for David Foster I had my order. Not of the choirs of angels, but of the countries we called in the stone dead heart of the night. Japan was a young woman's voice, a cool river through a thirsty land, sliding over my bone- tired body like an icy, blue-green wave. Australia was next--their perpetual joking could keep me awake. I even made history once: for eight years, a man had been calling his brother in the bush. He loved me, loved my voice, my flipping of the switches in Oakland, California, so that, at last, it worked. But usually I was just too tired to care. My first graveyard shift and I was much too tired to give a shit when the businessmen yelled about lines down in Manila again, as if I could stop those typhoons, as if I could make the old crones in Manila love us, which they didn't, or be somewhat helpful, which they weren't. Why don't you try again in two weeks? I would say (the stock response, a polite voice, then flip the switch, cut him off, quick, before his swearing poisons my ear). Too tired to care about anything, not their business dealing, not the drunken nostalgia for a whore known during the war--he can't remember her name, or the place where she worked, the street it was on, but could I help him find her? He's never forgotten . . . I grew so tired of phones ringing for eight hours straight. I wanted to pull my hair out, one thin strand at a time. It was a newly invented circle of hell, and if you had been there, you just might understand why that infamous hippie girl rose up, out of her chair, yanked the earphones off, and climbed onto a counter running the length of the room beneath our long, black switchboard, then, crawling from station to station, pulled each cord from its black tunnel, breaking one connection after another, like a series of coitus interruptus all down the board, before they stopped her, and led her away. She must be on LSD, said a wife from the Alameda military base. And she wears no underwear, either, added another. That was 1970, back when Oakland Overseas was still manual, but the hatred of a ringing phone is with me yet. I will stand at the center of a room and watch the damn thing ring its little head off, and I will grin, quite stupidly, at its helplessness. I will walk out the door, fill my lungs with ice, head for the far-off peaks. I will lose myself, become one small, dark stroke in the white stillness of snow. I'm telling you now, it was a brand new circle of hell, but how could we know that, then? We had jobs, the market was tight, and the union won us cab rides home when we worked at night.
Reprinted with permission by the University of Akron Press. Copyright © 2000. All rights reserved.