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Phoning It In



It's just like in that Casablanca movie, when the refugee dame tells Humphrey Bogart about the state of things back in Bulgaria:

"It's very bad back there ... the devil has the people by the throat."

That's how it feels to me these days. I look around at my fellow citizens and, from the ranks of these idiotae et illiterati, there seems to be few capable of wiping steam from a mirror without a guidebook.

And those whose IQ is a higher number than their belt size? All dirtier than a pimp's socks on Sunday morning, miscreants on the move, aspiring felons all.

To cap it off, both groups -- chuckleheads and convicts -- are presided over by the best politicians money can buy. From Chula Vista, Calif., to Oogalah, Okla., from Alaska to Nebraska, they have only recently discovered that campaign cash corrupts, though many insist on continuing to take it in order to protect Free Speech.

The televised news of these groups is now delivered to me through the shiny bee-stung lips of babes whose scoopneck blouses hide almost half of their built-in shelf bras. Churlish behavior gone rancid. Puerile behavior gone besotted. The ragged finish of a nightmare ... Devil got the people by the throat all right.

Nihilism, where is the sting? No wonder that, until last month, I sat around looking like someone had stole the pea from my whistle, fretting over the shrinkage of the polar ice cap and the breakup of Drew Barrymore and Tom Green. Stoned, drunk, lewd and nude seemed the only paths to existential health.

Then came that blessed little catastrophe with my cell phone.

It happened at a happening house-party. As I was completing my fifth complete circling of the main food table, my cell phone rang with all the subtle tones of a colicky yak. As I snatched it from my belt, my lovely Kyocera QCP 2035 slipped from my remoulade-soaked fingers, did a triple somersault and disappeared into a small vat of citrus-balsamic vinaigrette.

I did my best to rehab the instrument when I got home, but nothing was happening. So I set it down on top of my TV and started watching the local news. Before you know it, there's a story on about how Louisiana is farming out its food stamp/welfare card call center to Bombay, India, because the labor market is cheaper there.

Damn, I thought, there's our bloated minimum wage costing us jobs again. Then I thought of our half-million food stampers and of the hip-hoppers or pirogue people on one end of the phone and the great-grandson of Gandhi on the other.

Just then, the cellphone on top of the TV started to make Harry Potter-type noises. I went over to see. The color of the phone-face had gone plaid and, without anything better to do, I punched in my secret security code numbers.

I heard a ring. Someone picked up and started talking. It took me almost a full minute to realize that I was hearing a conversation just like the one discussed on the TV news story, a Bywater-to-Bombay call. Part went something like this:

Bombay: Good evening, my name is Babu. You will require assistance?

Bywater: Yo, my man! I need some relief on account. On account I'm down with this fox now. She's a young girl, Petronella. Know how Muddy Waters sing 'bout his 19-year-old? "She got the ways of a beautiful child." Only, her mama don't like me, 'cuz her man a man of low degree -- none of my put-in, ya dig? -- and her mama hates men. She hit me upside the head with the smoo ...

Bombay: Please, please. This I cannot understand.

Bywater: The smoo? You know, that heavy thing you use to smoo the wrinkles from pants.

Bombay: You very, very bad man. No stamps for you!

I left the phone on top of the TV, and it didn't ring again until the newscast about the seven members of the Louisiana Fire Department who got caught setting fires to houses and woods and said they were just trying to cook up a little business for their engine house. My phone went plaid again.

Voice One: You hearing about those firefighters starting those fires? Did it make you think of anything?

Voice Two: It surely did. Is your brother-in-law still the night orderly in that ICU?

Voice One: He sure is. But I don't think we can rely only on that final morphine drip. WE have to start thinking about the lines of psychoactive drugs, barium enemas, even some furious dick ticks who are carrying Lyme disease.

Voice Two: Sidney, you are incredibly right. I mean, becoming a mortician shouldn't mean taking a vow of poverty. We need work ...

And it doesn't just work on television. One night I'm listening to one of those sports radio talk shows, and the host is berating his audience for not getting out and buying more club seats for the Hornets. Then they went to commercial break, and I put my cell phone on top of the radio. Right away, it went plaid.

Caller: Look, my name is Angelo, and I want to ask you something on the air after the break, and it's this: how many club seats have you bought?

Host: Well, I'll be in the press box and won't need ...

Caller: Yeah, but how about your mama or your brother or somebody? I mean, they only want four thou a year for three year's minimum, and you're always telling us it's time to step up for our city.

Host: Listen, fella, you better get on a lithium list somewhere. And you'll get invited to the West Wing before you get on the air on this show.

So, no more do I flop around stoned, drunk, lewd and nude. Now me and my little plaid phone get the story behind the story and believe me, it takes most of the sting out of nihilism.

Like I said, it was a vat of citrus-balsamic vinaigrette.


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