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Upper West Sider Pens Tale of the 'Lonely Phone Booth'

By Leslie Albrecht

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

UPPER WEST SIDE — Writer Peter Ackerman was walking past the phone booth on the corner of West End Avenue and West 100th Street with his then 3-year-old son Alvin a few years ago when Alvin asked, "Why is that phone in a box?"

The question inspired Ackerman to write the children's book The Lonely Phone Booth, published last month by publishing house David R. Godine.

Ackerman, 39, says he was startled when he realized his son had no idea what a phone booth was. It wasn't too long ago, he thought, that phone booths were an essential part of daily life.

Ackerman says some of his most important memories are tied to phone booths. For example, when he won his first acting part in a New York show, he rushed to the nearest phone booth to call his mom.

Today there are just four outdoor phone booths left in Manhattan, all on West End Avenue, said Verizon spokesman John Bonomo.

A blog called Payphone Project features photos of the nearly-extinct booths.

"It feels like we're on a historical cusp," Ackerman said. "I thought, at some point, these won't exist, and it would be nice to immortalize that this existed."

The Lonely Phone Booth is told from the phone booth's perspective, in the tradition of classics such as Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel and The Little Red Lighthouse.

The illustrations by Max Dalton are in a jaunty style similar to the 1960 book This is New York.

In the story, the phone booth watches with dismay as the people who once used it suddenly start passing it by, pressing "shiny silver objects" to their ears.

"What would it be like to be the phone booth, and have this great value in the community, but  then one day you don't?" Ackerman said.

"You imagine the phone booth saying, "I'm a phone booth! I used to be really important!"

In The Lonely Phone Booth, a sudden storm knocks out power and cell phone reception, and people are forced to use the phone booth again.

In the end, the community rallies to save the phone booth from being carted off to the dump.

Ackerman, a screenwriter who co-wrote "Ice Age" and "Ice Age 3: Dawn of the Dinosaurs," lives not far from the lonely phone booth.

He says he hopes his book inspires others to save it.

"The phone booth can't speak for itself," Ackerman said. "A community can all speak for something."

That's happened before.

Verizon kept the phone booths along West End Avenue at the request of a local resident in the 1980s, Bonomo said.

Verizon has no plans to remove the booths, but Bonomo said maintaining the booths could become more difficult as fewer manufacturers make replacement parts for them.