It started with a porno – well, a stack of them, really – in a gas station on the outskirts of Copiague. Jay needed cigarettes and rumor had it that the new gas station, curiously named “Sonjim,” was cool with selling to minors. While we waited in line, Jay pointed to the shelf above the attendant’s head. Wild titles, one after another, promised carnal fulfillment, the likes of which the common Copiaguian had never experienced. All we did was laugh. On the way back to my house, I got the idea.
“We should prank that place. I got a tape recorder in my room. We can tape that guy talking about porno flicks!”
Small towns are notoriously stingy when it comes to entertainment. It was inevitable that my friends and I would get around to prank calls. Plus, this was the spring of ’92. Caller ID wasn’t really on the scene yet.
So, we got back to my place. I found some batteries, taped them into the tape recorder (did those things ever have backs?) and found the listing in the Yellow Pages. I hit the speaker button on the phone and the sound of the dial tone met the rising level of anticipation in the room. On the third ring, a man picked up.
“Hi,” I said, needlessly disguising my voice with a high and measured affect. It’s not like he knew my voice. “I’m calling around to all the establishments, inquiring about adult movies. I’d like to know if you carry them.”
Jay ducked into the hallway, stifling his laugher. I sounded like some sleazed-out cruiser looking to hit pay dirt.
“Which one?” the man asked in a soft-spoken Indian accent.
“Uhhh…Just hold on.”
There was some confusion on the other end as the attendant conferred with his colleagues. I watched the spools in the tape recorder go through their steady revolutions.
“Hello,” said a new voice. Foreign, yes, but deep and confident.
“Hi,” I said, with diminishing nerve. “Do you have any adult movies?”
“Yeah, who’s this?”
I hung up and Jay lost it.
“Why’d you hang up?” he laughed.
“I got nervous.”
“The hell does he care who you are? If you’re buying that kinda stuff, you don’t wanna give out your name!”
“I think he knew I was just a kid.”
I told my dad about the call when he got home from work.
“Yeah,” he said, pausing with his tie in his hand. “He probably knew you were messing around. We should call them back.”
“What? I was debating whether or not I should even tell you about it.”
“Ah,” he waved his hand. “Lemme change and get a cup of coffee and we’ll call them.”
Twenty minutes later, I was back downstairs, tape recorder going, listening to the rings with my father.
“Songee…” It was Soft Spoken Man.
“Yes, good evening,” my dad said. “Is this a business called Sonjim?”
“Just hold on.”
Confusion again. I wondered why the guy who didn’t know English worked the phones.
“Hello?” It was Deep Voiced Man.
Careful, Dad. This guy’s a pro.
“Good evening,” my father said in a grand tone. “Is this Sonjim?”
“My name is Mr. Jameson, sir, and I’m from Orion Pictures.”
“Pictures! Moving pictures. Hollywood.”
“Hollywood! Do you…Can you understand me?”
“Well, sir, what we’d like to do is use your gas station as a film location. Now we normally give businesses a substantial sum of money but we’d have to close your business down for two days.”
“No, we don’t like that.”
“Sir, before I get on, now look, lemme tell you what’s going on. I guess you’ve heard of uhh…Brian Dennehy?”
“Listen to me,” Deep Voiced Man said. “We don’t talk to anyone on the phone for business, okay? You come personally, talk and we’ll discuss something. Otherwise, we don’t discuss something. Bye.”
“Hold it,” my dad said. “Wait. I don’t know who you are.”
“I’m sorry,” he sang. “Bye bye. No business over the phone. When you come over here, ask for the manager and he will talk to you.”
Now it was my dad’s turn to feel unsatisfied. His call hadn’t gone as planned either. It must have been on his mind too because a week later, he came into my room and asked if I wanted to call again. Did I? The reviews for his first call had been fantastic. My friends were clamoring to hear the tape and now he wanted to do a sequel?!
As we prepped in the living room, he asked if I had taken advantage of Sonjim’s coffee.
“Nah,” I replied. “It’s too expensive.”
“No, it’s not,” I said, dialing. “You just take it and they don’t charge you for it.”
My father chuckled. “Nice bunch of guys.”
“Yeah,” Dad said, sounding like James Cagney. “Sonjim,702 Oak Street?”
Which was strange since that wasn’t their address.
“Mr. Seville here, from the Long Island Retail Gasoline Association. Good evening.”
“Good evening,” Soft Spoken Man said.
“It’s ten after six. We’re doin’ an audit. You have your pump sheets there?”
“Uhh…just hold on.”
A new voice picked up. “Hello?”
“Mr. Seville here. Long Island Retail Gas-”
“Yes, the owner is not here. He will be back after half an hour, I think.”
“No, no, sir. I cannot wait. This is Mr. Seville. I need your pumpsheets. I need some figures fast.”
“Pumpsheets. Total gallons pumped today. Get the sheets, sir.”
“Okay, okay. You’ll get it. Where are you? Are you coming here?”
“No!” Seville growled in frustrated. “I gotta do it for all the stations in the area, this evening. We have a shortage from Iran coming in!”
New Voice put the phone down and we could hear mass confusion on the other end. After a few moments, a woman picked up. This threw us for a loop because we had never noticed any female attendants there. My father then recognized her as a woman from town who had taken to hanging around the gas station. In fact, she had agreed with my dad not twenty minutes earlier on the merits of Sonjim’s coffee.
“This is Mr. Seville, ma’am. I think we have a breakdown in English here.”
“How can I help you?” she asked.
“Yes, Long Island Retail Gasoline Association. I need you to check your pumpsheets. I’m looking for a few quick figures. I need the total gallons pumped today.”
“Stop,” she laughed. She wasn’t buying it.
“Look, if I have to send an examiner out, it will cost fifty dollars which is why I’m calling this evening.”
“I ain’t gonna pay fifty dollars to send somebody out here.”
“Then you will tell me total gallons pumped from this morning ‘till this evening. That is all I’m asking. I will STOP deliveries, ma’am.”
“The pump isn’t no good?”
“No, no. The gallons you pumped today, the total gallons.”
“How many total gallons you wanna know.”
“On your pumps, yes.”
She relayed Mr. Seville’s request to the guys at the station. “He wants everything – total gallons – or else they ain’t deliverin’ no more gas.”
The background erupted. Chaos and contention! It made no sense!
“It don’t matter!” she yelled at them. “Unleaded, regular, everything.”
Of course they were disagreeing with her. What the hell did my dad know about gasoline statements? I don’t know where he got “pumpsheets” from and there’s never been a “Long Island Retail Gasoline Association.”
“It’s late in the day, I realize that,” he continued. “I’m gettin’ pressured by the state to do this myself. I’m sorry for the intrusion.”
“Okay, hold on.”
We heard some cross-talk for a little while then she returned to the phone.
“Okay,” my father said, “please hold one second.”
He pressed some buttons on the phone and mumbled through imaginary calculations. After a few moments, the pumpsheets were filed.
“Thank you, ma’am.”
“Anything else?” she asked.
“That is it,” he sighed like she just helped him avert a war. “Thank you. Good night.”
The Pumpsheet Call, as it came to be known, was huge that summer. Bits of it, along with the Orion Call, ended up on mix tapes and answering machine messages all over town. My father had pulled it off.
We tried a third call later that summer. This time, he pretended to be an old woman who needed a lot of soda. She was having a big party and the “soda delivery truck exploded.” Unfortunately, there was little reaction on the other end of the phone, which I guess is funny unto itself. Still, we both thought they had seen through that one. It felt like the magic had gone so we decided to hang it up.
On Christmas Eve, my father wanted to come out of retirement. By this point, we actually knew a lot of the guys that worked at Sonjim. I would go by for milk, my dad for cigarettes and (free) coffee and they would ask how we were doing. In hindsight, it’s kind of foul that we called them again. I guess we both felt this call would have something the others didn’t. It did, but it wasn’t anything either of us had anticipated.
“Yes,” my dad said in a slow drawl, “this is the long distance AT&T operator. I have a collect call for a Mr. Binky.”
“Who?” Soft Spoken Man asked.
“He is not here.”
“It’s a collect call from Pakistan, Rhajahbatase. It’s rather important.”
“Can you give him a message?”
“No,” he replied, “because I don’t know where he is.”
“It’s a collect call from Rhamashahasha, India.”
“India, yes. I’m sorry. Can you please hold on, sir?”
My dad pressed a few buttons on the phone. I guess he was out of ideas. Pressing buttons had worked on the Pumpsheet Call, so why not? Not to mention, the cat was pretty much out of the bag when the collect call had mysteriously jumped from Pakistan to India.
“Sir?” he drawled. “Are you still there?”
Soft Spoken Man had hung up.
I stopped the tape.
“Where’s Rhajahbatase, Dad?”
“South, I think.”
The next day, we all went to my grandparents’ house for Christmas and my grandmother met us at the door.
“You try calling your house?” she asked.
It then occurred to me that our phone had been strangely silent all morning.
“An Indian man picks up,” she said.
My father and I looked at each other and my mother screamed laughing.
“You forwarded our calls to Sonjim?” she howled. “On Christmas?!”
I picked up the phone and called our house.
“Ahem…Good morning, sir, and a Merry Christmas to you. Our, umm…our lines must have crossed and you seem to be getting our calls. It being a holiday–”
“This is a business! This is not a family! Please stop calling here!”
Figures. It was Deep Voiced Man. After yelling at me, he slammed the phone down.
My grandfather called us jerks and we drove home to turn off the call-forwarding that my dad had activated somewhere between Pakistan and India.
In the days that followed, we explained to our family and friends why their calls didn’t make it through.
The next time my father went into Sonjim, he inquired about the large metal box beside the phone.
“Caller ID,” Soft Spoken Man explained. “For the bad calls.”
“Yeah,” my father sipped his coffee. “Kids…”
© 2008-2017, Brendyn Schneider, Use or reprint not authorized without permission from the author.