to be truthful, toilet papering is as thrilling as it is silly.

If you've ever taken part in a late-night TP campaign, you still remember it: The soft thud of rolls bouncing against houses, the rustle of the leaves as it sails past tree branches. You know you're doing something you shouldn't, wide out in the open of a neighborhood that has fallen into its nightly slumber — one that will be packed with kids and dogs and people who will see your
handiwork by morning.

Especially in this anti-bullying age, toilet paper in your front-yard trees is two-ply soft. (By the way, double rolls work best since it's going to last longer in that 30-foot maple.) It's a prank. No eggs, no foul.

Is it annoying, yes. But harmful, no. It signals to the rest of the neighborhood that somebody lives here. Somebody worth raiding your bathroom of its most precious commodity. Somebody worth piling seven kids into a Chevy Cavalier. Somebody you'll risk a vandalism charge for — or at least the embarrassment of getting caught and having to clean it up in broad daylight. // JV

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