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.