Monday, March 20, 2006

Fingers do the walking Chicago Sun Times

Neil Steinberg of the Chicago Sun Times did his annual analysis of the AT&T Yellow Pages which began distribution this week.

Fingers do the walking

So you're digging a pool in the backyard and, darn it, you uncover the ruins of an ancient Mayan temple. What to do? You might phone up Archaeological Research Inc. at 4147 Ravenswood, and ask them to send somebody over with a whisk broom.

You don't have much of a choice -- it's the only company listed under "Archaeologists" in the 2006 AT&T Yellow Pages. The new edition isn't officially out for another couple weeks, but in honor of my Fifth Biennial Review of the Yellow Pages -- time flies, doesn't it? -- they sent me an advance copy.

I suppose the phone book itself is something of an artifact, if not a relic -- you can look up any phone number you need online. But you have to know what you're looking for to find a number online; there isn't the joy of discovery, of wandering through the book's tissuey corn-colored pages.

For instance. Who knew birds were such a problem? But they must be -- nine companies listed under "Bird Barriers, Repellents and Controls," including ABC Advanced Bird Control and Bird-X.

There are also, coincidentally, nine dairies, but only three philosophers.

Oddities abound, like Irene's Unisex at 4425 S. Archer Ave., which is listed under "Bullet-Resistant Equip." Maybe they use a lot of hairspray.

Cantor Fitzgerald is listed 66 times under "Clergy" with 66 different phone numbers. I phoned the first dozen, hoping to find out if it was the investment firm or a rare rabbinic singer with an Irish last name -- but all were disconnected.

The Yellow Pages continue shrinking
-- 1,661 pages this year, not counting all the pages of coupons and maps and assorted froufrou. That's down from 1,750 in 2004 and 1,870 in 2002.

But don't blame lawyers -- they're holding their own: 145 pages of lawyers, down from 167 pages four years ago (for some reason, I ignored lawyers two years ago and didn't count them).

Ignoring them must have taken some doing because a good many of the law ads are the graphic version of standing on a chair and shouting. "NO FEE UNTIL WE WIN" Lane & Lane announces confidently. "We Have Collected Millions of $$$'s For Our Clients" says Charles J. Gale.

Lawyers tend to run lists of the types of woes they represent -- "Dog Bites," "Hit & Run" and the like, and some display a certain cunning. "SKI ACCIDENTS," Cirignani Heller & Harman shouts. "Collisions. Lift Injuries. Equipment Failure. Improper Slope Design."

Improper slope design?

The Yellow Pages can never figure out where to stash its prostitutes: nine pages' worth are under "ESCORTS," but some are hanging around street lamps under "MASSAGE" and "ENTERTAINMENT." They go for vague ads -- the service is, after all, illegal, but with names such as "Dorm Girls" and "Satin Seductions," it isn't difficult to figure out what's going on. Allure Female Escorts shows which credit cards it accepts and promises "Discreet Billing," but I can't imagine that working very well in the average household: "What, honey? This $800 charge for 'services'? That was, umm, the chiropractor."

Most businesses limit themselves to a single ad, but for some reason, the Jade Dragon Tattoo parlor on Belmont Avenue has seven full pages of ads -- more than any other establishment. The tattoo business must be booming.

There's a strange bit of graphic business on the front of the new edition that I want to draw attention to, for cultural historians. On the lower right side, there is a faux computer desktop offering "MAPS" "LINKS" "NEWS" and a little tilted arrow, as if you could click on something. The area is plugging, which I imagine will someday do away with the need for distributing bulky directories.

But not yet. The phone book people claimed that they have been busily updating the book, but I was pleased to see it retain some of its charming anachronisms. Music stores are not listed under "COMPACT DISCS" -- they're listed under "RECORDS." The Berghoff is still at 17 W. Adams in the new book, and I was pleased to find an even more mysterious phantom: a ghost F.W. Woolworth's listed under "VARIETY STORES" at 1134 W. Bryn Mawr. The number rings and rings.


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