Once upon a time, back in the 1980s and 1990s, Newsday had a regular column penned by a journalist named Marilyn Goldstein. The name of the column featured three numbers that literally connected all of Long Island: 516.

Yes, though Long Islanders were divided into two counties, we were safe in the knowledge that any call involving Nassau and Suffolk was a local call, with one area code that was established in 1955.

It was only a matter of time before we ran out of 516 telephone numbers — hence, 1999 brought us the introduction of 631 for Suffolk, which then got 934 in 2016. (Note: I have never met anyone with a 934 area code. Then again, I don’t have many friends.) Suffolk residents reacted with horror just before the turn of the century. “I do not want 516 yanked away from me! How come Nassau gets to keep it?”

Adding salt to this wound was that people in Suffolk would have to dial a 10-digit number, including the area code, even for local calls. 

Today, we have reached another numerical inflection point. Nassau will soon exhaust the 516 combinations, necessitating a new area code, 363. I wonder whether this change will further divide Long Islanders while simultaneously producing a sort of three-digit pride among those who still possess Long Island’s original 516 area code?

It also dawned on me that at the age of 65, there are few things that make me feel older than how our the use of the telephone (which itself sounds like an ancient instrument) has changed. Those in my general age bracket spent much of our lives using only a landline, phones that sat on desks and tables or were screwed into a wall. And that brings us to something so foreign to millennials that it belongs in a museum. Something that came before smartphones, flip phones, even push-button phones: rotary phones.

For those of us old enough to remember them, there is muscle memory that lingers in our index fingers for a time when “dialing” a number actually involved a dial. The rotation of that dial was preset. Do you recall how annoying it was when friends or family members had telephone numbers that included 9s and 0s? We had to wait a near eternity for that dial to come all the way around again. (That’s why I always questioned why 9-1-1 was the emergency number. Shouldn’t it have been 1-1-1?)

Furthermore, before call waiting, voicemail and answering machines, only three things could happen when calling someone. They would pick up, you would get a busy signal, or no one would answer. When I made a call, I would neurotically let the phone ring a dozen times before giving up. And then I’d call right back anyway.

Should you be placed on hold, you were tethered by a leash known as the “telephone cord.” They came in various lengths but guaranteed that you could not venture too far from the phone while waiting 45 minutes for a customer service rep to help you. If you actually wanted to finish some tasks while holding the receiver, you might’ve had to do a kind of “limbo” with the cord while risking possible injury.

Back then, we needed to memorize telephone numbers. There was no speed-dial or voice-activated dialing. Funny how I can’t recall what I had for dinner last night, but I can remember the phone number I had growing up in my North Valley Stream home.

I miss the simplicity of the tethered, rotary landline. We are now in a day and age when young adults — including my daughter — insist that would-be callers text before calling to assure availability. Apparently, these are the new rules. I also miss the tactile nature of rotary phones. So, much to the chagrin of my wife, I did something about it. I went to eBay and spent $125 for a mint condition, wall-mounted, lime-green rotary phone. And I splurged for an extra $25 to get the phone cord pre-tangled.

David Weiss,

Oakdale

YOUR STORY Letters and essays for My Turn are original works (of up to 600 words) by readers that have never appeared in print or online. Share special memories, traditions, friendships, life-changing decisions, observations of life or unforgettable moments for possible publication. Email act2@newsday.com. Include name, address, phone numbers and photos if available. Edited stories may be republished in any format.

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