Junk Calls for Angels
Southern California Telephone Etiquette


I’m in Costa Mesa on Placentia near The Detroit Bar without my car.  It’s in the shop — clutch problems.  So I’m at a stop waiting for a bus to arrive.  Perfect.   I brought a book.  The Angel Esmeralda is calling me. 

I’m reading when a homeless man with a black plastic sack filled with cans shows up.

“When’s the next bus?” he asks. 

I don’t know.

So, he pulls out his cellphone and dials the Orange County Transit District, connects, and walks away.  A cluster of cars passes.  I hear him yelling over the traffic noise — apparently upset at the OCTD operator. 

“When?  God damn it.  When?  he says. 

In a vacation paradise, this is what’s called street color — locals speaking an earthy native dialect. “When, God damn it?”

We never find out.

I continue reading.

“Shit,” he says, shoves the phone in his pocket and walks away.

The bus arrives 10 minutes later.  I’m on my way home.  There’s just one transfer, so I get out at Fairview.  Within a minute another homeless man joins me at the stop.  He pulls out an Android, scans in the OCTD QR code, talks to his cell, unzips his fly and starts pissing on the bus stop.  Just then my bus comes into view.  From there it gets Chaplinesque.  There’s a tangle of arms and jacket, zipper and hands — an awkward tussle as Charlie tries to secure his junk.  The bus brakes and folds its door open. 

I’m up the steps quick.  The homeless man follows me in.  Sits next me.  Street color — I’m riding with the Angel Esmeralda.

As soon as I get home the landline rings.  I answer.  It’s Jim — an Iraq War Veteran telephone solicitor.  He tells me he’s with AC something.  I’m wondering: Is it Air Conditioners for Afghanistan?  Jim tells me he’s raising money to send box lunches to our troops.  “Can you help?  It means so much to them,” he says. 

I don’t tell Jim that I already gave to the IRS — that I thought enough of our money already went down the black hole of Afghanistan; that our taxes helped pay for billions of dollars of waste; poor planning and payoffs to liars, buggers and thieves; that I’m more concerned with the homeless here, than the oil there.  I don’t say that.  I have a standard operating procedure for unsoliciated telesolicitors.  I’m polite.  I thank them for their call.  Tell them I don’t do business over the phone.   Ask them to take my number off their list.  Thank them again.   And then, as a parting olive branch, tell them they are welcome to send me any information via post.

That, however, doesn’t please Jim.

“Now what do you want me to do?”  Jim says.  “Don’t you know, I can mail you anything anytime I want?”

“Uh, oh,” I say.  “I have another call coming in.  Thanks again for calling.  Bye.”

I disconnect.  My head is with the homeless and I’ve got a good book to read.

— Nathan Callahan

First Broadcast February 24, 2012

© NathanCallahan.com / Nathan Callahan / all rights reserved


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