Don’t Call Us and We Won’t Call You, Either

Kage Baker loathed interruptions to her writing.

A knock at the door, excessive traffic noise, loudspeakers from the Pier 2 blocks away – they sent her mad. Even being told a meal was ready or being asked if she wanted a fresh Coke could be too much; it was better to wait until she had to go to the bathroom or asked for something, than to try to anticipate her needs. At least, if it meant talking out loud. Sometimes I slipped her notes.

The mere presence of the phone in the house was often more than she could bear. But she never felt that it was safe to unplug it, either – something might happen to a family member, or an editor might call.  Or the Diablo Nuclear Plant up the coast might finally produce enough energy to achieve a melt-down; and we’d never find out if the phone was unplugged.

I could put forth several arguments against that last one, but it was no use. Besides, it was a fact that a telephone tree was precisely how the local NRC office planned on telling the residents if Diablo developed indigestion. (Then we’d get to use the potassium iodide pills they’d sent to all of us in a mass mailing: lots and lots of tiny bottles in manila envelopes, addressed to “Occupant” and stamped “Warning: Radioactive Information”. Very surreal.) And her other worries did occasionally occur, so she wouldn’t sanction ditching the land line. However, even with an answering machine, Caller ID and me to take the calls, the mere existence of the phone was enough to give her the heebie-jeebies from across the room.

Kage died before unsolicited and unstoppable nuisance calls became so ubiquitous, too. Back when the DO NOT CALL list was barely needed, and actually worked … not for her the constant robo-calls and political recordings, the boiler-room callers pretending to be a local handyman or someone’s best friend from high school. It’s weird to realize that even a mere 5 years ago, I didn’t have to worry about answering the phone 6 times a day to hear some recorded geezer wheeze “Hello, seniors!” in my ear with fake bon homme.

And while Kage had a cell phone, she tried hard not to admit it existed. She only carried it on the rare occasions that she travelled without me. It usually sat in its charger port, turned off; the only reason she put up with it, I suspect, was because of its cool black leather case with the Jolly Roger picked out in rhinestones. Kage was dedicated to cool accessories.

She never had a Smart Phone, although she admired our friends’ phones. She knew exactly which apps she wanted me to get when I finally acquired one: which, she was serenely sure, was the closest a Smart Phone would ever get to her. She was right, too. I got mine a few months after she died, and installed the apps she had thought would be useful. Except for the Kindle app, which Kage never anticipated, all her suggestions were useful and most have become indispensable. Especially the maps and the spirit level. The EM Ghost Finder has been problematical, though – it seems to attract EM anomalies rather than track them, and they always appear behind my right shoulder. Either the thing is producing the EM displays, or my shoulder blade, like the Mikado’s Daughter-in-law Elect’s, emits an irresistible attraction.

It would all have amused Kage incredibly. And since she would have been in charge of the thing while driving – something on which she insisted even when it was legal to use your phone while behind the wheel – I know she would have gotten good at it, too.

But not at home. I’d have had to disable all the sound functions on all my techno toys, notepads, phones and E-readers, lest the squeaks and beeps of their activity could have interrupted Kage’s writing. Heck, she got irate when the desk top sent her notifications of programs needing updates or security warnings. Even her own computer had to be silent when she worked.

Oddly enough, noise doesn’t bother me much. The music of the city still charms me. Maybe because I live in a naturally noisier house than ours was – more family, more pets; not only Harry, but his cat and dog minions stampeding around. (Never mind the claws – cats have retractable hooves.) There’s a grammar school 3 houses away, which seems to regularly re-enact the French Revolution. We’re under a main LAPD helicopter migration route, and more or less enclosed in the routes of 4 freeways – which develop infarcts, aneurysms and enormous collisions on a daily basis. There are train tracks running 24-7 only 3 blocks away. Coyotes howl, dogs bark, roosters crow, ravens gronk, mockingbirds sing exquisitely but also mimic everything else. It’s a rowdy place, my home town.

Kage lived with it pretty happily for 41 years herself. But once she ran away to live in oak groves and sea canyons and coves of white sand – well, her requirements changed. But the memories of all that urban music stayed in her head. Look at stories like “The Angel In The Darkness”, or her descriptions of cities. She loved the noise, or at least its idealized memory.

As long as it came when called – and only then! – and didn’t interrupt her.




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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6 Responses to Don’t Call Us and We Won’t Call You, Either

  1. mizkizzle says:

    Kage was right in being suspicious of the telephone. Most of the callls that come over the landline are horribly annoying. We tend to get ones where people reading from a script address me as “sir” (I have a deep voice) and inquire whether they are speaking to the homeowner. They assure me they’re not selling anything (liars) and go on to try and sell me something.
    I like to tell them no, I’m not the homeowner, I’m a burglar who broke in while the homeowners were away.
    “I’m stealing their stuff,” I say cheerfully. “They have some nice stuff. Do you want me to leave them a message?”
    That confuses them greatly.
    My husband tells me to stop doing it because they might call the police, but they never do.


  2. Lynn says:

    Mizkizzle, you’re my new best friend! I had someone last night call and try to convince me that I needed to turn on my computer and give him the IP address because people were trying to break into my computer. When I asked him how he had my phone number and not the IP address he got really cagey. I said that he or one of his several friends had tried this on me a few months ago and I had kept him on the line for about 10 minutes while I pretended to turn on my computer so that he lost that time to steal information from another, more gullible person. He hung up without a word. I took it as a victory. I’m trying your idea next time.


    • Miz Kizzle says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed my burglar schtick, Lynn. You were brilliant for thwarting the hacker, or whatever he was. I love tormenting nitwits who call me up and bother me when I’m writing, trying to sell me things while denying that they’re trying to sell me things.
      I’ve pretended to be a talking cat, a ghost and once, a spy.
      I said, “Is this Barn owl? The Raven confirmed that it’s on for eighteen hundred hours. I repeat, it’s on for eighteen hundred hours. Inform the Mallard and the Crow.”
      Once, I answered the phone and said, in a Russian accent, “Lady of the house is not home. She bring me here from Ukraine, promise to pay me. She no pay me! She make me clean all day. Lock me in basement at night. What you think of that, eh?”
      The idiot telemarketer just went on reading her script about vinyl replacement windows or some damn thing.


      • Kate says:

        Oh, wow, we could assemble an entire repertoire of creative responses here! “Scripts For Annoying The Hell Out of Telemarketers” – self publish on Amazon and probably make enough for pizza for everybody!

        My sister Kimberly, who kept her maiden name when she married, likes to respond to people asking for “Mrs. Husband’s Surname”: “There is no Mrs. HS. She died 50 years ago.” Much stammering and hanging up results … I just usually state, “Nope, you did not call a year ago, I wasn’t nice to you then, in fact I hung up on you. And I’m hanging up on you again!”

        It’s so freeing …


  3. Jane says:

    Your city noises description doubled me over laughing! I’m in that train regularly, and on those freeways daily. Those helicopters drive me bats! And I hear the fireworks at Dodger Stadium, but can’t see the glorious visuals. Luckily my duplex apartment is a cave, so most of the ambient noise doesn’t reach my ears. Causes very bad cell reception. No land line, and reading this, maybe that’s a good thing!


    • Kate says:

      Yeah, the noise in any portion of the city can pretty much identify it, if you listen to it long enough. Atwater Village has always had the trains and the freeway sounds; the helicopters have gotten more frequent over the decades, but I remember them even in the 60’s: especially when there were fires in Griffith Park. We can hear the Dodgers’ fireworks, too, but not see them – it always sounds like an artillery bombardment, like the Civic Center is about to fall to a siege …


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