For an explanation of the 30 Stories in 30 Days, start at Day 1.

I can’t believe I’m only three days away from finishing this. I also can’t believe it’s so late and I’m still trying to figure this thing out. Today’s story is about a rock band and my dad and a telephone.

It’s not as exciting as it sounds.

 

Rock and Roll Calling

When eBay was new, I signed up like everyone else, looking for random pieces of pop culture nonsense. I bought an E.T. bumper sticker and a Chewbacca iron-on. You know–the essentials.

I also bought a cassette tape for $3 that had all the original members of KISS leaving outgoing answering machine messages. I guess this was a real KISS Army product that fans could buy in the 80s, at the height of the hilarious-answering-machine-messages craze. (Am I the only one who used to wish for that “Crazy Calls” tape so I could use that awesome “wait for the beep” rap on our answering machine!?)

When I got the KISS tape, I had just moved into a new apartment in Connecticut. I had a new phone number, and new voice mail system. When someone called, they’d hear me pick up and “transfer” the call to my new personal assistant, Paul Stanley. Then they’d hear:

Hi, this is Paul Stanley. Leave a message and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can. Maybe I’ll call ya. Bye.

The first voice mail I got was from my dad. It began with him speaking directly to my mom, as if my voice mail recorder was just a fly on the wall, observing a totally normal conversation that everybody’s dad has with everybody’s mom.

“Who is Paul Stanley? Linda. Linda. Linda! Hey, who is Paul Stanley?… I don’t know–some guy named Paul Stanley… It’s on her machine… No, first it was her and then it was some guy who said he was Paul Stanley… I don’t know who it is, I thought maybe you would know… Well, I don’t know either…”

And then: “Hey, there. It’s your Dad. Call us back.”

I love that he felt the need to identify himself. As if anyone else would have a five minute conversation about Paul Stanley on my voice mail.

When I called them back, the first thing he asked was, “Who’s Paul Stanley?” Even after I explained, he had no idea why I would let “this Paul Stanley character” leave my outgoing voice mail message. He wrote it off as another one of those “weird things” I did that he just didn’t get.

I should have known he wouldn’t know anything about KISS. He’s always been a fan of music, but KISS was not really his scene. My dad used to play guitar in bars for beer money, in the late 60s when he was living in San Francisco and fresh out of the Navy. But he was oblivious to everything beyond his scene.

Once, in high school, I was watching a documentary about music in the 60s and Jefferson Airplane was on the screen when my dad walked into the room. He looked at the TV and said, sort of nonchalantly, “Oh, I remember those guys.”

At first I was not impressed. Of course he remembered those guys. They are famous.

But after a few angsty remarks from me, he explained that he remembered “those guys” because he knew those guys. Sort of. My dad didn’t recognize the band on TV as psychedelic rock pioneers, Jefferson Airplane. He recognized them as “those guys”–a bunch of hippies who played some of the same San Francisco bars he played.

“But we didn’t really run in the same circles,” he said. He then lowered his voice to a whisper to explain, “I think they did drugs.”

“OH, YOU THINK?!” I replied, trying not to sound too terribly smart-assy.

Who knows what other rock icons my dad traded guitar picks with back then? He could have shared a green room with Steve Miller or peed in the urinal next to Sly and/or The Family Stone. And no one will ever know, because they are all just a bunch of “those guys” to my dad, who preferred the music of Gordon Lightfoot and Judy Collins.

I bet if James Taylor had left my outgoing answering machine message, my dad would’ve laughed his ass off.

 

A long time ago, I read Elizabeth Wurtzel’s book Bitch—yes, the book she admitted to writing on coke—a and one part has stayed with me, which is her assertion that maybe female victims of domestic violence, rather than avoiding the beat-your-wife types if they came with dots on their foreheads, would head straight toward them. I haven’t kept this in mind because I think it’s some fantastic insight into domestic abuse, but because the idea that we, as humans, will always avoid difficult situations rather than seek them out has proven, at least in my case, false. I often go directly toward the choices that are most catastrophic for me.