David Bruce: Telephones Anecdotes

• En route to a poker game at the County Building, Chicago Herald-Examinerreporter Bob Fraser saw a weeping washerwoman. He asked why she was crying, and she explained that she had learned from a letter posted several days ago that her father was ill back home in Poland and she did not know whether he was alive or dead. At the time, telephone long-distance calls to other countries were very expensive, and few individuals could afford them. Bob wondered whether he could put through a long-distance call at the County Building. It turned out that there was no problem — the long-distance telephone call went right through and the weeping washerwoman learned that her father was alive and getting well again. This was a good deed, but the reporters playing poker abused their newly discovered long-distance calling ability. They racked up a bill of $7,000 that the county officials did not want to pay. The county officials were going to force the reporters to pay it. Of course, the reporters also did not want to pay the $7,000 bill. Reporters publish a lot, but they know more than they publish. One reporter mentioned that it was time that he broke a story about a land deal that would be embarrassing to the county officials, and other reporters mentioned breaking other stories that would be embarrassing to the county officials, and the county officials paid the bill. Thereafter, however, reporters were not permitted to make long-distance — or local — telephone calls from the County Building.

• When young-adult novelist Robert Cormier was the 8th grade, his house burned down, and the suit that he was going to wear to his 8th-grade graduation ceremony burned up with it. Fortunately, the Cormiers’ neighbors contributed money to buy clothing for them, and young Robert was able to wear a suit to his graduation ceremony. As an adult, Mr. Cormier did good deeds for other people. His novel I Am the Cheesecontained a telephone number, which happened to be his. He once received a call from a girl in a psychiatric institution who felt that she could identify only with the protagonist in the novel. Mr. Cormier says that he and she “had a long talk about how this Adam [the protagonist] in the book was really a reflection of her own life, even though the circumstances were much different.” In the novel, Adam calls his friend Amy Hertz three times. That is the telephone number that the girl in the psychiatric institution called, and many other young people also called it. Sometimes they would ask for Amy. If Mr. Cormier answered the phone, he would pretend to be Amy’s father. If his youngest daughter, Renee, answered the phone and was asked if Amy was there, she would say, “Speaking.”

• Richard Bellof North Carolina has a trick for dealing with harassing telephone callers: “One of my all-time favorite tricks for any harassing phone caller is to get a tape or mp3 of the late Alexander Scourby reading some esoteric verses from the Old Testament handy to play into the handset.” And Tom Brennan of California received a telephone call from a debt collector in 2006. The caller asked, “When do you think you will repay this debt?” Mr. Brennan replied, “No comment.” In fact, that was his reply to every question the debt collector asked. Eventually, he did say something different; he said that “No comment” was the only reply he would ever make to the debt collector’s questions. Mr. Brennan says, “He laughed and I laughed and we said good night and they never called again.”

• Jack Benny and George Burns were best friends, and Mr. Benny laughed at Mr. Burns more than he laughed at anyone else. Once, Mr. Benny called Mr. Burns to invite him to dinner at a restaurant. During the call, they were disconnected. When Mr. Burns showed up at the restaurant, Mr. Benny started laughing. Mr. Burns asked, “What are you laughing at?” My Benny replied, “You’re the funniest man in the world. You hung up on me in the middle of a phone conversation.” Mr. Burns said later, “After that I always hung up on him. I wanted him to go on thinking I was the world’s greatest comedian.”

• Tony Hillerman wrote mysteries set in the west. Although vastly talented, he sometimes made mistakes in his novels. He once said, “I always put safeties on guns that don’t have safeties and leave them off ones that do.” One night at about 10 p.m. he received a call from a reader who told him, “I used to have a lot of respect for you until I’ve just been reading Dance Hall of the Dead. Don’t you know deer don’t have gall bladders?” Mr. Hillerman said that is the best telephone call from a reader that he has ever had.

• In 1960, jazz guitarist Jim Hall couldn’t afford a telephone. Jazz tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins was reclusive and didn’t want or have a telephone. Nevertheless, they communicated. A note by Mr. Rollins appeared in Mr. Hall’s mailbox one day. Mr. Hall then put his own note in Mr. Rollins’ mailbox. They exchanged notes for a while, and when Mr. Rollins decided to start playing jazz in public again in 1961, he offered Mr. Hall a job playing in his pianoless quartet.

• Songwriter Sammy Cahn, who won Oscars for “Three Coins in the Fountain,” “Call Me Irresponsible,” “All the Way,” and “High Hopes,” is often asked, “What comes first — the music or the lyric?” He always answers, “The phone call.” (Whenever he answers the phone, he says cheerfully, “Here I am!”)

• After Margot Fonteyn had retired and was ill, Rudolf Nureyev was speaking with her on the telephone. Worried that her illness might tire her too much, he said, “I should go, or I tire you out.” Ms. Fonteyn replied firmly, “Listen. You never tire me out. Never.”

• As a young teenager and an elite gymnast, Kerri Strug often trained away from home. However, she did manage to keep in close contact with her family. Frequently, the monthly bills for her long-distance telephone calls home were over $300.

• David Byrne of the Talking Heads knew that some of his fans were rather odd, so he frequently had his telephone number changed.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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