A Brooklyn Bookshop Owner on the Lost Art of the Phone Call
Maggie Pouncey has been impressing Jayna since 1992. That’s when Maggie moved from Amherst to New Haven and started her sophomore year at Jayna’s high school. She easily established herself as the funniest, smartest, coolest girl in the grade, emphasis on easily—shining just comes naturally to her. Today she is the writer and co-owner, with her husband Matt, of Stories, a children’s bookstore in Brooklyn that has become the absolute spot for the under-six set. For her Haystack Story, Maggie chose an item that’s as unnecessary now as it was essential then. Impressive, right?
What’s the star of your Haystack Story?
My high school telephone—a 1990s Large Number AT&T Desk Phone (now called a landline).
Do you still have it?
What did it look like?
It was a large phone made up of huge rectangular buttons that were fun to push, arranged in a grid. It had one of those curlicue cords you could wrap around your arm while you lay on your bed talking to your friends. I found it on pinterest!
Now I’d say it has a sort of normcore look to it, like oversized 80s glasses. In fact, it may have been designed for the visually impaired.
Why is it so perfect?
Words fail me when I try to describe how much I loved talking on the phone with my friends in middle school and high school. In part, because I can’t totally conjure that love anymore—like many people I know in this age of the smart phone, I dislike talking on the phone now, and rarely do it. That feeling when the phone rang throughout the house, and you were in another room but ran to get it, and it could be anyone but you had no idea who! Such possibility! And you had like 15 friends whose voices you could recognize simply from the word, “Hey.” And maybe because it had an actual cord it made you feel tethered to your friends in their other houses and you could picture them in their rooms, doodling, or painting their nails, as you chatted. I desperately wanted my own phone in my own room and when my mom finally gave in and got me one it felt like freedom, my secret world, a world of kids.
How does it make you feel?
It makes me feel romantic about my female friendships. It makes me remember a time in my life that was essentially an unending conversation with my female friends. There was so much to talk about. We were endlessly fascinated by each other, wanted to know what we felt about every single interaction we had with every person we saw, and we had so much time to talk. I had to finish my homework before I could call my friends and then I couldn’t talk after 10pm (though of course I was constantly sneaking calls and getting caught) so I had this window of what one might now call ‘me-time’ and it was dedicated to debriefing on the day with my friends. I remember my mom being utterly perplexed, saying, you just spent all day with these people, what more could there be to talk about? And thinking: how can she not get it? I still find my friends endlessly fascinating, literally I wish I could hear all the details of their subway commutes and their lunches, but we don’t have that kind of time anymore so we stick to bigger topics. I miss the minutia and the intimacy.
If this item could talk what would it say?
It could talk! That was the amazing thing. Talk and talk and talk and talk. It was a talking machine. But it was only your most favorite people talking just to you. How great is that?
When did you get it?
Who did you have a crush on back then?
I was always more the going-steady type than the crush type. There were a couple Petes, and a Rich who my mom thought a bad idea and called Rick. Jayna and I definitely both had major crushes on Ethan Hawke in Reality Bites (also Winona Ryder, of course).
What did your Friday nights look like?
I really do think of myself as an honest person—and to be honest my Friday nights involved a lot of deception. My mom was the strictest of our group of friends so I often had to come up with a lie, or a partial lie (a sleepover at Jayna’s, for example) in order to get myself to whoever’s party. There would be a furious flurry of phone calls—who was driving, where could 40s of malt liquor be procured, what should we tell Maggie’s mom?—and then often after all that we would schlep ourselves to the sketchy liquor store on Whalley Avenue, and to the party in whichever suburb for 40 minutes, and then bail, and head to the diner where we could just sit and talk some more.
If someone gave you $20 to spend, what would you have bought?
I could have bought so many things with twenty bucks back then! A perfect day with Jayna would have been: a visit to the Salvation Army to buy at least 5 pairs of enormously baggy corduroys, a trip to our favorite cafe (Koffee? With a K? And for some reason a question mark? Where one summer someone was stabbed) for a cup of tea, and we would still have had money left over for a pack of Camel Lights, which we would smoke out the window of her dad’s Jeep Cherokee on the way from one place to the next.
What show did you rush home to watch?
I was obsessed with soap operas. Also, My So-Called Life, while it lasted, was my extremely cathartic and necessary weekly cry.
What was your favorite snack?
I remember eating a lot of cereal from the box at Sara Einhorn’s house while we watched General Hospital.
What is one way in which you’re the same as you were back then, and one way in which you’re different?
I’m still obsessed with my female friends and think they’re the coolest people on earth. I have less enthusiasm for drama. And I think I work harder. Most of all my circumstances have changed quite a bit; notably, I was a kid then, and now I’m a mom. Often after my kids are in bed and before 10pm when I need to go to sleep, I’m so saturated from the day a mild aphasia has set in, so my ‘me-time’ goes to more silent pursuits. Whether it’s an illusion or not, or a product of our digital age, this time in my life is marked by the feeling that I don’t have time for anything. Now if I’m lucky I see my best friends once or twice a month for dinner and I always have the distinct feeling, if only this conversation could go on for, say, another 10 to 20 hours, we might get to cover everything.
Illustration by Marisa Balmori