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Columns / Short Stories
Shep was always writing. . .
Last Update: 11-02-2016
September 28, 1988


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One day, Schwartz and I got this great idea from reading Bo1 s Life. Schwartz was my buddy, who lived across the street. "Wouldn't it be great, Schwartz?" I said, as we examined the diagram in the magazine. "Wow!" was all Schwartz could say. The article was truly exciting. It was called "How to Make Your Own Telephone." As we walked home from the library, where we always read Boy's Life, since neither of us had the money to subscribe to the magazine, we talked it over. "All you need is some old earphones, and some wire," I said. "I can't believe it works," Schwartz, the skeptic, answered. "Come on, Schwartz. If it's in Boy s Life, it's gotta be true!" Schwartz had no answer to that. "My Dad has some old earphones in the basement," Schwartz said after a pause, with a note of rising excitement in his voice. "Let's make our own telephone, Schwartz. Boy oh boy, just think how great that'll be. And we won't tell anyone." We ran home, dogs barking in our wake. \A/hen you are eleven, you can run all day and afterward build a telephone system. We met in back of Schwartz's garage. He had his Dad's earphones, and I had a roll of wire that my Dad had left over from making an aerial for the radio. Basements were great in those days. They held all kinds of stuff like that. We followed the instructions carefully, and with frenzied hands we hooked the earphones to the wire and then to a water pipe. I stood thirty feet away, holding my earphone. I put it to my ear. "This ain't gonna work." I heard Schwartz clearly and distinctly. I went bananas. Alexander Graham Bell's Mister Watson had nothing on me. Schwartz cheered and yelled, "I can't believe it! " into his phone. It almost blew my ear off. Good old Boy's Life. The next day, a Saturday, Schwartz and I went to work on our phone system. His parents were out visiting his aunt and uncle, and my parents had conveniently gone shopping for the day. At incredible risk to life and limb, and using my father's ladder, we strung the wire from the peak of Schwartz' roof across the street, and then ran the wire down, carefully hidden in the eaves, to our respective bedrooms. I hooked up my phone to the wire and to a steam radiator in my bedroom. Schwartz did the same across the street. "Can you hear me, Schwartz?" "Wow-eel It's like you're right here. Holy smokes!" Thus began the most exotic and exciting era of my life. Night after night, Schwartz and I crouched in our pitch-black rooms after everyone else was in bed, and talked on and on until three or four in the morning, when we would drop from exhaustion, only to do it the next night. Our eyes grew hollow from lack of sleep. but on we talked. Week after week, our families had no idea that this was going on. Our wire in the sky was almost invisible to the naked eye. Then disaster struck. Without warning, as it often does. We were all sitting innocently at the dinner table when there was a knock on the front door. I didn't suspect a thing. My father returned to the kitchen almost immediately, his eyes afire. "There's a cop here who says we've got a wire across the street." He looked right at me when he said it. 'And he says I have to pay a fifty dollar fine." "Why?" I asked. "Because it's illegal to put a wire across a city street, that's why!" An identical raid was going on at Schwartz' house. We were both in deep trouble. Thus ended our Magical Telephone. Sometimes I still miss it, even after all these years. What is there about a secret telephone in a dark bedroom, with your friend's voice coming out of it, with no one else to hear or know? Ever since, I have had a private love affair with the telephone. Schwartz, wherever you are, I'd love to call you on my earphone. Just once more. Humorist Jean Shepherd is an author, an actor, and the filmmaker who created 'A Christmas Story. "

Copyright: 1988 Time Magazine


December 1925
Boys Life

January 1936
Boys Life