Thursday, March 08, 2007

Beer and Pens Shall Be Your Reward

I came home on Sunday after dropping off the bartender at the airport and started a mental debate with myself about whether it was better to start cooking some dinner or lounge on the couch watching Arrested Development reruns and drooling. Just as I finally got hungry enough to drag myself away from the television and start chopping red peppers, my phone rang. It was Gene Honda.

This was interesting because Gene NEVER calls me. We generally discuss all things needing discussion at the bar, or relay messages through the owner or the bartender. So I was excited because my first assumption was that he had a really brilliant idea of somewhere to go to out to dinner and he thought of me first. I was wrong.

"Amber, this is Gene."
"Gene! What's going on?"
"This is an emergency."
My glee died in my throat. There's no such thing as a delicious emergency.
"I'm doing pledge at Channel 11." Gene seems to always be doing pledge at Channel 11, as WTTW does four pledge drives a year. "We are short about 30 phone operators. If you are not doing anything tonight, and if anyone you know is not doing anything, we could REALLY use some help down here on the phones. We're on East St. Louis. Go to the side entrance and tell them you're a friend of mine and you're there to help with phones."

It is a testament to how much I like Gene that I actually showed up, because talking to strangers on the phone ranks right up there with petting spiders on my list of Things I Never Ever Want To Do. It took me a half hour to convince myself that I didn't have any kind of reasonable excuse to stay home. In the end I decided that if I was going to watch PBS all the time and never donate, then showing up to handle calls from people who aren't cheapskates was the least I could do to prove that I don't suck.

When I got there, a very nice guy named Dan stuck me on the end of long table and quickly went over how the phone works, the script, the pledge forms and the various thank you gifts we were offering at that moment. "When you get up to use the restroom or go to the cafeteria, make sure you put your phone on not ready so it doesn't ring and ring while you're gone. It's awfully hard to find the one ringing phone when there are 50 of them. Oh, and obviously don't get up and leave while we're on camera." This will seem incredibly stupid I'm sure, but I was so nervous about answering the phones that despite having watched hundreds of pledge drives in my life and the fact that I was in a television studio, until he said that it hadn't even occurred to me that I was going to be on television. It was only by sheer chance that I had actually put on make up that day and hadn't worn a t-shirt that said "Bitch! Shut the fuck up!" or "Masturbation: My Anti-Drug". I looked around the room to find all the monitors so I would know where not to look. I don't actually mind being on screen; it just freaks me out if I can see myself. When I got to sing the national anthem at the Chicago Fire game I couldn't look at my huge head on the Jumbotron for fear I would lose it and crack up laughing. Dan handed me a very nice WTTW pen that lights up that I got to keep as a reward for swallowing my terror and went away.

During my first break I realized why the shortage of phone operators was such an emergency. It felt like my hand was going to fall off, and I was sure my brand new pen was going to run out of ink. The phones just did not stop ringing through the entire break. The show that was airing was called Remembering Chicago which is a great and extremely popular series. Apparently everyone wanted a piece of it (a $60 pledge gets you an episode of your choice on DVD, and $120 pledge will get you all four episodes!) I even got a call from a guy in Florida (how he was getting the Chicago PBS station in Florida is a mystery to me. I'd like to see that cable package. What else are they carrying?).

Surprisingly, I only got two prank phone calls the whole night. The second one creeped me out though. "Are you wearing a black shirt? HAHAHAHAH" *click* I hung up and thought Hey I AM wearing a black shirt! Holy shit, they're watching me!!! I glanced around the room trying hard not to look alarmed. In so doing I realized there were fully seven women in the phone banks wearing black shirts, which was a relief because it wasn't necessarily me specifically that they were watching. All in all, it wasn't nearly as bad as my neurotic social phobias had feared.

Afterward, Gene decided that he owed me a drink, so we went to meet up with Teacher Charlie. In a vain attempt to find a bar that was still serving food at 11:30 on Sunday night, we ended up in a place we hadn't been to before. Their kitchen was closed, but our need for alcohol was greater than our need for food, so we decided to stay. This caused a great deal of excitement among the staff. Gene is not Harry Caray, but he is somewhat more popular here than he'd like to believe. He does not like to talk about his Wikipedia page, or his appearance in Opportunity Knocks. The bouncer took one look at Gene and flipped out. "You're staying? Oh my God, then I'm going to get your drinks because I have White Sox season tickets and I have DePaul season tickets and oh my God, you're awesome!" I thought that was weird. He has season tickets because he likes baseball and basketball, or he has season tickets because he likes to listen to Gene talk? Because he can listen to Gene talking at Tai's for a lot cheaper. The manager was also impressed and bought us all another two rounds, as well as producing some chips and salsa from the previously closed kitchen. We hung out until closing with the bouncer basking in the glow of Gene, Teacher Charlie basking in the glow of my pen which seemed to fascinate him, and me basking in the glow of a very drunk girl who kept hugging me and dancing on me and insisting that she loved me. Or maybe she was basking in my glow, who knows?

I'm pretty sure I had much more fun than I would have as a drooling couch potato at home. And I certainly wouldn't have such a cool pen.

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