Scenes from the life of a ’90s-era phone-sex worker, as related by “Lilycat” in the book Hos, Hookers, Call Girls, and Rent Boys, edited by David Henry Sterry and R.J. Martin, Jr.:
There were many mothers [who worked for the company]. All were great women, and talking with them during the slow periods was the best part of the job. Let’s just say odd jobs collect odd characters to work at them, so the stories they had were great. …
The first call [I fielded] was on the one-nine-hundred number, which requires the workers to follow special rules. The one-eight-hundred number involves the use of a credit card to talk to a woman, so the age of the caller can often be verified, but many callers who use the nine-hundred line are under eighteen. We had a fiber optic Big Brother occasionally monitoring the phone calls to make sure we followed the rules. So we needed to make sure that we obeyed the rules and didn’t verbally give any hard-ons to minors (without them really working for it).
In addition, the rules for phone sex lines out of California in the late ’90s, as explained by my supervisors, specified that there could be no talk of bestiality, underage sex, or incest. This was taken so seriously that we couldn’t even use phrases like “Daddy’s little girl” or “Let me be your sex kitten” without verbally clarifying that we were over eighteen and not related to the callers, or that we weren’t actually feline. Do you know what a cock block it is, during a naughty-high-school-cheerleader-being-disciplined-by-the-principal story, when you have to stop and explain twice that you are an eighteen-year-old high school cheerleader?
So, to make sure the callers were eighteen or older, we played the math game: We had to get the callers to give us not only their age, but year born and year graduated from high school. There was a chart of corresponding years so the phone sex workers wouldn’t have to do the math. If callers messed up on the math, they failed, and not only did they not get any “Baby, give it to me, give it to me hard,” but their coded phone numbers were put on a list. If any number appeared on the list more than three times, our supervisor would call the parents. Yes, the phone sex line would turn you in, junior.
Along with Minor Math, we had to play Feed Me the Line. We couldn’t use any sexually explicit words or phrases till the caller used them first. We couldn’t actually talk dirty to callers till they talked dirty to us, and strangely enough, getting a very horny man to talk dirty to you isn’t as easy as it seems. Most of the callers are slightly socially retarded toward women. If they were able to talk to women about what they wanted, they would be getting laid without Ma Bell playing madam. The typical caller expected you to be an easy verbal lay: Just dial the number and instant orgasmic satisfaction.
But I couldn’t give them what I knew they wanted without them “feeding me the line.” So it was a conversational tug-of-war: “Talk dirty to me.” “Tell me about what you want me to do for you.” “Talk dirty to me.” “Come on, baby, tell me your fantasy.” “I want you to talk dirty to me.” “Tell me exactly what you want me to talk about.” “Talk dirty to me.” And so on and so on.
Almost (almost) as surreal as Anthony Weiner’s press conference. Via delanceyplace.
Don’t get on Dick Cavett’s bad side: “I think the part that hurt the most was at the end I said, ‘His prose has all the sparkle of a second mortgage.’”
A wonderful bit from Meghan O’Rourke’s The Long Goodbye, a memoir about the death of her mother, who ends up passing away on Christmas Day:
I knew that a Christmas carol would make me cry this season. I just didn’t know it would be “Frosty the Snowman,” that least dignified of all carols. … I was driving to Trader Joe’s on a rainy Sunday to buy poinsettias and eggnog. … As I distractedly pressed the radio buttons, I heard the familiar bumptious chorus, and my stomach turned with nostalgia: “Thumpety thump thump, thumpety thump thump, look at Frosty go.” But it was when Frosty, knowing of his imminent demise, tells the kids, “Let’s run, and we’ll have some fun now, before I melt away,” that tears leaked down my face.
Lorrie Moore praises this as an example of “situating her grief amid the absurdities of everyday life.” Sure, though when you put it that way, “Frosty the Snowman” really is a sad tune…
Back in the 1920s, Russian scientists had this notion that chess grandmasters must harbor intellectual superpowers, so they ran some of the world’s best players through a battery of cognitive and perceptual tests, expecting to be staggered by the results. But lo, it turned out all those chess wizards aren’t really any more gifted than average in most standard measures of intelligence. So what’s their secret? Josh Foer, in his book Moonwalking with Einstein, argues that it’s their memory:
Grand masters literally see a different board. Studies of their eye movements have found that they look at the edges of squares more than inexperienced players, suggesting that they’re absorbing information from multiple squares at once. Their eyes also dart across greater distances, and linger for less time at any one place. They focus on fewer different spots on the board, and those spots are more likely to be relevant to figuring out the right move.
But the most striking finding of all from these early studies of chess experts was their astounding memories. The experts could memorize entire boards after just a brief glance. And they could reconstruct long-ago games from memory. In fact, later studies confirmed that the ability to memorize board positions is one of the best overall indicators of how good a chess player somebody is. And these chess positions are not simply encoded in transient short-term memory. Chess experts can remember positions from games for hours, weeks, even years afterward. Indeed, at a certain point in every chess master’s development, keeping mental track of the pieces on the board becomes such a trivial skill that they can take on several opponents at once, entirely in their heads.
As impressive as the chess masters’ memories were for chess games, their memories for everything else were notably unimpressive. When the chess experts were shown random arrangements of chess pieces—ones that couldn’t possibly have been arrived at through an actual game—their memory for the board was only slightly better than chess novices’. They could rarely remember the positions of more than seven pieces (which is the average for most people). …
The chess experiments reveal a telling fact about memory, and about expertise in general: We don’t remember isolated facts; we remember things in context. A board of randomly arranged chess pieces has no context—there are no similar boards to compare it to, no past games that it resembles, no ways to meaningfully chunk it. Even to the world’s best chess player it is, in essence, noise.
“Once when I pressed him, he described working on the new novel as like wrestling sheets of balsa wood in a high wind.”
There’s a funny (or maybe rueful) bit from Julian Barnes’ story “Tresspass” that goes: “That was one of the things about being single again: you saved time. You walked quicker, you got home and drank a beer quicker, you ate your supper quicker. And then the sex you had with yourself, that was quicker too. You gained all this extra time, Geoff thought—extra time in which to be lonely.”
Earlier in the story, Geoff had said to his first girlfriend, “I thought we were going to get married.” And she says back, “That’s why we aren’t.”