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As if life wasn't hard enough, the phone company is now out to make it harder.

We already have computers in charge of cash registers so that buying a candy bar takes longer than it does for the GOP to pass a tax-cut bill for the rich.I have waited as long as 10 minutes while a hapless clerk punches in 23 keys on a recalcitrant register in vain hopes of getting the drawer to open so that she can take the cash I'm offering for a shirt.

Soon, the manager is summoned. Another clerk shows up. They huddle and confer. The sun sets, and the shirt I'm trying to buy goes out of style as I wait. This is the ultimate in planned obsolescence.

Not wanting to be left out, the phone company, which is an all-purpose term covering everything from Ma Bell to Joe Bob's Cut-Rate Long Distance, now requires us to dial the area code on all long-distance calls. Our phone system here at the paper has three-digit, long-distance access codes that have to be punched in at the end of the number.

There are ample reasons for this numeric explosion, mainly having to do with the proliferation of cellular phones, fax machines, beepers and computers with phone lines. I am not sympathetic. Those are four items that will eventually ruin this country.

The other day, somebody from the paper called me on the car phone to tell me something. I was in the newspaper parking lot, talking on the phone to someone who was about 45 feet away. Talk about reaching out and touching someone.

Fax machines are the bane of my existence. Our machine hates me and locks up every time I get close to it. I spend about 30 minutes a day answering the phone from people who want to know if I got their fax. I spend another 30 minutes asking other people if they got my fax.

I refuse to wear a beeper, and don't get me started on e-mail. I have gotten e-mail from people who are asking if I got their fax. Then they have to call me to see if I got the e-mail that asked if I got their fax.

Now, Ma Bell, hoping to up the ante, wants to overlay one area code on top of another in Houston and Dallas. The phone company is running out of numbers there. Rather than split up the existing area codes, as they've done in the past (and I still bear a grudge over that), they want to just mix two codes in each area.

If the state lets them do it, that means someone in Dallas with two phone lines may have one with one area code and one with another. It means Dallas and Houston residents will have to dial the area code to call the pizza place down the street to get a jumbo pepperoni delivered.

I don't live in Dallas or Houston, thank goodness. But, ascribing to the camel's-nose-under-the-tent theory, I can see this happening here soon. I am agin it.