Monday, June 06, 2005

Fruitcake with Extra Nuts

When the phrase "she talked for, like, twenty minutes straight" is employed in conversation, it usually betrays a certain measure of its speaker's hyperbolic tendencies. The person who insists that someone bored them for "literally, I swear, like, half an hour" without interruption is usually the same kind of person who will insist that they are "starving to death," that they drove "like ninety-five the whole way home," and that, no matter how well rested they look, they got "like forty-five minutes of sleep last night. Seriously."

Given that I do, y'know, maybe once in a blue moon take you for a flight on the wings of exaggeration, I don't expect anyone to believe me when I say that my boss and I just spent the better part of an hour between us on the phone with a raving lunatic. Of the roughly forty-five minutes this woman was on the other end of my phone, my boss and I spoke for a combined total of less than one minute.

I don't believe I have ever in my life spoken uninterrupted for fifteen minutes. I've been told I have a big mouth, and I know that I'm kind of a storytelling junkie in conversation, but on my longest possible talking jag I don't think I could've spoken for more than five minutes. I think the only occasion I've ever had to speak for fifteen minutes in a row, uninterrupted, were classroom presentations in high school; even then, though, I always included at least a five minute question and answer period as a life preserver. There's nothing worse than drowning in a sea of your own monotone.

I think the best way to elucidate the conversation I just had would be to transcribe my notes, taken within the first three minutes of the phone call when I still thought the woman on the other end was asking me a question. They read:

Down's Syndrome ---> Poison in hospitals ---> Studying in journals ---> Index? ---> Genetics ---> More reading...? ---> Glandular disorders ---> Skin diseases ---> Hepatitis ---> WHAT?

On the rare occasion my phone rings, it's usually our production lady on the other end with a quick question on the ongoing epistemological debate over healthcare vs. health care. So when my phone rang at 8:45 this morning, I didn't quite know what to expect.

"Hello, this is Kathy," I answered.
"Kathy Haas?"
"No, Kathy Cacace."
"Kathy Cacace. My name is Kathy Cacace."
"Oh. Lemme ask you about this index that I've been getting from your company, and whether or not you can find out about hemoglobin--"
"Wait, ma'am, are you looking for a Kathy Haas? Because I could find her extension--"
"No. See, when you have people with Down's Syndrome in hospitals, see, I know a man with Down's Syndrome who just died at 106, and he didn't die from pneumonia, lemme tell you..."

And she just kept going from there. For the next, say, ten minutes, I sat as she talked her way from Down's Syndrome to boils, with a quick pit stop in the middle to discuss her relatives in Europe who speak several languages and, she was sure, as an international company we would want to employ their services at some point in the future. I assumed she was getting to a question, so I didn't interrupt her. However, when it seemed that she was losing steam I took the opportunity to jump in and say:

"I know you mentioned an index. I'm not sure we publish that, but I can refer you over to the journals section? I think they'd know--"
"I already talked to journals. It's not them. It's an index, and in it I need to know about protein, and cancer, and how it can develop..."

And she went off on another tangent. I could not discern a point, a gist, an anything to her speech. I didn't know if she was pitching a book idea. I didn't know if she was supposed to be part of a conference call but had dialed the wrong number. All I know was that I completely tuned out while thinking about how long I had been listening to her talk, and tuned in just in time to hear:

"...women's vaginas, or even men's rectums! And the--"
"Wait, wait, wait. Let me get my editor."


My boss came out to my desk to talk to the woman. Ten minutes passed. My boss tried to ask her a question, but the elephant stampede of this woman's sentences trampled her query flat. Twenty, I swear, twenty more minutes passed. Every few minutes my boss would look up at me incredulously, and would mouth I DON'T KNOW WHAT TO DO, or THIS WOMAN IS INSANE. Eventually, I heard on my boss's end of the conversation:

"Ma'am, whatever index you were talking about, I don't think we publish that."
Then: "No."
Then: "Ma'am, we're not in New Jersey. We're located in Manhattan."
Then: "No, we're not in New Jer--"

And then she put the phone down, looked up at me, and said:

"That woman is deranged."

She said that the woman raved on and on about diseases and lancing boils and what not for as long as she'd spoken to me. Before my boss interrupted, she said she'd begun talking about how it all boiled down to rabies, and something about the "cute wittle puppy" she has, and how she "named him Whiskey." Then she started talking about "Mrs. Whitman," which was when my boss cut her off.

The conversation had actually gone like this:

Boss: Ma'am, whatever index you're talking about, I don't think we publish that.
Nutbag: Of course you do, you've published it for years. Do you know Mrs. Whitman?
Boss: No.
Nutbag: Of COURSE you do! She's your GOVERNOR [Christine Todd Whitman, who is not even the current governor of New Jersey.]
Boss: Ma'am we're not in New Jersey. We're located in Manhattan.
Nutbag: Don't be ridiculous. You're the ordering division of medical scholastic books, and you're located in New Jersey.
Boss: We're not in New Jers--
Nutbag: Thank you, goodBYE.

Of course, I've spent the rest of the morning trying to envision the scenario on the other end of the phone. Despite my best efforts to believe that it was a frazzled grad student pitching a book, or a retired editor with Alzheimer's left unattended to dial familiar numbers, what I'm left imagining is slightly more gruesome (though a much better horror movie). Somewhere in New Jersey's state mental institutions, a schizophrenic swipes a scalpel. When an orderly comes to bring her her watery eggs and dry toast, she slices his hand and pushes past him out her door. He is yelling for help, but the nurse at the desk is half-asleep, and can barely distinguish his cries above the ravings of the other patients. The schizophrenic slips past her and into a psychiatrist's office. She pins a chair under the doorknob. She moves to slide into the Doctor's heavy leather chair behind a heavier oak desk, but is startled by something moving in the corner. A small dog emerges. It seems the Doctor has stopped into the hospital for just a few moments, new pet in tow, to pick up a case file or two on his way to the Hamptons. The schizophrenic picks up the pup.

"I'm gonna call you WHISKEY," she announces.

She puts Whisky down on the desk and has a conversation with the devil about whether or not he's living in the dog's stomach. After the brief chat, she is convinced she should remove the devil from the dog's digestive system, but she doesn't want sever any necessary arteries. Looking for a book on veterinary medicine on the Doctor's shelves, she is unable to find what she wants, but locates the phone number of many of his book's publishers.

"Hello," she says to the receptionist on the fifth floor, just as the door to the office begins to jiggle, then shake under a barrage of blows from the outside. "I understand your company publishes indexes, and I need to know about hemoglobins, and rabies, and dogs, because Whisky here has got something in his stomach."

The scalpel glints, and so do her crazy, crazy eyes.

Yes, ladies and gents, it's chills, thrills, and spills in the world of medical publishing. Hide your kiddies and don't look the freaks in the eye.


Anonymous mombi said...

We used to live above a lunatic who would call the library daily and ramble on for hours. I couldn't believe they had begun to hang up on him, then he called our house and left an hour long message till the machine cut him off... and I had absolutely NO IDEA what is was he had called for, or what he actually said. Ask Brad about the Disney tape this guy made for him. HA!

Dontcha ever wonder how people managed to survive to the point when you meet them?

11:35 AM  
Anonymous mombi said...

I forgot to mention the foil, and the terrible smell!

11:36 AM  
Blogger What'sHerFace said...

I think I've heard about him! Was it the song from Aladdin? And was this the guy in the "Hunkamunka" story?

11:59 AM  
Blogger DMo said...

Honestly, could you have asked for a better start to the work week?

12:10 PM  
Blogger What'sHerFace said...

Fresh baked cupcakes on my desk?

Otherwise, no.

12:20 PM  
Blogger Buckley said...

Just came to you after a period of absence Kathy, and dleighted to see your blogging is up to its usual and delighful high standard.

I now work as a tour guide and speak in stints of over an hour with little interruption. Only difference with me and your lunatic caller is that I don't necessarily choose to do this vountarily. I'm pretty sure I talk just as much junk though!

1:39 PM  
Anonymous mombi said...

oh yeah - that's the very same guy.
i guess my stories are brad's stories. i'd tell you some stories from before brad's time, but come to think of it - never mind.

2:45 PM  
Blogger Kunaxa said...

I'm just happy someone else is being called 'nutbag.'

4:36 PM  
Anonymous brad said...


10:56 AM  

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