A Storyby Lucia Berlin
I liked him right away, just talking to him on the phone. Raspy, easygoing voice with a smile and sex in it, you know what I mean. How is it that we read people by their voices anyway? The phone company information lady is officious and patronizing and she isn’t even a real person. And the guy at the cable company who says our business means a lot to them and they want to please us, you can hear the sneer in his tone.
I used to be a switchboard operator in a hospital, spent all day talking to different doctors that I never saw. We all had favorites and ones that we couldn’t stand. None of us had ever seen Dr. Wright but his voice was so smooth and cool we were in love with him. If we had to page him we’d each put a dollar down on the board, would race to answer calls and be the one to get his, win the money, and say, “Hell-oh there, Dr. Wright. ICU is paging you, sir.” Never did see Dr. Wright in real life but when I got a job working in Emergency I got to know all the other doctors I had talked to on the phone. I soon learned that they were just as we imagined them. The best physicians were the ones who were prompt to answer, clear and polite, the worst were those who used to yell at us and say things like, “Do they hire the handicapped at the switchboard?” They were the ones who let the ER see their patients, who had the Medicaid patients sent to County. Amazing how the ones with sexy voices were just as sexy in real life. But no, I can’t describe how people get the quality into their voice of just waking up or of wanting to go to bed. Check out Tom Hanks’s voice. Forget it. Okay, now Harvey Keitel’s. And if you don’t think Harvey is sexy just close your eyes.
Now I have a really nice voice. I’m a strong woman, mean even, but everyone thinks I’m really gentle because of my voice. I sound young even though I’m seventy years old. Guys at the Pottery Barn flirt with me. “Hey, I’ll bet you’re really gonna enjoy lying on this rug.” Stuff like that.
I’ve been trying to get somebody to lay tiles in my bathroom. People who put ads in the paper for odd jobs, painting, etc., they don’t really want to work. They are all pretty booked up right now or a machine answers with Metallica in the background and they don’t return your call. After six tries B.F. was the only one who said he’d come over. He answered the phone, Yeah, this is B.F., so I said, Hey, this is L.B. And he laughed, real slow. I told him I had a floor job and he said he was my man. He could come anytime. I figured he was a smart-aleck in his twenties, good-looking, with tattoos and spiky hair, a pickup truck and a dog.