Gimme A Call

In the dim and distant ‘80s, as a newspaper reporter, I had to call a certain mayor – a longtime and fairly cagey politician – and ask him a difficult question I’d neglected to bring up when I’d interviewed him earlier.  I fretted for a while at my desk, did a couple role plays in my head, tried to think of follow-up questions because I expected him to wiggle away from what he didn’t want to go on record with.  Deadline approached, I had to take the plunge, so I grabbed the phone and punched his number.

I hit him with my blunt question (finesse has never been my strength).  Dead silence, then a cough, a stammer and then he admitted to something I was sure he would not want to see in the paper.  Flustered, I scratched notes as quick as I could and reformed my follow-up on the spot, hardly believing my good fortune.  The mayor spilled yet more beans in terse, odd sentences; I kept him on the line until I’d gotten all I wanted and way more than I’d expected.

I hung up and sat back in my chair, wondering what had just happened.  Then it hit me.  “Gotcha,” I said and started rewriting my lede sentence.  What I realized was the mayor was uncomfortable speaking on the phone.  From then on, whenever I wanted to ask him about a subject he wanted to talk about, I’d ask in person and he’d give me paragraphs of good copy.  When I suspected he didn’t want to talk, I’d telephone.  (“Mayor?  Sorry to bug you like this, just one thing I forgot to ask…”)

The mayor was pretty old then and is probably dead today, which is lucky for him.  Phones were bad enough.  In the course of my workweek, I use the phone, email, text, two different instant messaging applications, videoconference. (I do not Tweet.)  Once in a great while, I write something on paper and hand it to someone.  Oh yeah, and in a rare moment, I’ll sit and talk with another live person, maybe two at once.

I used to write letters.  My best correspondent was my former newsroom colleague Joan.  We’d exchange six- or eight-page letters four or five times a year.  Next week is the tenth anniversary of her death.  I miss her – and her letters – terribly.  Email destroyed our correspondence toward the end; the long letters had been pre-empted by a few pixeled sentences here and there.  At her memorial service I mentioned her ginger snap recipe; our former boss, through tears, said, “She never shared cookie recipes with me.”  It was then I realized I didn’t know Joan that well – or got any recipes – until I moved away.  Joan was far more intimate on paper than she was in person.  Her daughter said when she was away at school she envied the packages other kids’ parents sent, “but I got a letter from my mom every day.  Every single day.”

I’ve realized that, like Joan, I have a slightly different personality in each mode of communication.  I’m laconic when I text, my IMs rarely have capital letters or punctuation and are full of typos.  (“It’s OK, I can read Skype,” a colleague wrote, er, typed, er, Skyped.)  For reasons no one seems able to explain, when I participate by videoconference to one room in Washington, DC (the big conference room, where the all-staff meetings are held), my image – and only my image – is huge on the screen, giving the event a Big Brother aspect.  My colleagues Rick and Charlie called soon after the system was installed and told me to stop scowling or laughing at things I disagreed with, even if my audio was on mute.  It was putting people off.  And by the way, they said, trim your nose hairs.

Last night I was on tee vee, sitting in a Vermont studio in front of a façade of faux books, looking at a camera, the voices of the host and another guest in my ear.  I got through it OK, the earpiece through which I heard the others popped out at one point, so I had to guess what the question was, I forgot at least half the clever things I’d thought of earlier and suddenly the show was on to its next segment and I was just sitting in an empty room with the local director (nice guy).  By the time I got home 10 minutes later, one of the viewers had tracked down my personal email and commented (kindly) on my performance.

And now you read this, via my mailing list, an RSS feed or perhaps you just stumbled across it on the web.  I suspect blog Floegel is more likeable than real Floegel.  He’s certainly more thoughtful.  So say hello sometime, in whatever manner you choose.  It’s always good to hear from you.

© Mark Floegel, 2013

One Comment

  1. Elizabeth Zander
    Posted 3/9/2013 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    Just to say thanks for writing, you are thoroughly enjoyable to read!

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