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   t e l e p h o n e    c a l l s

--- P A U L   C .  S H E R R

I am on The Print Out. How I got there, I don't know, but I am there.

The callers usually want money for political candidates from -- by last count -- eleven states other than Pennsylvania. They might want money or information about my most recent purchase of an automobile, about my having heard of the local or state police, about the local fire fighters, ambulance squad, little league, girl scouts, symphony orchestra, high school band, church, candidates for positions on school boards, politicos from the governor down to the township supervisor. Most such calls are annoying, coming at dinner time.

Some are recorded, requiring me to answer the phone and then wait while the tape catches up to me.

Others ask, "Is this an office?", causing me to smile because I know it will lead to a comical phone conversation. In order to protect myself and my sanity, I start a dialogue with the caller that proceeds in this or a similar manner.

Me: Harry Brown Speaking (voiced as if my last name were "Speaking").

Caller: did you say?

M: Harry Brown Speaking.

C: Oh, hi, Mr. Speaking. How are you tonight?

M: I don't know how he is. What number are you calling?

C: The number? Wait a sec till I check...672-3476.

M: You got the right number, but there's no Mr. Speaking here. Check your list. You might be reading the wrong line. Are you wearing bi-focals? If you are, you might need to have them checked, or, if you're not, perhaps you should wear them. We can check them for your needs at absolutely no cost to you. Hang on and I'll put you on to my secretary to arrange a convenient time for a free evaluation. Just hold, please. She'll be right with you.

C: What did you say your name was? I don't have a Mr. Speaking on my print out.

M: Well Ma'am, then your problem is obvious. You need a visual improvement device. This office makes available spectacles of single lens, bi or tri-focals, frameless, metal or plastic frames, glass or plastic lenses or contacts, soft or hard, and for the modern sophisticate, we have the finest in imported, European-styled monocles. Just h...

C: Wait a minute Mister, are you an office?

M: No, I'm an optometrist. Can I be of assistance?

C: goodness, what have I done. Dr. Speakman, I'm terribly sorry. I'm the office secretary, your secretary. I'm so weary from making these calls that I dialed our own number on line number three, the one in your house.

M: Sign out, Charlene. Sign out, go have a dinner on me and bring me the bill or leave it on my desk. Good night.


I allowed a wan smile to play about my lips, but I certainly felt like a wise-ass. What I have never been able to learn is whether or not a Doctor Speakman, or Speaking, Optometrist, actually exists, or whether the secretary, somebody's secretary, was quicker than my old head would admit.

About Your Radio

Me: Hello!

Caller: I'm sorry. (The voice of a 22 year old.)

M: Why are you sorry? What did you do?

C: I mean I didn't get your name.

M: I haven't named myself. What name would you like?

C: I'm calling Peter Brown.

M: How does your Brown spell his last name?

C: Uh...wait..I have to check. It's B-R-O-W-N...

M: That's the English spelling. My name is Braun, German spelling. I'm not a Peter. I'm a Harry. Harry Braun.

C: Hi Harry. My name's Michelle. I'm conducting a phone analysis of a person's use of the radio. Do you have a radio?

M: Yes.

C: What stations do you listen to?

M: Do you mean which station do I listen to? None, but where I live, somebody turns it on at eight a.m. and turns it off at six p.m.

C: Why?

M: Classical music during the day. Popular music at night. Somebody here likes classical music, as do I. Have you other questions?

C: What is the name of the station? The call letters?

M: W-O-V-E. Isn't that neat? They make me think that music is being woven every day into the fabric of my life.

C: Where is that station? It's not on my list.

M: Well, now. If you've never heard of W-O-V-E, and it's not on your list, why are you calling me?

C: Do you mind telling me how old you are?

M: I'm seventy seven.

C: Really, seventy seven? Well, I can't use you anyway. Please now, don't hang up. You don't sound seventy-seven to me.

M: Tell me Michelle, how does seventy-seven sound?

C: Well, you know. You should sound like an old man.

M: Michelle, I'm going to prove to you how old I am, right on this telephone, personally from me to you. Here's six appurtenances that will convince you: 1) I'm bald, 2) wear glasses, 3) have some false teeth, 4) LISTEN to YOU with my hearing aids, 5) have orthotics in my shoes, and 6) wear elastic stockings. Michelle, dear young lady, how old are you?

C: I'm twenty three.

M: Ah, how precious. Time was, Michelle. Time was, alas alas, but do call again sometime, but in the meantime, my name is George Martini, from the drink of the same title. (clik)

Hello there. Hello there.

I had a suspicion as I reached for the phone that the caller would be an acquaintance from time past, but my suspicion was unfounded. However, my talk with an unknown soon became a talk with a known.

Caller: Hello there.

Me: Where?

C: I said "hello there."

M: I asked where, and I now will add: what is where? Or should it be who is where?

C: Say, who is this?

M: This is the person whom you are calling, I guess. Whom are you calling? If you were calling There, there is no one here by that name. Wait a sec. The person you were calling, is There his first name or his last?

C: Say, who is that?

M: Well, will you please tell me whom you are trying to call. First you wanted There, then you asked for This, and now you've switched to That. With whom do you wish to speak?

C: I don't know his name.

M: How can I help you from here if you don't know whom you are calling from there?

That question was followed by silence, but I could hear her saying to herself, "Who am I calling Whom am I calling Who am I calling Whom am..."

C: Mister. Could I ask you a question?

M: I guess so. You've already asked me three or four. One more won't hurt, I guess. What's the question?

C: What's the difference between "who are you calling" and "whom are you calling?"

M: "Who" is a subject pronoun. "Whom" is the object pronoun. But the answer to your question doesn't matter because you do not know the person you are trying to call.

C: Why do you keep saying "whom are you calling?"

M: Tell me the person's name and I'll try to explain.

C: Wait. OK? I'm checking the list for the ones I'm supposed to dial. It's a Mr. Watts, a Mr. S. Watts.

M: Is his first name So? Like So Watts? Listen miss, what's his number? I mean miss, what--w-h-a-t is Mr. Watts telephone number.


C: I'm sorry mister. His phone number, somebody crossed it out. I wasn't supposed to call it. I'm sorry, OK?

M: Miss, no need to be sorry. No one would believe this call anyway. (clik)

Mr. Berlin

A life-long joy, playing the piano, has caused me to block off a corner of the basement as a studio to practice or play, or record, or check a speech. To intrude into my area, one needs to descend or call. Either intrusion annoys. For example, this one.

Caller: Good evening. Do I hear a piano?

Me: State your business. I'm busy.

C: Sorry Sir. I didn't mean to disturb you.

M: You've already done that. Now what do you want?

C: I intended to ask for some money, but I like that song you were playing. Was that you playing?

M: Yes, I play. That song is called "All By Myself," which I was until you intruded.

C: Oh, I know that song. It's Irving Berlin, right? I love old Irv.

M: How come you to know Berlin? I mean Irving, not the city.

C: I play too. I make certain to play with him every time I get the chance.

M: Play with him? Do you know him?

C: Personally? Of course not. He's dead. It's his music. It speaks like a live person. I imagine him sitting on the bench next to me. Sometimes I reach over and touch him on the fingers. It's ethereal.

M: You say it's ethereal. What: the touch or the music?

C: Both. It depends on the mood I'm in.

M: Can you select the mood you need, for example, to find him on the bench next to you?

C: Oh, that one I can do anytime. I play "Cheek to Cheek," and there he is right there. Did you know that he was a little fellow?

M: How little? Why did you say that, that something about his size when, according to you the song is the identifying element, not the person?

C: This conversation is more than ethereal. It's surreal.

M: This conversation is just gabbing. It has no objective, at least not yet. You called about money. Then you got on to a songwriter and his songs.

C: Well, you sounded so angry when I called that I thought I'd trick you into giving money if you got to like me. Do you like me?

M: Like you? I LOVE you, and for that reason I'm going to give you a tip. Get a copy of Irving Berlin's "I Love a Piano." They lyrics are more fun than the music. Together they contain a hidden agenda for all the amateur piano players in the "Good Old USA"


Why, I ask myself, am I engaging in this entertainment? Who should profit from these exercises? My hope is that "they" will tire of interrupting my dinner by taking me off "The List," the printout.

© crossconnect, inc 1995-2006 |
published in association with the |
university of pennsylvania's kelly writers house |