Ain’t No One Here

Kage Baker, mostly, refused to speak on the telephone. This annoyed her friends and family, because they believed that she was almost always home. They were wrong – we just didn’t tell anyone when we went haring off, for the same reasons Kage wouldn’t answer the phone. She didn’t want anyone to find her.

Also, prior to retiring to her domestic fortress to write 24/7, Kage had made her living for years as a customer service representative. She spent a couple of decades at the job, and did it well. But once she clocked out, she developed a contact allergy to telephone equipment.

No one seemed to understood why, given the choice, she  refused to use the phone once she was home and private. I did understand – it sometimes annoyed me to be part of her DEW system, but if I really didn’t want to talk to whomever was calling, I just didn’t answer the phone either. A message machine was one of the first things we got once we left home; we were early proponents of caller ID, too. This pissed off a lot of folks who were convinced, in their bones and hearts, that every time they called we were sitting there in the living room snickering and leaving them to talk to the robots.

To be honest, they were right, as often as not. I admit it freely. Relatives, friends and business associates were known to call, get the answering machine, and then spend their allotted message time acidly informing Kage that they knew she was there, or begging Harry the Parrot to pick up the damned receiver. Harry never learned to do it, but both Harry Prime and now Harry Redux talk to the pained voices on the machine – really, if you could hear it, folks, you would know that at least one person in the household cares you called. He always says “Hi!” And usually, “Oh, noooo!” And then he sings Rule Britannia to you all.

So anyway: when the phone rang, I’d ask Kage is she was in. We’d wait until the announcement function kicked in and someone identified himself. Then she’d decide. She’d usually consent to talk to sisters and her agent – the other unfortunates either got me, or were encouraged to leave a message. Some folks had to call back two or three times, because they spent too much time arguing with a dead line over whether or not the hypothetical Kage on the other end was going to pick up … which Kage said just proved she was justified in not picking up in the first place, if people were going to be that silly.

From time to time, the caller would be an editor, and I would make polite stalling conversation while Kage raced frantically from her desk. Once, the caller was Harlan Ellison (!) who had just called to tell Kage how much he liked her work (!!). Mr. Ellison got treated to the ghostly sounds of pantomime on the wires, as I firmly forced Kage – who was doing a nautch dance of terror – into accepting the phone and talking to the legend on the other end. One does not tell Harlan Ellison that one is too frightened to talk to him, or one finds out what frightening really is … but he was charming to Kage, and I hope never realized how close she came to throwing herself out the window rather than talk to him.

But then, of course, she had what every up-and-coming science fiction writer needs: a Harlan Ellison anecdote. She packed it for every subsequent convention.

Now I’m the one who doesn’t want to answer the phone. This isn’t as successful for me, since most folks call on my cell – but Kimberly is a very good sport about vetting the calls that come in on the landline. And I can always let even cell calls go to message. I do assure everyone out there, though, that I try to answer my cell phone – unless I’m asleep, or really deep in the writing. Most of the real crap comes in on the landline, anyway.

I’ve gotten three calls today from people who want to talk to me about my (non-existent) credit cards. Someone putatively from my bank wanted to discuss details of my accounts (but did not know the account numbers nor my last name); various folks are pantingly eager to clean my drapes, floors, chimney,and lower intestine. That last one really gave me pause – I don’t think I’ve ever had a job as bad as making cold calls to people offering coupons for high colonics. Thank God.

Kage was right – except for comic relief, writers should let other people handle their phones. I’m letting Harry answer the calls for awhile, I think.

About Kate

I am Kage Baker's sister. Kage was/is a well-known science fiction writer, who died on January 31, 2010. She told me to keep her work going - I'm doing that. This blog will document the process.
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9 Responses to Ain’t No One Here

  1. Kara says:

    I wish I had a sister – or a parrot – to vet my calls for me. Just had a call that let me know the bill for services rendered is going to be higher than initially thought and more complicated with yet more parts needed to be bought. Afterwards I was screaming and in tears. Stupid modern technology that lets everyone access you instantly. 😦


  2. Kate says:

    Oh, my goodness, I sympathize! You absolutely need filters. That’s the true purpose of message machines and announcers, I think – to give us a bit of safety margin. I don’t want to be immediately accessible!


  3. Margaret says:

    Have you registered on the federal no-call list? It doesn’t cut out all of the rubbish, but does reduce it considerably. Those who set it up cleverly left allowable: politician messages (feh!), charity appeals, which turn out to be very broadly defined, and surveys, which pretty often turn out to be a thinly disguised sales ploy. It has cut out most of the aluminum siding, carpet cleaning, and magazine subscription salespersons.


  4. MaggiRos says:

    Margaret’s right. We get a few telesales, but far fewer than in the olden days. And with caller ID we don’t even have to pick those up. My phone doesn’t actually ring that often, for reasons unimportant right now, so it’s pretty much a surprise when it does ring.

    You know, I worked for Harlan Ellison as one of his wretched office minions for about 12 months, right after I finished grad school. As near as I’ve ever come to a nervous breakdown, at least until my first marriage. I can sympathize with Kage, and with your analysis! “One does not tell Harlan Ellison that one is too frightened to talk to him, or one finds out what frightening really is …” so true. But as she discovered, he can also be delightful. I’m glad she took the call. 🙂



  5. Kate says:

    Margaret – oh my yes, I am on the no-call list. And it has reduced the number of goofy calls, but not eliminated them. Lots of companies either express total ignorance, or hang up in haste when I request a supervisor … must be something to do with the Los Angeles boiler room operations. But at least I can leave them as annoyed as they leave me.


  6. Kate says:

    Maggie – Harlan is a trip, in every single meaning of the word. I must admit, while I admire his art and skill, I will always have a soft place in my heart for him JUST because he was kind to Kage. And also because he was *extremely* supportive of Fritz Lieber in that good old man’s final years. And of course, I like anybody who liked Kage’s work. He told Kage that his wife did crewelwork bookslips for all the issues of Asimov’s that had Kage Baker stories in them … Kage got very fond of him.


  7. Whenever my mother would get my answering machine (or my sister’s) the message was ALWAYS, “Well, chit!” and then she would hang up.

    Sister and I were talking about it one time, and she allowed as how Mother would never leave a message. I pointed out to her that Mother always stayed on through the machine answer in order to leave the caustic message.

    I love caller-id. I never answer a call when I don’t know who’s calling.


    • Kate says:

      Mary Lynn – I try not to answer unless I know who it is, either. Announcing message machines are a great, great invention. Although they are apparently not mother-proof – when Momma called and got ours, her subsequent message always started in mid-sentence: ” … just know you-all are there, so just pick up the phone!” She always started talking before the recording ended. And was usually still talking when her part ended.


  8. Tom says:

    “You know, I worked for Harlan Ellison as one of his wretched office minions for about 12 months . . .”

    I feel for you, MaggieRos.


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