If you were an actor/singer/dancer/magician in NYC in the late 1970’s you had to have an answering service. This was a switchboard that would answer a phone number that you were assigned, and would take messages from agents and casting directors. You put your service number on your photo postcard and resume so that you could be reached the moment your big break came. You’d have to call in to the service to pick up your messages, but finding a working, available pay phone that you could risk touching without a hazmat suit was a bit of a challenge. We lived dangerously back then. We didn’t need no stinkin’ hand sanitizer! We would put the filthy, smelly phone receiver right up to our mouths, and chance the consequences!
I once lost a job in a show because I didn’t check in with my service for 5 hours! After an audition and two callbacks for a musical that was slated for an Off-Off Broadway theater, the production team decided that they need to choose their lead actor THAT VERY DAY. By the time I got their message and called they had already cast the other actor. Turns out it was a good thing, since it was an embarrassingly horrible show called “Not Tonight, Benvenutto” that ran just one week.
Then something new appeared on the communication scene. Answering machines! You could buy one and hook it up to your own phone in your apartment and it would eliminate the need for an answering service. And these new-fangled contraptions had a very neat feature. You could access your messages remotely using a little tone generator. You would go to a pay phone and dial your own phone number, and when you heard the outgoing message you would hold this little device up to the phone and press it to emit the specific tone that would play back any messages you had waiting. Neat, huh? So every day I would head into the city to take classes and go to auditions and I would bring my trusty beeper with me. So now, while I’m in Manhattan, I could retrieve the messages that people who were also in Manhattan, were leaving for me at my apartment over in Brooklyn! That’s how we rolled back then.
But one day I forgot my little beeper. Now, I have always had really good pitch recollection. I can usually recall the exact key of any popular song. It’s just part of how I remember it. So when I realized I didn’t have my tone generator I decided to try and duplicate the tone with my voice. Darn if I didn’t get it on the very first try! I felt such pride as I heard my machine rewind and start playing messages. I was now free of taking the beeper with me every day – I thought. The next day I’m back in Manhattan and I decide to check for messages. Only this time my amazingly accurate recreation of the tone didn’t work. So, I started altering it - a semi-tone up, a semi-tone down, a stronger attack, crescendo, decrescendo. Nothing. So I just had to wait until I got home to Brooklyn that night to check my messages.
The most amusing thing about this entire incident is once we were back in Brooklyn we were treated to a 4 minute concert of me singing “Beeeeep, Beeeeep, Beeeeep, Beeeeep, Beeeeep, Beeeeep, Beeeeep, ……