Things, whatever that means, have become more technical and less funny.
Oh we though the Internet was a laugh a minute when it began. But how many dancing babies or cat videos can a person watch? How many cans of SPAM can you eat? How many times can you use the word SPAM? How many uses for SPAM can one find? A SPAM battleship. A SPAM water fountain with SPAM dolphins spitting out water. A Church of SPAM. SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, by damn!
Long ago when telephones weren’t known as land lines except on a ship people played telephone pranks.
“Do you have Prince Albert in a can?”
“Why yes we do.”
“Well you better let him out or he will suffocate.”
“Hi, is Pepe Roni there?”
“Just a minute. Pepe Roni, you gotta phone call!”
Sometimes they would get a little nasty. A guy I knew in college said he could often tell over the phone when he made receptionists at a Tyler, Texas, car dealership, blush by asking if their boss was available. The name of the dealership was King Chevrolet and often you would see the owner, Jack King, on TV. The fellow I knew used to ask:
“Excuse me ma’am, but could you tell me if Jack King is on or is Jack King off?”
Not thinking, the woman would supposedly call on the telephone loudspeaker:
“Is Jack King on or is Jack King off?”
It used to be, if you can believe it, people would have their names in the phone book. Their names would not be used for glorification, as is absurdly portrayed in the Steve Martin classic film, “The Jerk.” But even famous folks would have their names published.
Kids calling up and bothering these famous people may or may not have originally driven them to unlisted numbers.
I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone this story. So listen, and listen good.
My Uncle Ted died from alcoholism. He may or may not have suffered from what we now know of as “PTSD” from World War II. He was a bachelor in his late 40s or 50s when he lived with us. I remember see him tripping, rolling in the grass, after drinking a bottle off turpentine. I still remember the sickly, sweet smell emanating from his room that day after Daddy had to meet the town doctor to get a hypodermic needle for some kind of antidote to administer to Uncle Ted.
We were called and told my Daddy’s brother had died. We went to Daddy’s sister and brother-in-laws place in South Houston before Uncle Ted’s funeral. I didn’t like funerals very much, or at all, having experienced my grandmother’s one a couple of years before. It was surely creepy when her body was taken to her home and watched all the night before. So I wasn’t at all keen on going to Uncle Ted’s funeral.
And I thought a lot of Uncle Ted. He used to sing the song about the “Monkeys Have No Tails In Zamboanga,” the South Pacific being the area in which he landed on island after island. He even took me hunting for armadillos where I would shoot one with a .22 and make it jump afterwards. He even gave me a .410 for Christmas. I felt bad, but even after Momma’s gentle coaxing. I said I wasn’t going to go to my uncle’s funeral. I didn’t.
So I stayed in my Uncle Frank and Aunt Bess’ home while the adults went to the funeral. Eventually, I got bored watching cable TV on their color, or more like, “colored” TV. I thought the color of TVs back then were pretty funky. I looked around the house for things to entertain me. Finally, I saw the two huge Houston telephone books, or maybe it was three. One was the Yellow Pages, which held about 15 pages of my small-town, hometown phone book.
As I searched the phone book, I thought about the Mercury astronauts who lived in Clear Lake back then when the Johnson Space Center was mostly just a maze of buildings, one of which had a Mercury capsule or two. My cousin’s family lived there at Clear Lake when it was just building up from the swamp land. Upon my first visit from the Pineywoods of my youth, to Houston, then about the seventh largest city in the nation — today it is No. 4 — my cousins took me to their neck of the woods where all the astronauts lived. So I thought about the Mercury 7 astronauts. I knew them by heart as they were my true heroes. I liked Scott Carpenter the best. He just seemed like a laid-back guy. But I also though Wally Schirra was quite a fellow.
So searching through the massive phone book, passed the Schafers and the Schexnadyers, there I found Schirra and I think it was “Walter” or “Walter M. Schirra.” But he was the only one in the phone book and the only one living in Clear Lake. I might have been a dumb ol’ country boy, but I ‘wuden t stupid.’
I called but didn’t expect anyone home except maybe his wife or their cleaning lady, whom I imagined was Negro (as we said in polite company as “black” was not yet discovered in that time.) As a matter of fact, I didn’t even fathom that they might have a Hispanic maid. I didn’t know any Latinos back then. They were all foreign and lived way South. Anyway, lo and behold, I called Wally Schirra’s house and this voice somewhere above baritone answered: “Hello.”
In my 12-year-old voice I tried to speak as a grown-up: “Hello. Mr. Schirra?” He answered “yes.” I don’t know what all I talked to him about. But he was nice. He was even sympathetic about my Uncle Ted’s funeral. I then told him thank you and goodbye. I don’t know why I never told anyone about this. I suppose it was because I wasn’t supposed to be goofing on the phone.
Later in life, when I worked as a reporter, I called a few important people on the phone who wondered how in the hell I got their number. I talked to President Bush’s press secretary Scott McLellan after a White House reporter from Texas gave me the number. I talked to former FBI director William Sessions after talking to his son, U.S. Rep. “Just Call Me Pete” Sessions, who gave me the number. A reporter from a sister paper in Palm Beach gave me former Attorney General Janet Reno’s phone number. She was quite surprised I called!
Like everything in this old world, it seems, has gotten more complicated and meaner.
Today there is “swatting,” which involves getting a SWAT team to descend on famous or even not so famous people. It seems the rage these days. It’s even become international.
Things, you know what I’m talking about, no longer what they once were. And thus they will never be.