Wednesday, January 24, 2007
Answering Machine Blues
“Earth to Sage, Earth to Sage, you got a call down here on line four, over.”
“Earth, this is Sage, I can’t take it right now, how about have them leave a name and number and I’ll call them back when I swing in on a lower orbit, over.”
Roger Sage, we’ll take care of it.
“Will the party calling Sage please leave your name and number after the beep and he’ll get back to you, thank you.”
This dialogue was on my answering machine back in late 1985 and early 1986. Playing in the background was a recording of Richard Strauss’ “Thus Spake Zarathustra”(that’s also the theme for “2001: A Space Odyssey”). I recorded my parts of the dialogue through a paper towel roll to give it a distant sound. It was great.
Of course, my boss at the time didn’t think it was too great. The messages didn’t sound professional enough for him, and since my office was in my house, he thought they were inappropriate. Since I was paying for the phone line and the answering machine, and my messages weren’t vulgar, I didn’t think he had the right to complain. But he did. I was working for the Boy Scouts at this time. One of the richest men in the region, who was also running one of my fundraising campaigns, called my house one day. He laughed so hard I could hardly make out his name. Then he called back several times, so that his secretary and others could listen. When we were discussing the message on my machine later, I quietly suggested he tell my boss how funny he thought they were. I don’t think my boss appreciated his humor nor did he care to be set up by me.
When the Space Shuttle Challenger blew up, all a sudden I found my answering machine sounding disrespectful. I erased it and tried another tack.
“This is Sage. I can’t talk to you at the moment because I have laryngitis,” I mumbled weakly. “If you leave your name and number, I’ll call you back when I can talk.” About a week later, I came down with the worst case of laryngitis in my life. I’d call people back and they’d say, “I thought you were kidding, you really do have it.”
It should have bothered me that I was getting a strong track record as a prophet, but I didn’t let it get to me. Instead, after I got my voice back, I got even bolder and recorded another message. “This is Sage. I am sorry that I am not able to come to the phone. At this moment, I am incarcerated. If you leave your name and number and a brief message, I’ll call you back as soon as I make bail or bust out. If you would like to contribute to the Sage Legal Defense Fund, you may send your checks to PO Box XYZ.”
I knew this one was pushing the envelope a bit. Shortly afterwards, someone called the council office to complain. The next time I was in town (the council office was in Gastonia), my boss called me into his office and gave me an ultimatum. I had to remove the silly recordings because someone had complained to him. I argued back, but to no avail and went home and changed the message to “I’m not here: you can leave a message if you like.” The good Lord must have been on my side, for a day or two later a thunderstorm came through and a lightning bolt struck a neighbor’s tree and fried my answering machine. As I knew I was going to be resigning soon to go to grad school, I kept making excuses for not getting an answering machine until after I’d given my notice. By then, no one cared.
Before I left, my boss’ secretary pulled me aside to tell me that that lady who complained about my answering machine probably had every bit of a fifth grade education. She called yelling, “I know what incarcerated means, why do you have someone working for the scouts in jail?” I suppose she assumed that I set up my answering machine with the one call they let me make before slamming the cell door.
After I left the ranks of Professional Scouts in the late summer of ’86, I never bothered to get creative with my answering machine. Today, if you call my house, you’ll get the computer telling you to leave a message. That’s appropriate, since most messages left are from other computers telling me about some kind of great deal they have to offer. I’d say, let the computers talk, but then wasn’t taking computers where humans got in trouble in “2001: A Space Odyssey”?
The only other option for my answering machine would be Karl Kastle’s voice (I’m not sure of the spelling, it may be Carl Castle or some variation thereof, but it doesn’t matter because he’s on radio and no one can read the credits). If you win one of the silly games on the NPR show “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me,” one of the prizes is to get his voice recording on your home answering machine. Karl reads the morning NPR news. Having his voice on my machine would be cool, or would that be kool?