Back in the day, I used to be very clever with the outgoing messages on my answering machine. It was the kind with the two micro-cassettes in it, and the sound quality was great. That may sound like a ridiculous or trivial detail to mention in the context of an answering machine, but it was the only one I ever had in which you could have background music, or sound effects, or whatever you wanted. The other advantage of the tapes is that you could create messages that were huge in length; only limited by the length of the tape. I used to hold the machine up next to the speaker of my stereo and play sound effects or music behind things I would say. Sometimes they were long, rambling messages, but other times they were miniscule, nonsensical ones, like, “I’m going to play a guitar solo for you now,” followed by five seconds of a blazing, 80’s metal scale. One of my favorites was simply me saying, “Hello?” and then I left a long pause, followed by the beep. People would invariably start talking, only to have the beep interrupt them, which would completely derail their trains of thought. Friends would sometimes call my number when they knew I was at work, just to hear what I’d put on the machine that week.
The various roommates I had back then not only didn’t mind the weird outgoing messages, they actively encouraged them, and occasionally participated themselves. The all-time best one, which I kept up for quite a while, was one that my friend and I directly quoted from a phone-sex line. We used to dial random things like 1-800-SEX-4-YOU, or any combination we could think of, and one of the ones we stumbled upon had a hilariously detailed introduction, which we promptly wrote down and adapted, almost verbatim, into our own message. I’ll transcribe it like a script, since that’s how it’ll make the most sense.
ME [reading in a low, seductive voice]: Thank you for calling Yakima’s Little Secret. Straight men and women, press ‘1.’
ROOMMATE [in an even lower, more seductive voice]: Gay men and women, press ‘2.’ For the man-to-man Cruise Line, press ‘3.’ For the Tool Line (and he put a funny emphasis on the word ‘tool’), press ‘4.’
ME: Please have your credit card information handy, and thank you again for calling Yakima’s Little Secret.
Coincidentally enough, less than a week after we had created this message, ClassicRockRadioStation’s morning show announced a contest for the best outgoing answering machine messages, the best of which would be played on the air. I worked nights at the time, so I never listened to the show, which meant that I woke up to find a bunch of messages, starting with one from a friend. “Dude! [RadioStation] is doing an answering machine message contest, so I called in your number for the show. You’re totally gonna win. See ya!”
The next couple of messages were blank, followed by laughter, which meant that the station had called, listened, and hung up. The final message was, “This is Scott and Dave from RadioStationMorningShow, and your message has been selected as our favorite, so you can expect to hear it on the air. Congratulations!”
Naturally, I had slept through all of the hoopla, since I don’t like mornings and I REALLY don’t like those cloying morning radio shows, but a few friends heard it, and the show’s hosts played it a number of times on the air. “How about that Tool Line, Dave? I think I want to call it.” “Yakima’s Little Secret, indeed.” That evening, when I arrived to work at CrazyVideoStore, a bunch of people told me that they’d heard it too.
For the record, my dad hated every single one of those messages. Each of his calls would start with a variation on the theme of, “Do I have the right number? I don’t even know, because there’s no name or anything, and I guess I’ll have to hope that this is correct. Anyway, if it IS correct, please blahblahwhateverblahblah.”
After a number of years of faithful service, that answering machine finally gave up the ghost. The digital ones that replaced it limited you to something like ten or fifteen seconds’ worth of a message, which was too short a time to really hit my stride. I felt that I’d lost a tiny but important creative outlet.
The other factor in the death of the weird messages was the natural human process of aging. After many years of creating strange or funny messages, it got to be hard to keep improving on the art form. I’d always try to one-up myself, without repeating, and it’s more difficult than you might think. Also, that kind of stuff is funny when you’re nineteen, but by the time you get to be twenty-four or twenty-five, it becomes a bit juvenile, and you look for more productive outlets for your creativity. At some point it’s an issue of Trying To Be Clever, rather than simple fun, and the charm of doing it wears off.
These days, my message is totally generic and lame. In fact, I don’t even remember what it says, because I never hear it. I do realize, of course, that I could punch it up on EyePhone and listen, but I’m content to keep that little mystery unsolved. Incidentally, I’m still friends with the person who made Yakima’s Little Secret with me, and we have plenty of fun leaving each other funny voice mails, instead of worrying about what our outgoing messages are.
I do occasionally toy with the idea of making weird messages again. Technology has come so far, with ringtones and all that, I could easily turn my boring message into a big production, but what would that accomplish? Hardly anybody uses a phone as a phone anymore. I use mine as more of a miniature laptop computer than as a phone. Everybody texts and Skypes, and e-mails, or (dare I even say it) hangs out in person.
So chalk this up to a funny memory of antiquated technology, I guess, and how for some things, there’s just no substitute for tapes. I wish I’d kept the tapes, at least. One of them got eaten (which was always a problem with tapes, micro- or otherwise), but the other one would have been a nice souvenir to have from that time. I have a couple others floating around, including the one that my friend made by smuggling his micro-cassette recorder down his pants to get it into the Paul McCartney concert (in 1990, at the Kingdome in Seattle, on Paul’s first ‘comeback’ tour since his days in Wings), but all you can hear on the tape is me singing along. You can hardly hear Paul at all. That would be a
pointless funny thing to try and record onto my computer someday when I have absolutely nothing better to do.
Thank you for reading all of this, and thank you for calling Yakima’s Little Secret. Vive le micro-cassette!