The Phone Call
The one step that truly changes the Narrator's life occurs after his apartment explodes. Inspired by the doorman who asks if he has anyone he can call, the Narrator goes to a pay phone and dials Marla's number, then hangs up when she answers. He then pulls out Tyler's business card and calls him. No one answers, but after the Narrator hangs up the pay phone, it rings again. Picking it up, he discovers Tyler on the other end. Tyler is rather loudly eating, potato chips probably, and asks who's on the line. After the Narrator refreshes his memory-- "the clever guy?"-- Tyler calmly asks, "So what's up?" The Narrator says, "You're not going to believe this..."
How does this scene change everything?
It is the Narrator's first voluntary step into Tyler's world. He rejects
the idea of asking for Marla's help, possibly because her life promises
to be too like the one that just blasted out of his condo window. Instead
he ends up turning to Tyler. A parody of 'The Matrix' occurs in this
scene, holding particular meaning. As the pay phone rings, the filming
technique mimics that used in 'The Matrix' when Tank and Dozer would
call the other rebels inside the Matrix to provide a gateway for them
to exit into the real world. Tyler's call serves the same purpose: It
is the means by which the Narrator leaves his comfortable, familiar
life for that of "reality," at least as Tyler sees it.
A asks, "does it mean anything that tyler never picks up his phone? and what exactly does it mean that when the Narrator talks to suicide-attemp marla on the phone tyler is practicing martial arts but when tyler picks up the phone to hear her die he just came in the house?"
My response to the first question was that I think it's just to add to the idea that Tyler never really existed... if someone had picked up the phone when the Narrator dialed, it would be harder to understand that he hallucinated it. But having the phone ring on its own would be easier to imagine. (Or maybe it was just that Tyler got a thrill out of talking about sixty-nining the Narrator. . . self-improvement and all that.) Re the second, I don't think that Tyler had actually just walked in; I think he just said that.