John Boston | Rage Against the Answering Machines

John Boston
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I’m O.G. You know. Original Gangster? I hail from the ancient parenthesis when you wanted to leave a phone message with someone, you called. After the 347th ring, you figured your party was either hiding, dead or not at home. 

And you either called back later or vowed to catch up at the OLPH Catholic Barbecue. 

Under this system, nothing much of value imploded. 

Then, Cursed Technology reared its ugly head and the answer machine was invented. The early ones were the size of row boats and with tape cassettes the size of Bibles for the vision impaired. At first, people were shy about recording their outgoing message. 

“Hello. (20-second awkward pause.) Uhhhhh, oh. I am Mantooth, son of Mantooth. Uhhhh… Put mouth close to phone and speak message into phone, uhhhh, then hang up as I am incarcerated in Juneau, Alaska, and if I escape, I’ll call you back, unless, of course, you’re the police. Then, I probably won’t.” 

Our SCV home never had an answering machine. Up until 1960, you had to first dial the local switchboard. If the operator held a grudge, or ex-in-law, you might not be able to place your call. Later, with direct dial, press-button phones and answering machines, you’d stumble home after a hard day of riding fence or staring at turnups and check for messages. They actually marketed a home answer machine as early as 1949, but, the darn thing cost $200, which today would buy you your own aircraft carrier or elected official. 

As all things do, answering machines mutated. You didn’t have to agonize for an entire day to return home and see who called. Nor, unless you were an actor, did you have to pay $15 a month for an answering service with actual Female Lady Professional Message Takers. You could just call home, punch in a short beep-beep-beep code and your messages would AUTOMATICALLY play back. 

It was simply magic, especially if you were single and were listening, with sheepish grin, to a love interest’s message. Or, if you were married, your face would sag and you’d mumble inaudibly, “Oh swear word. You again.” 

It was the early 1980s when answering machines really caught on. The abject fun, unless you were a concrete-lined underwear dullard, was to record your very own personal greeting. It was like eating ice cream for the first time. But today? EVERYONE owns at least six cellphones and the novelty of recording your own outgoing message has worn thin if not off. 

My absolute favorite I’m Not Home message was from my pal, the effervescent Christy Parks. You’d call and hear her standard, “Hi! It’s Christy. I’m not home right now but at the tone, please leave…” and right in the middle of that, you’d hear the small cacophony of a panicked Christy wrestling with the phone, dropping it, picking it up, dropping it again, swearing and a ruffled apology of how, wrapped partially in a towel, she was just getting out of the shower and hit her foot, followed by another drop of the phone, more swearing, more asking for the caller to be patient, followed by her wonderful laugh and “Actually? I’m REALLY not home. Leave a message…” 

There’s four minutes of your life you’d never get back. Of course, that only worked once per person, more if you were dullard or Democrat. 

My outgoing message? 

For a while, I was joined by the chorus that sang the theme song to the old Magilla Gorilla cartoon show. The caller would hear the cheery choir blurt: “We’ve got… A gorilla — FOR SALE! Magilla. Gorilla. For sale. Won’t you! Try him! Take him home and buy him! Gorilla for sale!!” Then, my own voice would leave instructions for buying and/or test driving Magilla and, for all other inquiries, “indulge in omphaloskepsis and lovingly press your belly button with your index finger.”  


Leave a message.  

One without blue language or: “I Didn’t Mean To Kill. Mother Never Loved Me.” 

Speaking of mother-in-laws, one of my many communicated that displaying mirth on my answer machine was a hellfire sign of immaturity. As she was ferocious, I didn’t respond with something snippy like, “Yup. Immaturity. Have it cornered. Got the coffee mug, T-shirt, mouse pad and tattoo on my unmentionable.” 

I always liked creating multimedia phone messages. Between relationships, I recorded a few bars from The Kinks’ hit single: “My girlfriend’s… Run off… With my car… Gone back home to Ma and Pa… Telling tales of drunkenness and cruelty…” followed by “…leave a message at the beep, unless, of course, you’re my ex, then you can just jolly well take a running start and go straight to …” 

I jimmied the message so that the beep interrupted and screamed like an air raid siren. 

All my life, I’ve been blessed with friends wicked and creative. My musician pal Curtis Stone for a while had a message stating he was on tour, but that he “…could be reached at the following number.” The number Curtie left? It was mine. My best pal Phil had a very succinct message of: “What.” On the bright side, Phil wasn’t employed at a suicide prevention hotline. I can’t recall who, but another friend confessed in his outgoing message that times were tough and he hadn’t paid his phone bill in three months so you could only leave a telephone number with five digits. 

And, pretty much, most of us did. 

I don’t think you could pull the following off today, what with Political Correctness and Wokeness rampant as venereal disease in a land-locked emerging nation or Hart Trustee meeting. But, another pal whom I can’t mention by name (John Duarte) in that he lives three doors down. Duarte, I mean, “Anonymous,” used to leave a 2-minute, 14-second outgoing message of him stuttering, followed by a really bad albeit heartfelt saxophone solo. 

With stutters. 

John Boston is a local writer who can be reached at 259-0033. Just leave a message asking if he has Prince Albert in a can…

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