There’s a phone booth that used to stand in the Mojave Desert, 8 miles from the nearest paved road, 15 miles from the nearest numbered highway, miles and miles from any buildings. It’s telephone number was (714) 733-9969. The booth was eventually removed, but there had been a time in the 1990s in which a man, who claimed direction from the Holy Spirit, camped at the booth for more than a month, answering the calls that came in each day (more than 500 in all).
A movie was made, Mojave Phone Booth, one of the most tragically comic films I’ve ever seen. I sat for a screening at the Boise International Film Festival, a screening punctuated with loud laughter as audience members connected with the painfully funny moments of space-alien paranoia, a botched suicide, an out-of-work administrative assistant sucked into a lucrative ménage-a-trois, a desperate man who breaks into his girlfriend’s car and steals her stereo system (four times) in an attempt to convince her that she’ll be safer living with him.
It’s not that people in Boise, Idaho, are weird enough to have shared similar experiences. Instead, these impossibly strange scenarios perfectly illustrated the common American phenomenon in which we long for intimacy while resisting commitment. The phone booth in the desert – a kind of secular confessional – gave many of these characters their only meaningful (and vulnerable) human connection.
In the movie, there was a woman on the other end – an older, English-accented lady with a fondness for Canada – who several times a day placed calls to the booth and spoke with whoever answered. She listened to them. She asked questions. Sometimes she offered advice. In the movie, she had started calling the booth seven years earlier, seeking to connect with someone, anyone. Instead, she discovered a calling in listening to the problems of those on the other end.
While watching this film, I was overcome by the work of God reflected in the care offered by this woman, her continued calls, her endless patience with and for the pain of others, her love for a people stranded in the desert, looking for direction.
her love for a people stranded in the desert, looking for direction