really don't know why I'm writing this. It won't help me in
any way, and in fact could get me into a bit of trouble. But maybe,
just maybe, someone out there will learn from my mistakes. In
fact, I was motivated all along by a deep, abiding concern for
the public's welfare, which will be obvious once you've heard
It was what, last Saturday? I had dutifully agreed to submit
myself to Sunday brunch at my aunt's split-level. I offered to
bring a radicchio and endive salad or perhaps a fava and fennel
side dish. She merely asked me to remember that the Portland suburbs
aren't in southern France how cruel to remind me
"So why don't you just bring a nice bottle of wine, honey.
Gallo is on sale at Freddie's." I consented, though I had
no intention of supporting Ernest and Julio, the philistines.
So I went to the Gourmand Grocer to have a chat with Mario, the
Tuscan wine steward. We were discussing the current silliness
over Chilean reds just a fad, we both agreed, too tanic
when I heard somewhere nearby a woman's voice:"I'm
sorry, I'm not able to answer you right now, but your question
is very important to me, so please stay here, and I'll answer
it just as soon as I'm available."
The voice was remarkable. And so familiar. It's tone was resonant
and authoritative, yet pleasantly feminine. Its even cadence was
augmented here and there by a husky hitch, which lent its owner
a Doris Day charm. And the speaker exuded the soothing confidence
of a mother assuring a panicked child that scraping a knee is
painful, but that everything will be just fine. You'll see. In
the meantime, sweetheart, how about a chocolate sundae? So sonorous
and serene was that voice, it could soothe a mad dog or
Trent Lott. Why, then, was my heart jumping in my chest? What
could possibly be bothering me? I knew I'd heard that woman before.
"...round and fruity, with notes of March Strawberries and
slightly burnt Hazelnuts..."
"Yes, yes, Mario. Order me a case. Now, if you'll excuse me..."
I headed off to discover the identity of the mystery speaker. From the
volume and direction of her voice, I guessed she was in the next aisle.
The only female in the aisle was on a ladder replenishing the balsamic
overstock. The sage vest she was wearing confirmed that she was indeed
an employee though I felt pity for the poor article of clothing.
Stretched to the point of tearing, it was having a bit of difficulty
keeping itself in one piece. For she was...well, big-boned is
the polite term. Except big isn't quite right either. Though
as wide as a water heater, she was so short as to suggest a genetic
defect. The tufts of hair sprouting from her nostrils and ears (whose
lobes nearly brushed her shoulders) and a pair of feet so preternaturally
large she could have borrowed shoes from Shaq only supported the impression.
This mutant couldn't possibly be the origin of those dulcet tones.
I decided to try the next aisle.
But just as I was turning around, a gentleman spoke to the grotesque
little beast: "Excuse me. Where are your Mexican foods?"
And then, to my surprise, the troll opened her mouth and out purred
that hypnotic voice: "If you are looking for Mexican spices,
please go to aisle one. If you are looking for tortillas, please
go to aisle two. If you are looking for pre-made tamales, please
go to aisle three. If you are looking for books on Mexican cookery,
please go to aisle four..."
As I heard the voice a second time, my heart began to beat even faster.
Beads of sweat began to form on my upper lip. Her directions were
delivered politely and with measured patience. Why did the sound
of that voice set me off like Russell Crowe after a British Academy
Film Awards ceremony? What's more, I was now convinced that I
had heard that voice before but where?
My first impulse was to simply ask. But something held me back.
I now realize, with the advantage of hindsight, that I couldn't
approach that mellifluous she-creature because I had already become
aware, though yet dimly, of the dark intention that had begun
to take form in my heart. At that moment I was standing on a threshold.
Fate had thrown down its hoary gauntlet and I must either accept,
and risk everything, or decline, and spend the remainder of my
allotted years in tedious safety.
As I pondered my next move, I had the oddest sensation: time seemed
to slow down, to gather inward, as if hoarding its resources for more
strenuous moments ahead.
"...If you would like me to repeat these options, please
state your question again. If you would like to speak with another
Gourmand associate, please stay right there. Someone will be with
you just as soon as possible."
That did it. The skin on the back of my neck began to crawl;
foul bile began to rise up my throat and, as if by revelation,
I knew precisely what to do. I turned on my heels gauntlet
in hand and left the store. I spent the next hour or so
shopping for the items I would need, then drove back to Gourmand,
parked in an unobtrusive corner of the lot and settled
in. Like a cat poised at the lip of a mouse hole, I waited: alert,
focused, and ready to move.
Finally, after a considerable wait, my honey-tongued troglodyte emerged
from the store. I gauged her destination a lone, blue-green Plymouth
Neon in the south end of the lot got out of the car, and set
out in her direction. Just before she reached the car, I headed her
"Excuse me. You don't know me, but I know you."
"I'm sorry, I don't believe we've..."
"No! You don't understand me? I know who you are. And I know
what you do."
Though outwardly nonplused, I notice her pupils contract slightly,
and a hint of color rush into her cheeks.
"I'm sorry? I'm sure I don't know what you mean."
"Come on, sister. I would recognize that voice anywhere.
The jig is up, and it's time to pay the piper."
"You must have mistaken..."
"Cut the chatter, baby doll. You see this? It's a gun."
Actually, it was a rather chubby stalk of rhubarb I was
planning to make tarts the next day which in my blazer
pocket made a surprisingly lifelike imitation of a pistol. "One
more word out of you and it'll start talking back. Got it? Now
get in the car, nice and quiet like."
Though she stopped talking as requested, she remained quite calm. In
fact, if I'm not mistaken, a smile tugged lightly at the edges of her
mouth, as though she were the one in control, not I. I told her to get
behind the wheel, and as she did I slipped into the passenger seat.
With the rhubarb protruding menacingly in my pocket, I told her to move
My place was not far. She followed my directions impeccably, driving
the speed limit the entire way. We saw few other cars on the road and
arrived without incident. She did not speak the entire way.
Fortunately, my apartment is quite secluded. I live in the basement
of a house near Forest Park. The house itself is tucked back among
some trees. The other residents were all on vacation, so once
we'd pulled into the driveway, I knew we were alone. All alone.
I grabbed my bag of goodies, and we headed into the house.
Once inside, I pushed one of my Stickley dining chairs over by
the radiator and told her to sit down. Among the items I had purchased
was a length of rope. I got it out of the bag and wound it tightly
around her and the chair until she was strapped in from her grotesque
feet to her furry forehead. Finally, I tied my creation to the
radiator. Now that she no longer needed to be guarded, I went
into the other room to prepare for the next phase in my plan.
I got the phone.
But the little freak had a plan of her own. She had only been biding
her time, waiting for the proper moment to set it in motion. As soon
as my attention (and my rhubarb) was focused elsewhere, she set to work
she began to talk.
It was a masterful performance, worthy of Helen Mirren, or Bill
Clinton. Now that her back was, quite literally, against the wall,
she abandoned her feeble denials. She was a member of that
loathsome guild (and I don't mean the meter maids), and she was
very good at her job.
Her voice oozed apple pie and auntie Em.
"...but all of our representatives are currently busy..."
Its steady, hypnotic rhythm began to lull my thoughts...
"...but we value your call..."
...and weaken my resolve.
"...so please stay on the line..."
I felt my shoulders relax and my brow unfurrow.
"...and your call will be taken in the order in which it was received."
Gradually my sense of urgency dissipated. The careful plan I had concocted
seemed foolish, and quite mad. Suddenly, I felt infinitely patient,
pleasantly pliant. I was one messed up Carlisle. But no matter. This
warm heart felt nothing but compassion for my faults, and a desire to
help. I began to untie the rope.
"We're sorry, but all our representatives are still busy..."
"So please remain on the line..."
As had so many before me, my heart sank.
"And someone will be with you as soon as possible."
I started, as if woken from a dream."Nice try, girlie.
You almost had me. But you got cocky, you pushed you luck a little
too far. And now I'm wise to your tricks."
I re-secured the rope, picked up my bag of purchases, and emptied its
contents on the floor: a Walkman, a pair of headphones, a package of
batteries, and a roll of duct tape. I picked up the Walkman, batteries,
and headphones. As I was putting them together, my captive looked visibly
worried for the first time. In tones carefully calibrated to ease frustration
and assuage impatience, she attempted to prevent the inevitable."Wait.
What are you going to do? Can't we talk about..." But it was too
late. Once I'd tuned to NPR and turned up the volume I could no longer
hear her protests.
I then took the duct tape and strapped the phone against her furry
ear. I'm not a cruel man by nature, but I couldn't help taunting her,
just a little. Phone book in hand, I offered her a choice of tortures:
"So, what'll it be, toots? US Bank? The Post Office? The United
Way?" She flinched at that one. "Oh, I know. How about the
IRS?" That put the fear of God into her. She began to plead and
threaten. "What's that? I'm sorry, I can't hear you. Terry Gross
and Doris Kearns Goodwin are discussing academic ethics. Don't interrupt."
Worry turned into blind panic, and as she began to struggle violently
though vainly to free herself, I looked up the number
in the phone book. And dialed. Slowly. I then went into the next
room, removed the headphones, and took the second phone from its
cradle. "Welcome to the IRS. In order to direct to your call
accurately, please choose from the following options...."
A savage, bloodcurdling howl rent the air. I put the headphones
back on. Everything clearly in order, I went to bed.
When I awoke in the morning, after a particularly refreshing sleep,
I went in to check on my project. After surviving such a night, my tiny
golem seemed to have diminished even further. As I approached, I could
hear a tinny voice from the phone's miniature speaker: "To hear
these menu options again, please stay on the line..."
She lifted her head feebly to see who was coming. Her eyes were
red with blood, her cheeks streaked with tears. Otherwise, her
face was completely devoid of expression. She was clearly long
past either hope or despair. I got a pair of scissors and cut
her free. When I ripped the phone from her ear, she winced in
pain. She was nonetheless grateful: "Thanks. Never thought
I'd be happy to see your bony ass again. What now?"
The change in her voice was striking. It had become high-pitched, nasal,
and colored by what I can only describe as a phlegmy flutter.
She sounded like a Haldol-popping Michael Jackson with a head
"You are quite free to do as you please. Want some breakfast?"
She looked at me suspiciously, her eyes darting wildly around
the room. When they landed on the phone, she started violently.
After a moment's hesitation, she made a frantic break for the
door, and was gone. Apparently she wasn't hungry.
My plan had worked perfectly. Her brand of treacly insincerity would
trouble the world no more.
The next morning I went out early to buy a paper. I found what
I was looking for on page 8. "
Unidentified Woman Found Dead
Early this morning, a body was found hanging from the Steel
Bridge. Apparently, the deceased took her own life, tying several
phone cords together to fashion a crude noose and then throwing
herself off the side of the bridge. In a related story, last night
12 phone booths were vandalized in the immediate vicinity of the
Steel Bridge. The deceased, who had bits of paper from several
phone books under her fingernails, is the only suspect.
Police have not yet identified the body. The deceased was
4' 8" tall and approximately 200 lbs. She had unusually large
feet and...furry ears. Police have requested that anyone with
information regarding the identity of the deceased please call
the following number...
I decided to come clean and tell them everything. After all,
it seems doubtful that a jury would be willing to convict someone
who had rid society of such a woman. And let's be honest, I wanted
someone to brag to. So I picked up the phone and dialed the number.
But when the party on the other end picked up the phone, I realized
to my horror! that I had accomplished precisely nothing,
that my small gesture to justice had been all in vain.
"Welcome to the Portland Police Department. If you would like
to report a crime, please dial one...."