Category Archives: College daze

Something to hide

It all started with a trip to Lechmere, to buy blank Maxell reel-to-reel tape. It was sold in the music section, but this was in 1991, and the bored teenage employees didn’t have any idea what reel-to-reel tape was, never mind where it was. I had to look in every cabinet underneath every CD rack until I found it.

At checkout, the cashier zapped the bar code, and the register beeped. “You bought something from the Music department, so you get a free CD,” she said, and tossed it into the shopping bag. If I recall correctly, it was Sarah McLachlan, a promo for her Solace album.

When I got back to the apartment, I opened the CD and washed it carefully with dish soap and hot water. Then I put it in the fridge, in between two slices in the loaf of wheat bread, and waited for Paula or Heather to find it.

I don’t remember who discovered it, but they caught on to the game immediately. I found the disc in my box of Cheerios, and we were off and running. I remember once, I taped it to the shower head. Heather went in to take a shower and cold water sprayed sideways, soaking her bathrobe. She was not amused. And once, I stuck it to the living room ceiling with Blu Tack. It was right out in plain sight, but apparently no one noticed it. Heather was sitting on the couch, directly underneath it, when she said, “I haven’t seen the CD in a while. Where did you hide it this time?” At that exact moment, it fell in her lap. I was never able to convince her I hadn’t somehow caused it to fall.

Paula’s mother was a big fan of the Oriental Trading Company. Every time there was a holiday, Paula would receive a care package with some inflatable holiday-themed kitsch: a shamrock, or a Santa Claus. The best one we ever got was a six-foot-tall inflatable Easter bunny. He quickly joined the game. After Heather went to bed, we leaned it up against her bedroom door so it would fall in on her when she opened the door. The next morning, I heard her squawk and then laugh. And I am pretty sure I remember putting it under the covers in Paula’s bed.

This was also the year I met Dan. One night, he invited me over to watch Alien. I had never seen it. To this day, it remains one of my favorite movies, but that first time, it seriously creeped me out. I hadn’t watched a lot of horror movies. After the film ended, I walked the four blocks home in the dark, jumping at shadows.

When I got there, Paula and Heather had already turned in for the night. The apartment was silent. I went into the bathroom to get ready for bed, still as nervous as a cat. As I brushed my teeth, I looked in the mirror and saw the shower curtain behind me. I thought, “If this were a horror movie, there would be something nasty lurking in the tub.”

At that exact moment, there was a crash from the bathtub. I jumped about a mile and nearly wet my pants.

We had a shower caddy that stuck to the wall of the tub with suction cups. Heather bought her shampoo and conditioner in the giant economy size. About once a week, the weight of the half-gallon of hair product would overcome the suction cups and the whole thing would come crashing down. I realized that the damn shower caddy had decided to let go at the perfect moment to give me a heart attack.

Muttering under my breath, I pulled back the shower curtain to put the shower caddy back on the wall, and screamed at the top of my lungs. There, looming over me, was… the six-foot-tall inflatable Easter bunny.

I heard Paula and Heather cracking up from their rooms. I had to laugh too.

Sorry, wrong number

My first year of college, I lived in a dorm. It sucked, a lot, and so when my friend Paula asked me if I’d like to go in on an apartment with her and her (incredibly cute) friend Heather, I said heck yes. We each took a utility: Paula had the gas bill, Heather had electric, and I had the phone. I bought a telephone and an answering machine at Lechmere and we recorded a cutesy outgoing message.

Within minutes, we had our first call: a guy looking for Abbey Auto Rental. I told him he had the wrong number, and hung up. He called back immediately: Abbey Auto Rental? Nope, me again. What number are you trying to reach?

He read off my new phone number. I said, “Well, that’s the number here, but this is a private residence.”

He said, “Well, I guess you’re f—ed, because there’s a half-page ad for Abbey Auto Rental in the Yellow Pages with that number. Lots of luck.”

I grabbed the Yellow Pages and flipped to the car rental section. Sure enough, it was our number. I guessed they had gone out of business fairly recently, for the ad to still be included in the phone book.

So we changed our cutesy outgoing message to say, “Sorry, this is NOT Abbey Auto Rental. They are out of business. You’ve reached Dave, Paula, and Heather. Please leave a message.” It made no difference whatsoever; people kept leaving messages for Abbey Auto Rental.

At the end of the year, Paula and Heather moved out, and Dan and Jorma moved in. Jorma used to enjoy messing with the callers. He would take down their credit card number and make a reservation, promising free delivery, just as it said in the ad. Then he would go off to class. When the reservation time rolled around, the customer would call back, furious at the absence of their rental car, and frequently I would be the one to answer the phone.

Dave: Hello?

Irate customer: Where the hell is my car?

Dave: Sorry, Abbey Auto Rental went out of business two years ago.

Irate customer: What are you talking about? I gave my credit card number to someone this morning.

Dave: You must have been talking to the ghost of Mister Abbey! WoooOOOOoooo!

Irate customer: I’m coming down there to kick your ass!

Dave: OK, see you soon. You have the address from the ad, right? How are you going to get here with no car?

Irate customer: RRRAAAAAAAA

When Jorma moved out and Michelle moved in, we decided it was time to change the outgoing message again. We left longer and longer messages, but the calls kept coming. They had phone books! The phone books were three years old! Abbey Auto Rental must exist. It must!

Finally, I went out and bought a longer tape for the outgoing message. I recorded “The Gift” by the Velvet Underground. This song is eight minutes and sixteen seconds long. The left channel is the band noodling around aimlessly on their guitars, and the right channel is a male voice with a British accent, telling a story about a man who mailed himself to his girlfriend. We told all our friends to just hit the star key to bypass the outgoing message.

This, finally, eliminated the car rental messages. I left the answering machine that way, and tried to forget about it. Almost a year later, I came home to a light blinking on the machine. It was the peevish voice of a little old lady, who had clearly listened to the entire story, including the part where the girlfriend uses a sheet metal cutter to open the box, accidentally killing her boyfriend. The message said, “That’s a very nice story, but it doesn’t help me; I want to rent a car.”