Friday, June 05, 2009

The Answering Machine Message

In the comments of my last blog post, Jeff Shyluk makes an oblique reference to an answering machine message I created that "somehow" got lost.

Here's the story. Anyone who's followed this blog for a while knows that shortly after university I moved into an old, beat-up house on the corner of 108th and 108th with Allan Sampson, Ron Briscoe and Carrie Humphrey. Carrie moved out after a month, and so we christened the house "The Bleak House of Blahs," for we were all underemployed or unemployed, had no girlfriends and no prospects of rectifying either shortfall. Plus, there was a double machete murder at the donut shop a block away a day or two after we moved in. It was a dark time.

However, it was also a time of great creative energy for all of us, and this energy often manifested itself in odd ways. One day, while shopping for something else altogether (probably comics at Warp One), I came across a keychain that had eight buttons. Each button would produce a Star Trek sound effect: the red alert siren, a photo torpedo firing, an intercom whistle, and so on.

"I could make a great answering machine message with this!" I thought, and so I scripted a mock battle in which Captain Woods (i.e., me) couldn't answer "your comm signal" because I was in the middle of a battle right now, thanks very much.

I wrote a script, then painstakingly recorded the message. I set up my record player (!) to play an authentic Star Trek music track (probably something by James Horner from Star Trek II or III), hit each keychain sound effect at the appropriate moment, and delivered my dialogue as melodramatically as I could. Coordinating the music, the sound effects and my own performance was quite a feat, and it took many takes to get everything just right, but in the end, I had produced what I felt was the ultimate Star Trek answering machine message. Now all I had to do was sit back and enjoy the astounded reactions of my callers.

I believe the first person to call was my mom, and to my recollection she didn't react to the message at all, just left her message as if her son were normal. I guess she'd developed an immune response to my eccentricity.

The next call was a wrong number, but at least it provoked a strong reaction. A group of drunken twentysomethings left me a message composed of mostly uproarious laughter. Success!

But then, the fatal error. Writers and wannabe performance artists love nothing more than audience approval, and so I invited all my friends to listen to my message and to the reaction it provoked. I went upstairs to get something, LEAVING JEFF ALONE WITH THE MACHINE. Jeff wanted to listen to the message again, but hit the wrong button just as I returned, and so these words, or something very near them, were recorded OVER my painstakingly crafted message:


JEFF: Oh no!

I was crushed. All that work...I didn't have the heart to recreate perfection. It would have been like Da Vinci painting the Mona Lisa again had it been lost in a fire. Instead, I allowed Jeff's re-recording to serve as the message for a while, then recorded something more conventional.

These days, the story of creation and loss is just as valuable to me, if not more so, than the actual message itself. All art is ephemeral in some sense, and without Jeff's accidental destruction, I wouldn't have this wonderful story about those crazy days at the Bleak House of Blahs.


Benchmark said...

I protest! I had plenty of prospects! I just, ah, hid them because I was very, uh, modest.



susan_rn92 said...

Hahaha. Jeff loves that story and laughs saying, "you fool! Oh no!"

I recall I planted flowers at the bleak house. Then the neighbourhood cat dug them up and crapped in the flowerbed.

AllanX said...

Let's play everybody's favourite: "Where in the World is Carrie A Humphrey?!"

I'll go first. "Found Jesus and lives on a compound in South Dakota; its only technology being a solar-powered water pump from the 70s. Is wife #8 and has eleven children and twenty three grandchildren by Lord Bedeiah Neariah Susej, the founder of the compound and God's One and True Redeemer on Earth. She thinks the last four minutes of the Eight Minute Hate is redundant. Enjoys recorder music, praising His Lord, and long walks by the disposal trenches."