My father worked as a naval radar technician during World War II so that I could be a writer during World War III (or, depending on where you live or whom you ask, IV); after the war he became a clinical psychologist. As a result, when he leaves messages on my answering machine, they open with something therapeutic (“. . . just wondering how you‘re doing . . .”) and close with something military (“over . . . and out”).

The reason I know what my father says when he leaves messages on my answering machine is that my father doesn’t use a cell phone; it‘s strictly hard-wired, land-line vocals from Dad to me and back, with all our mumbles and sighs intact. So clear is my father’s voice and so unchanged for the past 20 or more telephone years, that I conjure, consistently, images of a man closer to 50 than his almost 76 years. Not an old man‘s voice, but the high-fidelity, ageless, residual dadvoice. Likewise, Dad says he envisions my voice coming from a daveboy of 18 or 20. It’s always a shock when I visit.

“Air or fish in a roof with ‘oo ’eds.”


“Air or fish in a roof with ‘oo ’eds. Win fear casbah derk, nog ruffin‘ me. ’Oo ‘en, ’oo ‘imma, ’oo ‘eds.”

“What kind of fish?”

The sky that lives above Death Valley is often blue I’m told. That‘s the sky that turned black and sent the calls, nine of them, in succession, from my ex-girlfriend’s cell phone several Sunday nights ago. She was staying overnight in a crappy motel after having spent the day being photographed for some kind of dance-performance promotional material.

It was difficult for either of us to understand what the other was saying, because after our first five syllables (“Hello?” “Hey. It‘s me.”), most of the sound particles were lost to the sky. But somewhere, in the course of the first three of what would become nine calls, my friend’s story of air and fish, of fearing casbah derk and oo en imma, grew to be a request for etiquette advice: When four people must share a motel room in Death Valley, how does one tell the asshole who‘s been hitting on you all day that he ain’t gettin‘ laid?

So I set about advising as best as I knew how, and of course almost none of what I said made it past the first grid, so we called each other back and back again and kept blurting and quipping and the phonemes cracked and the calls dropped and died, lost somewhere in the sky and I began to feel a change. Between ring-ring and crackle, rumble and click a certain pulse had begun to emerge, a pulse of, I felt, potentially musical consequences. The ring was no longer a ring but a quartet of constipated oboes; the crackles and clicks: gravel in blender, toy bulldozers tossing sandpaper salads.

And back again. Not air or fish in a roof but there’s four of us in a room, bad lyrics in a bad pop song, courtesy of Sprint PCS.

“Tomb hen ‘oo immen ’oo ‘eds. Ahgruh fuses sleepin’ ‘aim ’ed‘s derk. ’Ow I ‘leap fame bed soggruh-guy sinnit on ’ee-dane ‘ink ’scone ‘ay.”

As it happens, my friend Daniel is an authority on matters of phonemic disarray and assimilation. Dan(iel Lentz) pioneeredcreatedcoined live multitracking, wherein live musical performances are recorded, and these recordings are synchronized and, in the same performance, played back as layer upon layer of ever-expanding live music. Lots of Dan’s stuff requires vocalists to sing in phonemes — “. . . ca ca ca me me me rhi rhi rhi ah ah ah . . .” — which, when layered, sequenced and re-sequenced through verse after verse, form words, phrases, sentences, poetry, backward, forward and sideways.

Two Sunday nights later, authority Dan showed up in town, so as we sat in the studio, slowly drowning in cigars and wine, I told him all about the nine consecutive cell-phone calls, asked him about the phoneme snippets rising and falling almost organically from digital conversations all over the world, about the possibility of interdependent nodes of a collective organism unwittingly forming something musical, like the proverbial billions of monkeys typing out an eternity of novels. They must be writing stories about us, decipherable to someone, perhaps, light-years away. You think?

“You can quote me,” was Dan‘s reply: “Where’s the wine, for Christ‘s sake? And the coffee?”

(“I need your advice. There’s four of us in one room with two beds. Anastasia and her husband, Dirk, and the photographer and me. Two men, two women, and there‘s two beds. The photographer refuses to sleep in the same bed as Dirk — and in all fairness, it does make sense for the married couple to sleep together — so now I’m supposed to sleep in the same bed as this photographer guy who‘s been hitting on me all day and actually thinks he’s gonna get laid.”

“Is he?”

“Noooo! He‘s . . . eewwwww!”)#


Virtual Guidebook to Death Valley


The Bitter Single Guy’s Relationship Advice


The Fantastic Typing CyberMonkey


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