989. A Million Miles Away

(Saturday post! Enjoy, and thank you for the contributions to the Tip Jar! -ctan)

I sometimes wonder how much research goes into what phones sound like. Remember back when phone equipment was all made by Ma Bell? Phones used to be something you had to get installed by the phone company. They were expensive and bulky and the old ones had an actual bell inside. Do you ever wonder what the phone would sound like if Alexander Graham Bell had switched lives with, say, Whistler?

After the breakup of the AT&T monopoly into regional “Baby Bells”–yeah, that was a thing, don’t ask me why they’re all now re-consolidated again–one thing that happened was anyone could start making phones. All of a sudden you could get cheap phones at Radio Shack or Sears or wherever. These tended to be flimsy plastic and have really irritating electronic chirps.

I remember I had one that wasn’t cordless, but it was baseless. It had a really really long cord but to hang it up you just laid it down on its face. We had to bring our own phones to our dorm rooms at school and I was broke so of course it was a cheap piece of crap. Come to think of it the noise it made was more of a whistle than a ring. I really didn’t like he sound it made.

But it would make a very tiny sound before it would ring. There was a good second to second and a half between when it would power up when a call was coming in and when it would actually ring. Which meant because I could hear the sound of it getting power, I could answer it before it rang.

Which drove Roger insane. I brought that phone with me when I moved in with him and I had him pretty much convinced that I was psychic. Roger preferred to believe I was psychic to believing that he couldn’t hear something.

Thing is, Bart could hear it, too. But he never let Roger know that.

Anyway, back to the original point which is that I’m sure that no real research of any kind went into building that piece-of-crap phone. To me the most obvious thing you’d want to know about a phone before buying it is what does it sound like? But I guess most people don’t care that much. They are only going to hear it for a couple of seconds a day.

I know. I’m not most people.

The phones in the motel were new enough to have buttons but old enough to have bells. So when the phone by the bed rang, it actually rang.

My phone rang a lot of times before Ziggy called back. Real estate people. New York people. Business people. I almost didn’t want to talk to any of them because it meant my line was tied up if he was trying to call.

One of the people who called me back was Janine.

“You’re going to what?”

“Move her. To a bungalow closer to her treatment center. I think. I haven’t looked at the place yet. But if that place doesn’t work out I’m going to find us something else.”

“Mr. Moneybags finally getting antsy about how much he’s shelling out?” She meant Remo. “Or are you paying for it now.”

“What? No. I haven’t even spoken to him. He’s been paying but I don’t think he should have to.”

“It’s obviously no skin off his nose. Why bother?”

“Janine, you’re boggling my mind. Are you saying I should just take what Remo’s offering without argument? What makes you think I want to take his money anymore than you did?”

She sounded mulish. “That’s different.”

“Why is it differe– never mind. Look. Sometimes you just want to have a cup of tea or a piece of toast without having to drive to Denny’s for it.” Or interact with the hellspawn of temptation in the lobby.

I should pause here to note that Ricky was actually a pretty nice kid and when I was 17 I would almost certain have also made awkward, inappropriate advances on the twenty-something gay men staying at my motel if I were in his position. I should also note that I wasn’t particularly attracted to him. But I still wasn’t taking any chances.

“So, you want to come get her stuff?” Janine was asking me.

“You said you need that room for Jake to move into, right? So don’t you need Claire’s stuff cleared out?”

“Yes, that would be great, actually. It’s mostly a question of when.”

“Which is why I called you to find out when,” I reminded her. “There isn’t more than will fit in a car, is there?”

“No, it’s not that much. A couple of drawers need to be emptied out and I think there’s still a suitcase of hers in the closet and maybe a couple of boxes. Jake got an indoor demolition gig for a couple of weeks but it’s like two hours away so he’s been too dead tired to do anything with that room.”

In my mind I pictured buff, muscular Jake, covered in construction grime, asleep among the ivory lace doilies. I also pictured something much more intriguing for “indoor demolition gig” than the reality–he was knocking down walls with a sledgehammer and clawing out insulation all day long. Not my idea of fun.

“Come by tonight if you can, but you gotta be done by nine so Jake can get to sleep.”

“Okay. We’ll come by after dinner.”

“Just you. Don’t bring Mom.”

“Uh, don’t you think she should identify what’s hers…?”

“You want her stuff, you come alone. I’ll talk to her when I’m ready and not before.”

“Okay. I can understand that.”

“You can?”

“Absolutely. I’m an expert at avoidance.” I was such an expert that I was going to move us out of the motel ASAP so I would never have to talk to Ricky again. “I’m the last person who’d ever force a reconciliation on someone.”

“I thought you were her best buddy right now.”

“Janine, in case you think I’ve drunk Claire’s Kool-Aid or something, let me be clear. She’s a toxic, manipulative bitch who left you and me emotionally damaged enough that we have to struggle to have a conversation with each other.”

She laughed and it was a good laugh. “I don’t know where you learned to do that, but I’m trying it and it works.”

“Do what? Make you laugh?”

“Say it like it is. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from you, it’s that. It’s like no one expects the actual truth, so when you say it, they’re completely off guard.”

“Yeah. I don’t do it as, like, a technique for winning a conversation or something, though. I just… I reached a point where I was more comfortable telling the truth than telling so-called comfortable lies.”

“I hear you. I tried it on my boss at the grocery store today. She’s a toxic bitch, too. And it was like no one had ever called her on her shit before! She had no idea what to do. And her boss, who overheard, backed me up. And I felt so good afterward! It was more righteous than going to confession when I was thirteen.”

“Thank god by the time I was thirteen they had given up on that. I barely survived first communion class when I was seven.” And Courtney had escaped CCD entirely.

“Yeah.” I wouldn’t say Janine sounded warm toward me now, exactly, but she at least sounded less forbidding than she had. “What time are you coming by tonight?”

“You want me to bring pizza? I could bring pizza for all of us.”

There was a beat of silence and then she said, “Okay, sure. Landon loves pepperoni.”

“I remember. See you later.”

A couple minutes later I heard from the rental I wanted to go look at and so I left to go do that. I took my pager with me, though, and tried not to think about whether Ziggy was not calling me back on purpose or what.


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