July 28, 2016
Bat-signal: A North Dakota boy who needs a liver would be grateful for your phone books
by Ian Dreiblatt
Dwight K. Shrute once memorably said of the white pages, “Do you want it? No. Do you use it? no. Does it inexplicably show up on your doorstep three times a year? Yes, yes, and yes.”
But someone does want your old phone books: twelve-year-old Alex Leach of Enderlin, North Dakota, a rail town of fewer than 400 households. In a recent story by Amy Unrau of Fargo, Minnesota ABC affiliate WDAY, Candi Leach, Alex’s mom, remembers:
He wanted something to read and we didn’t have anything for him to read, so we gave him a phone book. He was like, ‘okay.’ And he didn’t put it down for three days.
It just kind of takes his mind off everything that’s going on and happening and concentrate on something else, other than this whole mess than we got to deal with.
Everything that’s going on is, alas, a lot for twelve-year-old shoulders to bear. As a baby, Alex received a liver transplant and had much of his large intestine removed. Since then, he has been healthy, until recently. A sudden downturn in his condition requires another liver transplant, and an intestine transplant. He’s on a waiting list, but, heartbreakingly, will not be eligible for a transplant until his condition worsens. “I don’t want to see him get sicker, and that’s the hardest part for me,” his mother said.
To take his mind off things, Alex pores over the names and numbers in the phone books he collects. This, to be clear, is awesome. Phone books are special things: they have risen from interesting beginnings, through an eventful century-and-a-half, and now they’re finally being phased out in earnest. They exist in a huge range of styles, and are, of course, full of information, a catalogue of intriguingly undetailed lives. Alex would probably get along with a guy like Georges Perec, or Umberto Eco, who once wrote, “Whenever I’m asked what book I would take with me to a desert island, I reply, ‘The phone book: with all those characters I could invent an infinite number of stories.’”
Alex’s family invites anyone who wants to send him a present to mail him phone books care of WDAY :
301 8th St South
Fargo, ND 58103
Alex is especially interested in receiving phone books from the nearby town of Valley City, ND, Philadelphia (adoptive city of North Dakota hero and Philly Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz), Alaska, and Lisbon (no word on whether this is the neighboring village of Lisbon, ND, or the Portuguese capital; best to err on the side of caution and get him copies of both).
Ian Dreiblatt is the director of digital media at Melville House.