The Northern Michigan JournalNM LIVINGNEXT

If George Orwell Had Long Distance Service
By Ross Blanchard

It all started when I moved into my new apartment and selected a different long distance carrier.

I didn't think it was a big deal then. I mean, who would care about little ol' me anyway, right? Well, that's where I was wrong. You see, I selected a small company, it was MC-Id, because they had clever commercials, and I sure do like that Magnum P.I. dude. So, I was happy with them, and things were going well. They would write once a month to say "Hi" and tell me about how their lives were going. And then in a postscript they would add, "Drop us a line soon, all right? Oh, and if you get around to it, there's a little matter of $32.50. If you could, please send it. We're trying to get our books in order."

How could I not become endeared to these people? They were like my friends and family.

Well, as I said, everything was going well until one day when I received a phone call: "Hello, Winston. This is Big Sister from Ape T&T. We miss you, Winston. Why have you forsaken us?"

I didn't know what to say to the voice. Big Sister had looked after my needs for so many years, I was afraid to say that I'd found a better deal. But as it turns out, I didn't have to explain.

"We know you've been tempted to stray from us, Winston, but I'm calling to let you know it is not too late to again win our favor."

And then the voice offered me something I could not refuse a big personal check!

"Oh, Big Sister, I'm sorry. I've been so foolish," I said, teary-eyed. "Please forgive me."

"You can redeem yourself by uttering one single word. Will you agree to come back to us, Winston?"

Oh, the pressure tactics. "Force them to make an immediate decision," was their motto. The silence was growing long as I hesitated, and you all know how uncomfortable phone silence is.

"Yes," I finally said.

"Ahaaa! Uh, I mean, welcome-to-ApeT&T-our-special-rates-apply -only-to-Boise-Syracuse-Toledo-and-Spokane-the-personal-check-will-automatically-be-voided-30- minutes-after-delivery-goodbye... [click]"

I felt a bit better then, having some extra cash in my pocket and knowing Big Sister was again looking out for me. But in the back of my mind there was always the feeling I'd sold out and let down my new-found friends at MC-Id. But it wasn't long before I heard from them again. And this time, I had the luck of meeting a new and special friend.
"Hello, Winston," a young, attractive female voice said. "This is Julia."
"Uh, Julia ..."
"Our friends at MC-Id have told me a lot about you. I hope I'm not being too forward by calling like this. I didn't wake you up, did I?"
"Oh, no. You can call at 2 a.m. anytime," I mumbled, still half asleep.
"Oh, swell. I was just lying here, you know ... in bed ... and I was thinking of you."
"You were?" I was suddenly wide awake.
"Yeah. And I just had to call and talk to you. I've struggled with this for a while and ... well, I wasn't going to say anything, but I really have something to get off my chest. Winston, why did you leave us? We were getting to know you so well, and right after you left was when you and I were to be introduced. That was the bonus plan you were told about."
"It was?"
"Winston, we can't offer much. We can't give you the money and glitz the other company can. I know we're small, but we have heart and we all stick together against the oppressive Big Sister who only wants to control you. Yes, Winston, we are the underdogs. We know it would be easier to give up and succumb to the machine, but in our hearts and minds we cannot. And we're counting on you, the strong and independent Winston we all know and love, to help us in the fight. And I'm counting on you, too, darling..."
"Uh, O.K."
"Oh, you've made me so happy ...William ... uh... Winston. And by the way, we can help you save more money if you give us the names of all your friends that Big Sister currently has her hooks into."
"Well, I don't know ..."
"Aw, c'mon. For me ..."
"Well, maybe just a few ... for you, honey."
"Oh, you're so sweet."
And so I spilled my guts.
"And another thing, muffin. [giggle, giggle]."
"Yes, honeybunch?"
"You're going to need a pager, and I can rent you one at only a little extra cost," said Julia with her sweet voice.
"A pager? What for?" I really didn't need a pager, but the thought of having one was kind of neat.
"Oh, darling," Julia gasped. "You'll need to be able to be contacted at all times by your fellow MC-Id Elite Fighting Comrade Commandos.""
Otter Creek Music of Suttons Bay--on and offline, the best source for all your music "Oh, yes. Of course."
"And we realize you may be contacted again by Big Sister. So we are willing to relieve you of this burden. You just give us permission to send you pre-addressed postcards notifying these companies to back off, and they will no longer bother you."
"That won't really be necessary ..."
"We could arrange to have a lit Molotov cocktail sent to them."
"No, no. I can deal with Big Sister, Julia. Don't you worry your pretty little head over it."
"Oh, Winston. You say that like such a man."
"Well, you know ... aw shucks..," I began to blush.
"And-thank-you-for-choosing-MC-Id-lose-the-pager-and-we'll-own-you-for-life-sucker- the-voice-you- heard-was-that-of-a-machine.... kisses!!!" Several electronic kissing noises followed.
And that is where the trouble really started. My friends and family, who are more loyal to Big Sister than I am, turned me in for my allegiance to Julia and MC-Id. I was terrified to even answer the phone, fearing it was Big Sister. My dreams also plagued me due to the pressure I was under by being part of the revolution. These mostly revolved around the pager, for the safety of which I was ultimately responsible.

The dream would always begin with the silly thing beeping in my pocket while I scaled a mountain. The noise startles me since the pager hadn't beeped in months. I lose my grip as I grope around in my pockets, and I plummet several hundred feet to the rocks below. Hanging on to my life by a thread, my rescuers arrive and find me in a pool of blood with one arm outstretched, grasping the beeping pillbox. And I would always awake in a cold sweat, screaming, "Don't get any blood on the pager. It's a rental!"

One morning, as I awoke screaming, the beeping was none other than my phone ringing. Shall I answer, I thought. It could be dear Julia. But it could be Big Sister. And I welched on her for cashing that big check and then joining the revolution. But it could also be my friends at MC-Id calling with further instructions.
"Hel, hel, ... hello?"
"Hello, Winston."
"Big Sister!"
"We've been talking with your friends, Winston, and they say MC-Id has been calling them."
"Well, I..."
"Now, how would they know what names to contact?"
"They were listening in on my phone calls, I swear!"
"It was Mama Belle who was listening in, Winston, and she told me everything."
"Will you kids get off the phone already!" a third voice interrupted.
"Just a second, Mama," Big Sister and I chimed in unison. Then Big Sister continued with her interrogation.
"What did you do, Winston?"
"Nothing. Really!"
"You named names, Winston. You named names. And for that you must be punished. I'm afraid we're going to have to disconnect your cable TV service."
"No! You can't do that!" I cried out in a high, cracked voice. "You couldn't, you couldn't! It's impossible."
"You know, this is not necessary," Big Sister said. "This can happen to someone else. I need a name. Ah, the cable man just walked in. Hey, Joe, a little favor if you would ..."
"No! Do it to Julia!" I screamed. "Not me! Julia! I don't care what you do to her! Disconnect her cable, ruin her credit. Not me! Julia! Not me ..."
And so, here I am, a victim of foolishness and greed. I've since learned to respect Big Sister and realize what can happen when you double-cross her. Although I betrayed my true love, Julia has since forgiven me, but only on the condition I videotape Murder, She Wrote every week and mail it to her as she can no longer receive cable for some reason. And even though we haven't met, I'm sure that under my new wisdom, she will abandon her restless ways.

As for me, I've decided to follow my bliss, take my life into my own hands and start my own support group for those who've been traumatized by long distance carriers.

Beep, beep. Oh, excuse me for just a moment.
Ed. note: Ross Blanchard is the Features Editor for The Upper Peninsula Post. This piece was originally published on Sept. 3, 1995 in "Living it U.P.," Section B of The Post.
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