On the Line with Abe LincolnSubmitted by Tom Sorrell at 2014-08-09 00:31:19 EDT
Rating: 2.0 on 3 ratings (3 reviews) (Review this item) (V)
“No, damn it,” I hear Bob say with growing agitation. “I don’t want Sticky Keys. No one ever wants Sticky Keys. Why is that even a feature? Stupid computer.”
I glance over around the partition that divides us and throw up the horns to let Bob know I agree, even though I have no clue what he’s talking about. He nods, once, and logs in to the system that allows us to communicate with people throughout history. I do the same and wait for a call.
I can hear the question on everyone’s mind: “Virgil, how does this system work?”
Um … I don’t know. Magic, maybe? It’s a mystery. I use our system the way someone might use a cell phone or a car without having a clue how it operates. It works, that’s all that matters to me. I’m here to take calls so that’s what I do. I don’t ask questions. I’ve been told we have a dual-quad-hyperdrive-bypass server, model 3.14-something or other, but the guy who told me that ended up being hospitalized for eating too much pomegranate pie, so who knows? An odd case, that one.
Speaking of oddities, last night I had a doozy of a call. Right before my shift ended I spoke with a bright young gal about some kid she knew, a “punk,” as she called him, who used her until she was no longer needed and split, but only after handing her a note which read, simply:
Roses are red.
Violets are blue.
Trash is dumped
And so are you.
Folks, I’m a poet, OK? That is not a good poem. It’s childish and silly and the person who wrote it should know it. Still, it made me laugh ... loudly ... because it's pretty damned funny. This was definitely the wrong move, as the woman on the line did not respond well. After a moment of silence she went on a 38 minute diatribe about rusty diamonds, golden bells, pixie haircuts, smoking birds, and the differences between camels and dromedaries vs. the differences between yak and buffalo, then she cackled like a maniac and screamed “Yakkity-yak, Mr. Buffalo! Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo!"
The poor girl went on like that for five solid minutes. She was clearly insane, but I liked her spirit so I let her go with it. When she finally finished I paused for a moment, thinking about something she’d said, and asked if she’d tried polishing the rust off her diamonds to see what remained. She did that crazy laugh again for over an hour, then she terminated the call. I never even caught her name.
Things like that happen all the time. People contact me, then bitch and whine and moan and cry and beg and plead and demand and yell and scream and do all the other things corporeal human beings tend to do in their daily lives. After that I ask a question or two, they laugh like a loony and hang up. It seems to be that way for most of the workers in this place. This is a really easy gig for pretty much everyone but Bob Mishkin, the man sitting next to me. For him it's torture, and it's all his doing. See, Bob antagonizes callers by saying the wrong thing over and over until they finally get fed up and scream at him … loudly. As far as I can tell he does not do this on purpose. It just comes natural to him. I have to help him more than I would like, otherwise ... well, I'd lose my neighbor.
“So let me get this straight,” I hear Bob say with an attitude. “You’re Abraham Lincoln?”
I roll over and glance at the “Caller Number” on Bob’s computer screen. It says 415-1865. I point at it and nod. Bob looks at it, looks at me and makes a confused face. I make an imaginary beard on my face with one hand and pretend to be wearing a tall hat with the other and nod that yes, this is in fact Abe Lincoln on the line.
Bob looks at me like I’m the idiot.
“Ok Mr. Lincoln,” he says, turning away from me, sarcasm oozing. “Here’s an idea: Stop being president and start hunting Vampires. ... Vampires. ... You know, like Dracula. ... Dracula. ... What do you mean, who? Dracula, dummy!"
I give Bob a look like he’s out of his mind, but he leans forward on his left elbow and sighs.
“Dracula is a classic, sir,” he says, as seriously as I’ve ever heard him speak. “It was written in 18 ... 95, I think. Everyone should read it. You should look it up online."
"Online?" I hear Mr. Lincoln ask, confused as hell.
Bob glances my way, the smugness evident in his smirk, and I bury my face in my hands for multiple reasons. When I look up he's staring at me strangely. He even raises an eyebrow ... because he's clueless.
"Anyway sir," Bob says into his headset. "I'm telling you that Vampires are plotting to take over the United States and it’s up to you to stop them. We need you, Abe. God needs you. Hollywood needs you.”
There’s a moment of silence. I give Bob a look. He leans my way and whispers... "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. I love that movie. So bad, but so good."
"Why do you do that movie stuff?" I whisper back.
Bob starts to speak, but a deep, tired-sounding voice interrupts him.
"Is there someone else there I can talk to?" I hear the 16th President say.
"No sir," Bob snaps. "Listen, I do apologize, but we're a bit shorthanded today. Is there anything I can assist you with? Do you need to pay a bill, Mr. President?"
“Bill?” the man asks. “Who’s that? Is he a vampire?”
Bob grins, leans back and nods.
“He sure is, Abe. But I think he’s a metaphor for something else.”
I give Bob a quizzical look. He shakes his head and waves a dismissive hand. We wait for a reply.
“What?” Abraham Lincoln finally asks.
“I said ‘How may I assist you, sir?’” Bob says with a sigh as he leans forward, grabs a blue pen and chuckles, ruefully. “The godddamned pen is blue!” he whispers, but he does it like he’s yelling while shaking a fist, then holds up the pen and looks at me with a stupid grin on his face.
“What the hell is that?” I ask. "Another movie, right?"
“Liar, Liar,” Bob says, nodding, then he makes a face and blinks, hard.
“Uh, no sir,” he sputters into his headset microphone. “No way. I didn’t call you a liar. I’d never do that. I mean after all…”
Bob nudges me in the arm and grins like a shmuck before quipping:
“They call you ‘Honest Abe,’ right?”
I smile, politely. Bob laughs at his joke like it’s the funniest thing he’s ever heard, then he nudges me a few more times and nods. I nod back and smile again, because in spite of his terrible sense of humor and general idiocy, Bob is a good man, even though he is very, very confused.
“Hello?” Bob says. “Mr. President? ... President Lincoln? Hello? Are you there, sir?”
There’s a moment of silence. Bob nods and pushes the disconnect button.
“Crazy fucker,” he says, as he closes his eyes and rubs his temples.