Columns » Bob Lancaster

Horn aplenty

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Ennui had me in its clutches last week so I rang up several of the communications giants and asked them to send over some telephone records that I could amuse myself with. They asked which ones and I told them it didn’t matter, just anything to pass time during the slow summer TV period, so they sent over an assortment of 300 or 400 million calls from their OAR (Ordinary Americans, Residential) stock. Plenty more where those came from, they said. But first I had to assure them that this was a matter of national security. I thought about it and decided the country just had to be better off with me eavesdropping happily and contentedly on your telephone calls rather than just sitting around morbid and gloomy, making cynical replies to the TV political ads for lack of anything better, so I said, Yeah, sure, in my opinion it was indeed a matter of national security and they said OK then. All it took was me signing a form giving them total deniability, which I didn’t mind doing because I didn’t know what it was. Something they wanted to be able to deny, I guess.

You’d think that many phone records would make a pile big as a mountain or Immanuel Baptist Church, but they didn’t. You could fit all of them onto a chip the size of a piece of dandruff or a small booger. Their small size made for easy storage and kept the neighbors from getting suspicious, but these are raw, unsorted files, and it’s been slow going looking for the juicy tidbits. I mean, at least 100 million of them are telemarketing calls, and those always start and end the same dreary way — with somebody lying and somebody else cussing and slamming down the phone, unless it’s a cell, especially one of those thin, frail, tiny ones, whose owners, when they get fed up with telemarketers, tend to crumple them up like gum wrappers, to their immediate regret. What I mean, it’s the phone owners crumpling up their phones, not crumpling up the telemarketers, although they would like to do a little bit of that too.

Anyhow, now that you know that your private telephone conversations are fair game for everybody from bored newspaper assmunches to Condoleezza Rice, you might want to think about spicing them up a little. No, I’m serious. Your telephone calls are about as interesting as watching newsprint yellow. Might near all of them. I’ve been categorizing this big batch by subject matter — I know, I know, get a life — and just listen to these hot and heavy topics: Rashes. What time are we going to Wal-Mart? What the sermon was about and who it was directed at. What happened at the supermarket? How nobody else has ever suffered this way and this much. What’s got into the beautician? Pie. Pets. Trouble sleeping. Digestive disorders. Who’s the real culprit? Scuttlebutt at the gas pump. Stupid American Idol judges. Sinuses and other troublesome cavities. Dieting frustrations. Tools. Eccentricities of the near and dear. Self-diagnoses. Sot acquaintances. Uncouth visiting-team fans. School prodigies. Poop. Fish.

I don’t know what I was expecting. Maybe some titillating exchanges like Willard and Precious used to have. Spy outings. Velveeta odes, bungled 911 calls, transcripts from America’s deadliest car chases. Instead I get teen-agers in love who have run out of something to say but don’t want to hang up. So they say, OK, you can hang up now. No, I don’t want to hang up, you hang up. No you hang up. No you. No you. No you. And I finally just have to quit the damn thing before finding out which one hung up first. I give up on them when they start into the bit that has them agreeing to hang up at the same time, but neither of them does hang up, and one of them says, You didn’t hang up, and the other says, I didn’t hang up because I knew you wouldn’t. And the other says I was waiting to see if you’d hang up. And the other says … well, you know what the other says.

No wonder the president is so goofy, having to listen to this drivel every spare minute — strictly for purposes of homeland security, of course — and then go in and have a meaningful bedtime confab with that pine knot helpmeet of his. I couldn’t do it. The veep has to take his turn listening in, too, I understand, which explains why he’d have to go out occasionally and shoot some old lawyer-birdhunter in the face.

My favorite so far in this batch of records is an ol’ boy’s call to the little woman telling her he’d caught a world-record perch in the stockpond on the “ranch.” She says, A perch? A red perch or a goggle-eye? What kind of perch? And he says, A regular old perch perch. And she says regular old perch perch don’t get that big, hon. And he says, A perch that got hit with atomic radiation like those 1950s movie ants would be that big. And she says, Lying about a perch. Good Lord, Puddin’, has it come to that?

You’ll recall they “anonymize” these phone records before releasing them, so I don’t know who these arguers over a mythical giant panfish might be. Can’t even imagine.

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