Wrazz Wreviews: The Phone Book


2009-2010 Albany-Lebanon & Surrounding Areas
(The Local Pages of Oregon LLC)
3.5 stars

Yesterday saw the air-pocket WUMPH! of this year’s tome, and believe you me, it’s another corker in the only successful ongoing series to not feature a boy wizard and his puberty-stricken pals. Granted, naysayers will bemoan its rote predictability (alphabetical listings, the usual maps) and its tendency to rely on an outdated organizational formula, but adroit and patient readers will be rewarded with astonishing secrets and slight alterations befitting this most complex exploration of humanity. After all, the phone book seems to quietly reason, how much do we truly change from year to year, aside from the usual influx of newcomers and the life cycles of local commerce? In this sense, 2009-2010 is a most valuable tome, edited as usual with care and precision and presented in fetching tones beyond the blase white/yellow contrast of our youth.

As always, the introductory blue section is alternately a familiar delight and a reminder of who to contact when our sewers belch bilge into our manicured lawns. Of particular interest to your faithful skeptic was the “Area Code & Time Zone Map,” helpfully stretched across two pages for maximum edification. I found myself nostalgically navigating previous area codes (503, 562, 818, and 310, if you’re interested; the first formerly covered the entire state of Oregon until the mid-’90s) and becoming reacquainted with the oft-neglected Mountain and Central areas, whose rugged monikers filled me as a child with awe and envy, specifically as they applied to television schedules. “Tonight!” an announcer would intone way back when, “It’s a city under siege, with no backup to separate law and order from chaos and hell. All bets are off! It’s an explosive Sheriff Lobo, 9 p.m. Pacific, 8 p.m. Central and Mountain.” I didn’t understand what made our neighbors so special that they got to watch my favorite programs an hour earlier. As a result, I begged my parents to move our family to Colorado or even Alberta, for the cheap rents. Central and Mountain, you thought you were awesome, but you were so totally not!

Of less interest are the international codes; what reason would I possibly have to call Islamabad? Also useless: the 2009-2010 calendars — not enough space to pencil in your nephew’s coronation. But the minimal faults dogging the Blue Page experience are overshadowed by the helpful “Hard to Find Numbers” tab, although I must subtract several plaudits for not catering to me personally. Where are the numbers of old girlfriends or movie stars? However, I’m grateful for easy access to Homeland Security, should I decide to report my landlord’s monthly terrorist activities.

Speaking of activities, the exhaustive section also includes a hard-copy calendar (though no perforation for easy removal) of local events. I puzzled at the nonexistence of the traditional Timber Carnival and made a mental note to attend the Stand by Me Cruise-In & Sock-Hop in Brownsville this August 15, in hopes that Wil Wheaton will surface to repay, with accumulated interest, the 50 cents he borrowed for a Pepsi in the summer of 1985.

After the sparkling vivacity of their set-up, the Albany/Lebanon White Pages can only pale in comparison. They begin promisingly with the usual array of merchants vying for eyeballs from the lead-off spot; this year begins with A-1 Charlie’s Towing Service of Albany, followed by A-1 Coffee Service of Jefferson. These early entries provide intriguing fodder for personality studies. For instance, what compels proprietors and their services to stake the forefront? Market research? Brash confidence? In any case, there’s a certain nervy je ne sais quoi, a purposeful exposure that in many ways rivals the elaborate advertisements peppered throughout the book or the business names highlighted in yellow for insistent emphasis. A1, especially, implies unsurpassed excellence, and according to this year’s tome, my search for a reputable towing company, coffee company, and garage-door and gutter installers ends before it really begins, freeing the rest of my weekend to shop for a competent satellite television provider, which I locate easily in the adjacent column (A Advanced Satellite Television).

The residential listings are a brisk plod through characters both familiar and new. Among this year’s bombshells for longtime readers is the division of Alma and Clevon Merkin into separate addresses, which is unfortunate considering their former status as a phonebook staple (since 1974!) and the example they set for unrepentant romantics like myself. Also, the Behlmans have relocated from 25004 Broadalbin S.W. to 89972 Fulton St. S.E., affecting any offspring of school age. (One of the Local Pages’ most glaring liabilities is its lack of character depth; one laments the passing of the ’80s alternate edition, which listed children, their year of birth, and the homeowners’ respective vocations.) The section concludes with James and Irene Zylva of Lebanon, who unseat longtime epilogues Art and Kathy Zylp of Shedd. Reached for comment, Irene chirped, “Oh, yes, they called last night with their congratulations. Lovely couple, and Art’s a hellcat at canasta. We ‘bottom-feeders’ hit it off wonderfully, and we owe it all to that shrink-wrapped brick dropped on our doorstep.”

To compete with Switchboard.com, the Local Pages have audaciously added a reverse directory slathered in pink and brimming with all sorts of revelatory facts for the die-hard numbers freak. For instance, were you aware that a certain number in Lebanon connects you to both the Pearlmans and the Cumbersons? Or that one slip of the finger might find you conversing with Eric Quaite instead of the receptionist at Duncan Dental? Something to ponder the next time you assault your keypad with such reckless abandon.

The Yellow Pages open on a controversial note with “Abortion Alternatives,” a divisive hot-button issue that grips the reader immediately and tugs him through another 255 pages to the tongue-in-cheek “Zippers-Repair.” A subtle moral statement, perhaps, but a cunning full-circle summation, nonetheless. The section itself is divided by a separate white-page block devoted to restaurant menus, an addition likely appreciated by employees whose ears still throb from years of “ummmmm.” Efficiency is crucial in our breakneck, knockabout, easily distracted culture, and customers may now hail the Broken Yolk Cafe with requests at the ready: the 3rd Street Scramble, Triple-Decker Reuben Club, and a Yee-Hah for Vern.

Alas, the 2009-2010 directory cannot maintain this momentum, ending in anticlimactic fashion by covering snooty, whitebread Corvallis, which is akin to Iceberg Slim wrapping a gritty tale set in Harlem by jetting to Martha’s Vineyard. Indeed: while the Albany chapter begins delightfully working-class (A-1 Charlie’s Towing), the denizens across the bridge are introduced with the affluent shallowness of A 1 Auto Glass, as in “Wily Ted attempted to christen the windshield of my Beamer with a ’75 Barolo Vezza Riserva Piemonte at the Alumni Dinner.” The individual departments at Oregon State University are blessed with a smaller font size in an ageist scoff at older readers. Not to say the section isn’t without surprises: I was shocked to learn anyone in the coverage area would admit to family names beginning with “z,” that most uncouth of letters. But here they are, stretched over two-and-a-half columns, ending with Arvis L. Zbornak, whose voicemail begins, “You have reached the McMansion of academic/consultant/painter/poet/filmmaker/saxophonist Arvis L. Zbornak. I can’t come to the phone right now, as I’m at the country club skinning the flesh off proletarians. Please leave your name and number after the tone. However, if you earn less than $50K per annum, you will be disconnected posthaste.”

Class warfare lies at the heart of any phonebook, but frankly the division grows tiresome. However, as a convenient guide or disciplinary weapon for pets and children (the newspaper’s not so thick these days), 2009-2010 Albany-Lebanon & Surrounding Areas remains — at least for now — the yellow, blue, pink, and white standard for modern communication.


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