Some years ago I noticed a newly installed payphone outside a coffee shop on Broadway in Astoria. Payphones, even 6 or 7 years ago when this occurred, were typically being removed from service, not placed anew.
I picked up the handset of this Astoria payphone and wouldn’t you know it: No dial tone. Probably the first new payphone in Astoria in years and it was out of service right away.
I hung up the phone.
It started ringing.
Can a phone with no dial tone receive incoming calls?
The synthetic, chirpy sound of the ringing payphone faintly penetrated the street noises, inviting me to answer.
I picked up and said hello to a youngish-sounding woman. “This number just showed up on my phone,” she explained. I replied “This is a payphone. Someone must have tried to call you from here.”
“Who could it be?” she asked.
“I have no idea,” I responded.
She spoke quickly. I couldn’t hear her every word, but somehow she segued from the missed call to loneliness. She said she was lying in bed after waking from a “delicious dream”.
I was not seduced by this seemingly scripted, insincere encounter. Her delivery broke down. She became irritable.
I said nothing unkind. Offering to let the phone handset hang there, I suggested someone else might pick it up and talk to her.
Her voice, initially soft and coy, became sharp, and hard. She uttered obscenities. Through the phone I heard a man’s voice, yelling. A terrific racket erupted, as if dozens of pots and pans had fallen from a shelf.
The call ended.
I may never know what was going on that night. Was it a sting operation? A hooker’s unusual gambit for finding new customers? Reality TV programmers trying to trap passers-by into some sort of humiliation?
A week later the payphone was gone.