One of the nicest things about returning to class is to see chalkboards again.
And erase boards, bulletin boards, Post-It notes — basically any host to the hand-written word. Hell, even the (grammatical) graffiti and light posts doubling as billboards that dot the UCLA campus are a fun read. It’s like a paleolithic Craigslist.
I’ve had memorable experiences with random scribbles. I bought my first Jeep from a bulletin board ad; a scrawled FOR SALE note that had the seller’s phone number vertically tabbed at the bottom, like a papered pianist with a dozen little tattooed fingers. I met the Lost and Found Mouse from a desperate LOST sign wallpapered to telephone poles in my neighborhood.
I almost made millions off a brilliant business plan I launched in Detroit, harnessing the power of scrawls and humor. The only barrier turned out to be that I know shit about business. And it was a stupid idea.
I was an elementary school student and just learning the nuances and of the telephone. When I figured out how to call long distance, I began phoning novelty stores across the country that advertised in Boy’s Life Magazine (which always promised riches selling Grit magazines.
The conversations would go thusly:
“Zakoor Novelty, how may I help you?”
“Hi. Do you sell whoopie cushions?”
“We sure do.”
“What about hand buzzers?”
“Fake dog poop? Fart Machine? X-Ray specs?”
“All of those.”
“Cool. Thank you. Bye.”
And so it went. Until the first telephone bill. Dad went ballistic when he saw dozens of daytime phone calls to New York, Los Angeles, Chicago — basically any place that had crap by the cartload. Dad informed me, with no small amount of bluster, that it cost to make a phone call to those places. Ah, I realized; people need to call you. A young Conrad Hilton was born!
I was also learning about dial-a-joke. For just pennies, you could call — any day of the week, any time of the day — to hear a hilarious joke with which to impress your friends.
One day, I huddled with best friend and co-conspirator Danny to launch our start-up. We would plaster every telephone pole near Eight Mile Road to saturate the market. We looked to Mad Magazine and friends for material.
What do you call pizza that’s not yours? Nacho cheese! What do elves learn in school? The Elf-abet! Where do pencils go on vacation? Pencil-vania! How do you make a tissue dance? Put a little boogie in it!
Graphically, we wanted our ad campaign to be unencumbered with much copy, pre-dating wannabe imitators like Apple and Google.
Call Dial a Joke! the ad said simply. Beneath it, my home phone.
And for a few days, business was brisk. At least once a day, we’d get a customer. After school, whenever the phone rang, I’d pick up, offer a brilliant quip, and hang up.
What I didn’t realize was that other people might need the phone, too. Namely, mom and dad. But whenever someone called our house, my parents’ frustrated friends noted, some kid was picking up the line, telling a joke, and hanging up on them.
After the discovery, mom offered me my second piece of business advice: Do that again, and I’ll pop your bottom. She ordered me and Danny to shutter the business, starting with taking down the dozens of signs in our neighborhood urging strangers to call our home. Reluctantly, we did.
But I must have missed one. About a month later, as I flipped through Boy’s Life in my bedroom, I heard mom coming up the stairs.
“Scaawt!” she hollered in an angry North Carolina accent. “It’s that damn daahl a joke!”
Surprised, I walked to my parents bedroom, picked up the phone, and offered one of my classic gut-busters: Why did six hate seven? Because seven eight nine! Click.