My phone started ringing (not so much a ring as the first bar of a Stan Getz Bossa restrospective) just as the bidding started. I was afraid to answer since any movement might be mistaken for an active bid. I had no desire to lay down $1200 for a pair of espadrilles worn by Paul Linde. I let it ring a few times and then eased it into my lap, across my chest, and finally, against my ear.

Mr. Schitter is not in right now. If you would... I hold my nose and intone metallically

Answering machines and voice-mail make me uncomfortable. I always get the impression that my calls are being fielded by some malfunctioning robot--I love the image of a sparking automaton speaking to my callers through an ozone haze in the bizarre vernacular of all things mechanical and broken, but I am always afraid that the fellow's key malfunction will be a systematic loss of calls I actually want. By pretending to be the robot, I am able to steal his identity (fooling my callers and entertaining myself) and establish a false rapport with the people who want to speak with me. After I, in the guise of Johnny VoiceMail, figure out why they are calling, I can later (in the guise of actual person) feign surprise at appropriate moments while peppering the conversation with what the caller will later describe to others as "amazing off-the-cuff riffs. He's quick, and that's all there is to it." Sadly, the guy on the other end was one of my college friends. He had seen me do this too often to fall for it. He started without pause.

"Cam?"

I knew who it was right away. The slow, meandering cadence of someone strolling through a sentence rather than saying it. Michael Hanewinkle was my roomate for a year and a half when I was an undergraduate (he actually helped me find a lot of great old books during that time.) He dabbled in surrealist literature and science fiction, excelling at both, but his true passion was dance. He took every dance class the university offered, eventually resigning to study in Spain at some Tango Institute in Cadaque. I hadn't seen him for 10 years. Not one word. For old time's sake, I maintained the robot voice.

yes.
Knock off that robot shit. It's Haney
I know, what's going on man?
Not much, hey, can you do me favor?
Uh, sure. Where are you?
New Orleans. Look, I have a deadline I can't make.
and?
I need you to finish something for me.
By when?
Whenever, I just know that I won't do it.
OK, what is the project?
I have a new job 1, and I need to do a fluff piece on the company, for a series of TV ads.
Sounds easy enough, what's the problem.
I tend to be a little heavy-handed with that kind of stuff. It has to be believable.
OK, what's the company?
Don't worry about it, just write the ad for me. I'll send you a check tonight. (Ididnt ask how much)
Wait. What do they sell?
Doesn't matter, just write it. It'll be great.
Sure, I'll knock it out tonight or maybe tomorrow. Any direction at all?
Yeah, it needs to be family oriented and cute. Not sappy, but sentimental is OK. No nudity but tight clothes are all right as long as they are tasteful.
What about...
No rain-soaked Bollywood musical numbers.
Damn. Had to ask. Getting the parameters straight. Anything else?
Nope, just make sure it can get a Fast-Food tie in for christmas.
Done...sentimental, cute, family oriented tv spot for as yet unidentified company with indeterminate retail line with specific potential for food market tie-ins.
You got it. Later.
Later.

At the time, I thought very little about the significance of the call, but it taught me a valuable lesson: Do not gesture periodically while speaking on a cell phone during a Jaycees Auction. During the 5 or so minutes I spoke to Haney, I had been simultaneously involved in a fierce bidding war over an old set of encyclopedias. I won.

The following day I started working on Haney's TV spot. The whole thing came to me as clearly as if he had been there to dictate it to me. While I sat in tiny cafe in a suburb of seattle, sipping some signature blend or another, a perfectly cute, sentimental (but not sappy) family oriented advertisement of indeterminate cause or effect formed itself independently of me. To tell the truth, I was actually paying more attention to the waitresses and baristae. Oh well, I hope he likes it as much as I like my encyclopedias.


1 This new job turned out to be a long term contract association with a full-on cult, "The Children of The CnO Bicycle." Centered in New Orleans, they worshipped the sun god "Atophet" and his son, a crocodile-headed fellow named "Magalast."