Always Call Me at Work01/01/2021 ● By Rick Epstein
Often as not, it’s my middle daughter Sally, calling from the University of Jabroo. Sometimes it’s only a simple request for a few hundred bucks for a field trip or a book. But other times she’s got a few minutes to kill between classes and she wants her old man to help kill them. “Hi, Pop,” she’ll say and then tell me about her political activities, the antics of her friends or things she’s learning in school.
Depending upon how old I feel, it can seem like she’s breezing into my room at The Home, plunking a bouquet into a vase, and giving me a brisk update on the world of the young and vibrant. But usually I feel fairly stout and have stories of my own to tell her.
In either case, ever since she learned how to poke in a phone number with her itty-bitty fingers, the sound of Sally’s friendly voice has been the sweetest music ever heard by a man chained to a desk (or in a corridor readjusting his clothing).
Sally was 5 when she started phoning me at work. Sometimes she’d have something nutty to tell me. Here’s one I wrote down: “Wouldn’t it be terrible if you were a BOY doctor helping someone have a baby, and it was a GIRL baby and you had to see her privacy?”
I appreciated these calls, but the best ones concerned the bedtime stories I would tell her and her big sister. When a plot idea would pop into Sally’s little head, she would phone it in.
In those days if Sally didn’t like a story, she would shut it down. For example, when Spike the Rat-boy, was trying to sabotage Emily the Pony’s birthday party, I was saying, “…so Spike sneaked into the kitchen and grabbed the birthday cake--”
“NO HE DIDN’T!” Sally yelled. So then I tried to have Spike gnaw the wrapping paper off the pony-girl’s gifts. “NO HE DIDN’T!” Sally yelled. Finally I realized that birthday parties are sacred to Sally, and anything done to ruin them would be literally unspeakable.
But any story idea she’d phoned in would guarantee her enjoyment.
I’d be struggling at my desk with deadlines looming, supervisors snarling, co-workers jeering, in-box spilling onto my shoes, and time seemingly stuck at 3:45 p.m. The phone rings. I pick it up and groan, “What now?”
“Daddy?” It’s my little boss.
“Hi, dear,” I say.
“How ‘bout if Spike pertends he had an operation on his tail?” Sally says.
“Brilliant!” I say. “Thanks for the call.”
Perspective returns and the evil spell of the workplace is broken. Although I was the center of my 5-year-old’s universe, in the office I wasn't really important enough feel that much pressure. Before I knew it, it would be 3:46, which means it’ll be only a brisk crawl over hot coals to quitting time. I'd hardly notice my superiors jabbing me with their pitchforks as I finish up, and at 5:01 I’m out the door like I’ve just set the place on fire.
Sally has continued to call me at work, her conversation becoming more and more mature. She’s 18 now, and I’m proud to hear her confident voice and her ambitious plans for summer internships and advanced courses. Sally loves higher education.
I encourage her even though deep down I believe this schooling is superfluous. As far as I’m concerned, Sally was already the finished article at age 5 when she was calling up to say things like, “How ‘bout if Spike puts ink on Aliza the Alligator and she thinks she’s turning into a Dalmatian?” But people expect you to have a diploma.
Rick can be reached at [email protected]