Writer pens ode to 100th Street phone booth
By Reid Spagna
Born in Pittsburgh, Peter Ackerman received a Bachelor’s degree in English from Yale and attended The American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco to study acting. Among other works he is the co-author of Ice Age and Ice Age 3.
The writer met his wife when she starred in his play, Things You Shouldn’t Say Past Midnight. The couple settled down on West End Avenue and has two sons.
Most recently, he is the author of The Lonely Phone Booth, his newly released children’s book.
The story portrays one of four remaining phone booths in Manhattan, located on the northwest corner of West End Avenue and 100th Street. An analog victim in a digital world, the booth loses its grasp on the neighborhood as “shiny silver objects” capture the ears of passing pedestrians.
Currently working on an animated feature for Universal Pictures, Ackerman recently took time to discuss The Lonely Phone Booth, his writing career and the changing culture of New York City.
Our Town: Why did you choose the 100th Street phone booth to be the subject of your book?
Peter Ackerman: The story came about a couple of years ago when my younger son was three. We were walking by the booth, and he said, “Why is that phone in a box?” I realized that he had no idea; it seemed very funny to me.
What implicit messages did you aim to express with The Lonely Phone Booth?
Everything has value. Even though things are changing, it doesn’t mean that something we used to use is valueless. The phone booth is a metaphor for a human being. An older person can’t do everything that he or she used to do, but it doesn’t mean that they are valueless.
What is your most memorable phone booth experience?
In college, my girlfriend spent the semester in France. I would go to a particular phone booth and she would call me collect and I’d accept the charges. We got away with this a few times, but one time, the operator broke in and said, “I know what you’re doing!” I was very panicked, and hung up the phone. It was a very dramatic moment.
What is the cultural significance of old phone booths?
There is a neighborhood feel to it. I’ve seen people in phone booths laughing, crying and yelling. You don’t exactly hear what they are saying, as they are enclosed in the booth, but in a weird way, you imagine all sorts of things about them.
You co-wrote Ice Age and Ice Age 3. How do you find a balance between entertaining children and adults, in both your book and the Ice Age films?
If you know that kids and adults are going to see something, you need to have themes that are simple and clear. I tend to write about things that are interesting to me, but I don’t try to talk down to kids.
Do your sons have any input in your children’s works?
When the book was still in gallery form, I read the book to my son’s class at P.S. 87 and made some changes to it based on certain words they couldn’t understand and the jokes that they thought were and weren’t funny.
What has writing The Lonely Phone Booth taught you? Does it make you notice new things about the city?
I feel alert to everything that is around me in the neighborhood. The truth is, I must have passed that phone booth a billion times with my kids, and I hadn’t thought about it. Then my son noticed how unusual it was, so I take more notice of things, great and small.
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