Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Big Delete

Many years ago a friend of mine had an idea that he said might someday benefit his survivors.

When the time came, he said, the survivors could place the following prerecorded greeting on his answering machine:

“Hello, this is Lou Rappaport. I can’t come to the phone right now because I am dead.”

I think there was more to the greeting, but I’ve forgotten it.

Back then the idea would have been simple enough to carry out; this was before answering machines — and seemingly everything else on the planet — went digital, when both the outgoing and incoming messages were recorded on easily replaced cassettes.

At that time, “audiotext” services were the new thing — you could call a number and find out all sorts of information, sometimes for a nominal fee.

Lou hoped that his recording — truly the ultimate in outgoing messages — would turn into a fad, especially among college students (“Hey, let’s call the dead guy!”) and that the nominal fees forked over by these folks would provide at least a nominal nest egg for his survivors.

Lou’s plan never went beyond the idea stage, but I thought of it not long ago when a little sign on my landline phone (yes, I still have a landline) told me that there were too many messages on it, and if I didn’t erase them I wouldn’t get many more messages.

So I went to work — hitting the Play button, then erasing one message after another.

Then I came to a message from Lou.

I remembered it. He’d left it a few weeks ago. He’d taken care to assure me that nothing was wrong — we’d reached the stage in our lives when phone calls more and more often meant that something bad had happened to one of our former colleagues. Lou said he’d just called to chat.

After I received the message I called him back, partly because we hadn’t chatted in a while, and partly because — you guessed it — I wanted to let him know that someone we knew had died.

And now, after hearing his message again, I paused before hitting the Delete button.

Normally I would have just hit it and gone on to the next message. But it felt strange to hear his voice again, even though there was nothing unusual about it.

Less than two days after leaving the message, Lou himself died unexpectedly, apparently of a heart attack.

I wished that his message had been on a cassette. I could have removed the tape, replaced it and saved it.

After a moment, some instinct told me to hit the Delete button and move on.

I really wish Lou had followed through on his money-making scheme.

It sure would be nice to hear from the dead guy again.


Leo Wong said...

HI Mark, what a beautiful piece about Lou. It was just right. I hope Sean Kirst reads it. Perhaps you can draw his attention to it. It is very much in his style. Great way to sum up your friendship. Thanks for writing it


Unknown said...

This is beautiful, Mark. And Leo, I'd say this about writers and longtime editors: Stylistically, absolutely, it's all rhythm - and blues.

Mark Murphy said...

Thank you both for your comments.

Sean, I should explain that the comment before yours was from my sister Mary, who posts things through the account of her husband, Leo.

And to my readers I should explain that Sean Kirst was for many years a columnist and colleague of mine at The Post-Standard in Syracuse, NY. He is now a columnist for The Buffalo News. In 2008 he won the Ernie Pyle Award for human interest writing.

I can unreservedly recommend his book "The Soul of Central New York: Syracuse Stories," which was published last year by Syracuse University Press. Here's a link with more information:

In the interest of full disclosure: I worked closely with Sean for many years. His book is a collection of columns, and I worked on some of them.

But you'd enjoy the book anyway.