1/23/11

I'm Not An Actress But I Play One On TV

I was hoping that by this juncture in my life that I would be an actress who had a fascinating career and now took roles that had interesting parts for me. My home address would be Malibu California. Out my backdoor, out my sliding stained glass doors that lead out to the pool and to the ocean and beach. On my Italian marble mantle in my luxurious all white sunken living room, would be my Oscar, surrounded by framed photographs of me and my husband, John Travolta.



As it turns out, that didn’t happen. Can’t imagine where I took that wrong turn in my career path, but I am not a famous actress. Oh well, I may not live 87 feet from the Pacific Ocean, but I do live in a town that has a body of water in its name and I live close to a famous river.


I started my career of minor careers at a little place called Oilfield Exchange. It had the distinction of being the oldest answering service in Lafayette. We also ran Western Union in Lafayette. I started out on grave shift, 11pm to 7am. Started out? They wouldn’t let me off it, which resulted in my employment at Answering Service of Lafayette. After they hooked me in by promising no grave, they flattered me into working it and I was too na├»ve to even negotiate a raise out of it. After not being able to break free I bounced over to A&M. Oilfield Exchange courted me back there, that reconciliation was an abomination and finally I found myself at Telephone Answering Bureau.


They were reluctant to hire me at TAB; I had worked so many places in the short time between May 78 and Feb 80. I was a good operator, but I was young, wild and a little full of myself. I made rash decisions, I was immature, my mouth wrote checks my ass couldn’t cash. I was sort of insufferable; I don’t know how anyone stood me. I had a hard time standing me.





I have an excuse, I was hungover. This is Oilfeild Exchange.



I found a niche at TAB. It was the largest answering service in Louisiana, with 16 switchboards. We answered phones for many types of businesses, but the main thing was oilfield service companies and the city medical community. Yes, if you could work board 3 and 4, the Doctor’s Boards, you were the shit around there, and guess who was THE Shiz-it, of course, Young Adult Vi. If you could work those boards, you were fast and accurate, had a good memory, a rapport with doctors who are generally grumpy oldish curmudgeonly men, but some are bright young things that are usually pleasant. The Oil boards operators were just as fast, but the doctors boards were crazy. The people on the other ends of the Oil Board’s cords were easy going, possibly half inebriated men, jaded by their oilfield experience, jauntily flirting with the operator, Boards 3 and 4 operators dealt with frantic mothers of newborns, brusque nurses from various intensive care rooms around the city or tired overworked doctors. It was extremely nerve wracking and I had a prescription for a mild tranquilizer that I took when things got too overwhelming. A pissed off doctor will yell at you like a hysterical bridezilla if you mess up. Some, not all, but those that would were a pain in the ba donkey donk. Toward the end of the shift, as sick babies finally slept and tired doctors were able to finish rounds, the boards cooled down and you could wind down a little before getting off for the night.


These pics are from 2 different locations of A&M


I met so many women that influenced me in different ways in those years. I say women, as it was almost exclusively women. Crusty old broads, sassy but sage black women, women in relationships with married men and young women discovering the freedom of being an adult with none of the responsibilities, girls like me. Uptight women, married women who looked over their spectacles in loud disgust over young pot smoking blue jean wearing beatniks. Women who hated men, women who loved men, any man, all men, as many men as possible. Divorcees, single mothers, women who had no children, but had tiny lap dogs that were eternal babies. Women who smoked too much, women who drank, women who needed a drink and women who drove others to drink.


With this age of internet in your pocket digital pictures phones the size of compacts age we live in, the answering services I worked for have to be nothing like they were in that heyday at the end of the oilfield boom. We answered a phone, reached the person on call at a number they’d left, or perhaps we’d beeped them on a device that send our voices over. “Call your answering service”. It was before Caller ID and Call Forwarding. It was before answering machines. We did have touch tone key pads on our switchboards, we weren’t cave women. Only Oilfield Exchange had rotary dial switchboards.


I wonder what happened to all those ladies I worked with. I have been able to successfully find two or three over the web and they don’t seem to be caught up to the internet age yet. The lady who sat next to me whenever I was on board 4, as she always sat on board 8 ( For some unknown reason the boards on that side of the room were in order, left to right 10, 1 , 2, 3 , 4, 8, 5, 6 and 16. Missing numbers were on the other side of the room.) She reeked of perfume, I hated sitting next to her, perfume makes my throat close, in large doses. She wore so much to cover the gin, I guess. I wonder if she’s still living, but I guess she’d be near 90 if she is. The lady originally from Oklahoma who was a roly poly short woman who had diabetes and was not supposed to use salt. She loved salt, she wouldn’t give it up. She said she’d rather die happy that live a life of bland food. Where’s that girl that could pass for Sissy Spacek’s twin, who was blissfully pregnant with her boyfriend’s baby. Her boyfriend that was almost full blooded Indian, and was killed in a bar fight before the baby was born. They were so in love, such a striking couple, a small girlish woman and a tall dark man with long silky black hair. Where’s that woman who pinned all her hopes and wasted her youth on a married man who kept promising to leave his wife and begin a new life with her. He finally did leave his wife, to be with a third woman, who he cheated on his wife and his girlfriend with.


I worked at TAB until I moved back to MS in ’86. (1983 was Arizona year, I was able to walk with into the job I’d left) I did some growing up there. I learned about life through the eyes of others, you learn a lot about people and their pasts sitting next to them eight hours at a time, day after day.



Anyway, I really do have an Oscar on my mantle. All is not lost.


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