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Chronicle of the NonPop Revolution

The Essay
Show #539
Call Waiting
David Gunn

"Your call is important to us. Please stay on the line and the next available operator will be with you shortly," cooed Earl into the telephone. He placed the receiver into a cradle next to a speaker and switched on the record player. A scratchy recording of The Poltergeist Polka played by Frank Heebers and his Orchestra blared from the speaker. He rubbed his thumb against the turntable so that the record slowed, then sped up. Sometimes the caller would find the effect so annoying that he'd hang up. And that's just what Earl wanted. Since he was the next -- and only -- available operator and since he hadn't had a nicotine fix in two hours, he'd darn well take time out for a smoke before getting back to that customer. Earl was owner/operator of the Pringler Call Center, a centralized office that handled customer service, debt collection and telemarketing for more than a hundred different companies in the Pacific Northwest. And while most modern call centers employed sophisticated computer telephony integration to increase efficiency, Earl relied on a single-line rotary telephone, a record player and an assortment of sound effect devices. He'd gotten so good at irking his callers that he typically wound up talking to only one of every fifteen of them. And that number plummeted to one in forty when he employed his nearly unintelligible faux Bangalore accent. He reached for his coffee cup, discovered it empty, and dropped it on the floor, where it clattered onto the pile of other empty cups. He turned down the record player's volume and leaned close to the telephone. "All of our operatorsh are ba-ba-busy asshishting other cushtomersh," he said in a perfect Mel Blanc-does-Daffy Duck voice. "Pleash shtay on the line for the na-na-next available operator." Pressing his ear to the receiver, Earl heard that most welcome of sounds: a dial tone. Yes! Cheerfully, he hung up the phone. He was on a roll now; that was the tenth in a row! Could he break his record of twenty-five? The phone rang again. He picked it up, held a handkerchief over the receiver to muffle his voice, and began the spiel anew. "Your call is important to us." Baloney, he thought! A cigarette -- that was important! "Please stay on the line-ine-ine-ine," he said, modulating his voice like a de-tuned banjo. Down went the phone; up came The Poltergeist Polka. A minute later, another dial tone. Yes!

As Earl lit up, drawing the pleasurably familiar flavor of a box of Wheaties in a barn fire into his lungs, he abruptly perceived a change in his surroundings -- as if another presence were in the room with him. He tapped an inch of ash into the aquarium he used as an ashtray. At once a giant krill shot up to the water's surface and swallowed the residue. It shot Earl its knowing "Judgment Day is Coming" look before diving back to the enclosure's depths. Earl started to turn off the record player before discovering that it was already off. And yet The Poltergeist Polka played on! The phone rang, startling him. Instinctively, he picked it up. But before he could begin his "your call is important to us" spiel, a disembodied voice in the receiver said simply "in ... the ... house."

If those words meant nothing to you before, they will now, for they are the verbal imprimatur of the newly reconstituted -- if still woefully and wrongly non-profit -- Kalvos & Damian's In The House Show. From our house to your house -- or, if we can ever swing it, from your house to someone else's house -- it's In The House. It's Damian. It's Kalvos. It's ...