Of Internal Bleeding, Rewrites, and Crank Calls

It’s been another crazy week or two here on the homestead. Usually, my life is so free of drama that just running errands on the weekend is a big deal. The last three weeks , though, have given me enough excitement to last for months. These are sort of random thoughts I probably could’ve split up into three separate posts, but instead I’ll just condense it all in one, and you can jump to the section that interests you.

Internal Bleeding

I had to take my wife to the ER last week. She was not happy about it but knew she had no choice, as she was showing signs of internal bleeding. I did my best to reassure her that it was going to be fine, maybe they’d just give her a prescription and we’d be on our way. Um…no. Instead they admitted her to the hospital so they could run some tests and she ended up being there overnight. Health-wise, we’ve been pretty damn lucky thus far in our lives, and I realize that. I’ve lost friends and relatives to cancer and other diseases, and I knew this wasn’t that serious. Still, having to leave her alone in her room for the night when visiting hours were over (and still not knowing what was wrong) was really hard to do. I could write much, much more about the whole ordeal, but the last thing I’ll say is this regarding the ER staff-although I appreciate the attempt to be efficient and get my wife the care she needed in a timely manner, do you really think you can cram seven people into an ER examining room all asking the patient questions at the same time and not expect them to feel a wee bit overwhelmed? Oh, and by the way: my wife is doing much better.

Rewrites

I began doing some soul searching on my first novella a few weeks ago. Although it had only been rejected once, I had a feeling deep down that I didn’t want to admit: it wasn’t as good as it could be. I kept telling myself it was, but I knew otherwise. It finally clicked about two weeks ago, when I realized that although there had never been any doubt in my mind who my protagonist was, I wrote it like another character was the protagonist. I began to see some of the scenes I wrote with a newly found clarity. My protagonist was a damn spectator half the time! I’ve begun rewriting some of the scenes, and tweaking certain minor plot points accordingly.

I’ve never done anything this dramatic to any of my stories before, but I have a renewed confidence that it had to be done and it’s for the best. I think I’ve also come up with a more compelling title as well. The story has a current working title of Giving Them Back to God. I’ve read other writers’ concerns that putting God in the title can be asking for trouble, but for now I really like the sound of it.

To the other writers out there, have you ever suddenly realized you needed to rewrite part or all of your work? Was it worth it in the end or were you over-thinking what your story needed?

Crank Calls

I used to love The Jerky Boys. For those who may not be familiar, The Jerky Boys were popular in the ’90’s, selling millions of copies of CD’s full of prank phone calls.

Does anyone under the age of, say, 25 even get the concept of a prank call? In this day and age of email, texts, tweets, and Facebook posts, getting an actual phone call can be somewhat of a novelty. Not to mention the fact that everyone has caller ID, and if someone sees a number they don’t recognize they often simply won’t answer.

People growing up in this day and age may never understand the thrill of calling someone (whether it be someone you know or some poor soul picked at random) and trying to make them believe some ridiculous premise or get them to do something outrageous without blowing it by laughing.

What’s more, these young people may also never know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of a crank call, either. I’ve had the rare distinction of being on both the giving and the receiving end of a high number of prank calls. When I worked at a music store, I used to call regularly on slow days from a phone in the back room, changing my voice and pretending to be a customer to see how long one of my co-workers would put up with me. I would ask them to special order albums by non-existent bands, forcing them to comb through an actual paper catalog searching for something that wasn’t there. Once I even convinced an assistant manager there was going to be an inspection to ensure the store was meeting fire code. I was lucky to work at a store where everyone had a good sense of humor.

On the other end of the spectrum, I also worked as a 411 directory assistance operator for three grueling, insufferable years. At the time (2000-2003), people still had landlines as their primary phone. On top of that, many customers were given five free 411 calls a month. It was an open invitation to snotty little brats to call and harass someone.

I was one of the exceptions in the office, because I absolutely loved getting prank calls there; most of the miserable old codgers who worked there would get pissed and hang up. Not me. It broke up the monotony of robotically handling upwards of 1,000 calls a day. No exaggeration, a thousand calls a day. Anything that would breathe some life into my day was gladly accepted and appreciated.

The most common type of prank call was a kid (or kids) asking for the number to a fictional character. As in:

City and state, please?

Um, Gotham City. (giggle)

For what listing, please?

Batman.

This is what I would hear on the recording in my ear seconds before the call was connected, giving me a little time to think. I would usually reply with something to the effect of, “I’m sorry, there’s no listing for Batman in Gotham or surrounding cities. Would you like me to do a business search for Wayne Industries or a residential search for Bruce Wayne?”

One time, after receiving a request for Clark Kent, I replied that we had no listing and offered to do a business search for the Daily Planet. After a moment’s silence, I was told, “You’re no fun,” before being hung up on.

But my favorite prank call to get when I worked there was the rudest, crudest, and least original.

This one guy who called regularly wouldn’t use the recording, forcing us to give our opening live. Mine was, “Hi, this is Ken, city and state, please?”

His reply would be, in a perfect mocking voice, “Uh, hi, this is Ken, city and state, please? What a dick!” That was it. He would mockingly imitate me, call me a dick, then hang up.

Words cannot express the joy I got out of these phone calls. No matter what kind of crap day I was having (which was basically every day), that guy never failed to make me laugh. He had no idea how his calls were doing the complete opposite of what I assume was his intended effect.

I got this guy at least two or three times a month for several months, until inexplicably I didn’t get him for a very long time. Then, one day out of the blue I gave my opening and heard the familiar, “Uh, hi, this is Ken, city and state, please? What a dick!”

Without taking a second to process what was about to come out of my mouth, I said happily, “Hey, man, where have you been? I missed you!”

Silence.

Click.

I really wish I could’ve seen the look on the guy’s face during those few seconds before he hung up. I picture the look my dog gives me when I say words he doesn’t understand and he looks at me with his head tilted to one side.

So, has anyone out there made or received a crank call lately? If not, what are some of your favorite stories from back in the olden days?

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9 thoughts on “Of Internal Bleeding, Rewrites, and Crank Calls

  1. I loved the post, too, Kenneth! No entertaining stories, but maybe you’ve seen one of my guilty pleasures; a great old B movie called “I Saw What You Did” from 1965, about prank calls gone awry. I’m also very glad your wife is okay!

  2. In regards to your writing, I look at re-writes in two ways: If you are constantly re-reading your work, you are likely over-analyzing. However, if you have put your writing aside for a while, and go back and re-read, I think it is a valuable way to make your work better. In that sense, you’re your own best critic! Go with your gut, and if your gut feels uncertain, sleep on it 🙂

    1. It took me a while to realize how valuable NOT looking at my work could be. When you come back to it you see things you didn’t notice before. I think subconsciously I didn’t want to admit how much work I had to do on the story, and I’m finally owning up to it.

  3. About writing and deleting, I really had to learn to deal with failure and say to myself; if it’s bad it’s bad so be gone with it. But it still hurts every time I have to delete something I initially loved..But in the end i’m always happy I did it because most of the time after deleting a crappy poem I thought was pretty good, I end up writing something better and I learn from my mistakes. But it’s still hard, because I had to delete a whole book last month because the idea was not strong enough so I started all over, it was difficult to admit to myself but now I’m glad because I have a better concept and I know the do’s and don’ts better at least I think so.:)

  4. When I was young, I had sleepovers with my friends ALL THE TIME! It was my weekend thing all the way into high school until I was allowed to date. I remember all of the classic prank calls like looking in the phone book and finding someone with the first name “Elvis” and when they answered the phone start singing “You ain’t nothin but a Hounddog!” and the one “Hey Mr/Mrs so-in-so is your refrigerator running? Then you better go catch it!” Caller ID really put a damper on those days…huh? Love the stories of being an operator~ Glad your wife is ok! 🙂

    1. The thought of picking a prank call suspect out of the phone book seems so bizarre now, doesn’t it? People could be mean-spirited of course, but I always remembered prank calls as just good fun.

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