Midnight phone calls elicit interesting responses

By Bob Huber: Local Columnist

Here at the Appalling Malady Institute, we’re studying really important stuff about human behavior, such as why folks say bizarre things when they wake up at night to answer the phone. For a moment they’re not themselves but lost souls lingering in a la-la land between George W. Bushisms and quips from sportscasters posing as scholars.

Take this friend of mine in Santa Fe. One time I woke him at night and apologized, whereupon he replied, “That’s OK. I had to answer the phone anyway.”

Another time I called a citified acquaintance who lived in a posh condominium and got this reply: “Do you know what time it is? We have chores to do around here in the morning.”

Then there was my wife, Marilyn, who one time woke up to answer the phone this way: “Oh hello, Sally.” (Lengthy pause.) “No. Absolutely not.” She hung up the phone and lay back down.

I rolled over and asked who called, and she said, “Called?”

“You were talking to someone named Sally,” I said.

We spent the next 10 minutes calling Sallys we knew, and finally on the fourth call found one who had invited us to dinner, which Marilyn had refused. We didn’t get a Christmas card from Sally that year.

Another time a friend phoned Marilyn late at night to tell us she was a new grandmother of twins. Marilyn, without hesitation, said, “Well, if you can’t give them away, you can drown them. That’s what Mama always did, in warm water, of course.”

Over the years I’ve kept a record of the choicest responses. Some make sense. Many remain a mystery. Here are just a few:

• “Is Smokey still up there?”

• “I can’t talk now. I’ve fallen out of the saddle, and the engine won’t start.”

• “Can I take this sack off? It’s terribly dark.”

• “Oh, I’m so glad you called. The cow died, and I don’t know what we’ll do for breakfast.”

• “I don’t have time to talk. I’m up to my armpits in feathers.”

• “This bed is permeated with an odor of turpentine.”

• “Yes, I know who you are. I know your mother too, and your sister who wears those silly bangs.”

• “You’ll have to speak up. The penguins are particularly noisy tonight in the aquarium.”

• “Thanks for calling back. My toilet’s plugged.”

But none of these can compare with the zombie state Marilyn sometimes got into when she woke up. She often carried on a conversation with me, like this:

“Bob doesn’t live here anymore.”

“Why not?”

“He left this morning on the Lincoln Zephyr.”

“Marilyn, wake up. I’m right here.”

“Run to the roundhouse, Bob. The girls can’t corner you there.”

A cure for all these maladies has never been found. Instead of pursuing it, I intend to spend the entire evening calling old acquaintances who live back East. My file is getting low.