My Personal Chris Rock Hot Line
I needed a new cell phone and service plan, so I visited a nearby Verizon store. I had previously suffered through two unattractive, free phones with my other plans, so this time I decided money was no object and aesthetics was everything. After a prolonged period of touching, feeling, holding, grasping, opening and closing the many models on display, I chose a cute flip-top Samsung. What a sweet piece of modern technology.
Now that I had chosen the perfect phone, it was time to choose a number. I couldn't pick the exact digits, but I could accept or refuse the random, available numbers the computer spit up for me. After rejecting the first three, I could sense the saleswoman's patience was wearing thin. When the fourth number came up, encouragingly she said, "You're gonna like this one, really, you will." She was right. I liked it. So I took it.
I finished at Verizon and returned to my apartment. I was reading through the manual, new phone beside me, when all of a sudden it started to ring. Granted, a ringing cell phone is nothing out of the ordinary, but since I had yet to give anyone my new number, who possibly could be calling me? The Caller ID said "Restricted" which wasn't any help.
Bewildered, I picked up the phone and questioned, "Hello?"
"Is Chris Rock there?" the caller asked.
Chris Rock? That's absurd. Of course not!
I assumed the guy was joking around with a friend, and somehow had called my new number by mistake." No," I replied, "you've got the wrong number."
Two days later, I was upstate, cruising around a parking lot looking for a space (thrilling, I know), when my cell phone rang. A number I didn't recognize appeared on the Caller ID.
CALLER: Is Chris there?
LAURA: [Puzzled, curiosity piqued] Uh, Chris... who?
CALLER: Chris Rock.
LAURA: Chris Rock? As in, the Chris Rock?
CALLER: Yeah, the Chris Rock.
LAURA: That is so funny! You're the second person who's called asking for Chris Rock. I just got a new cell phone and this is my new number.
CALLER: [Laughs] Well, you'd better get a different one, because I know for sure that this is Chris Rock's number. Oh, wait -- I remember Chris saying something about changing his number....
When we got off the phone I was struck with the realization that: Omigod! I have Chris Rock's old cell phone number! But it's not that old, because people are still calling. What a crazy, random thing to have happened to me!
And then I thought, If I got two calls already, I'm probably going to get some more. This could be really fun, and really crazy, and... who knows? Okay, I'm ready. Bring 'em on, baby, bring 'em on!
The following weekend I helped Tim, my old boss, move a carload of stuff from his city apartment to a storage space upstate. It was a two-day project that required a sleepover in a hotel on Saturday night.
Around 8:30 on Sunday morning, I was in my room watching a little telly before going down to breakfast when my cell phone started to ring. Who could be calling so early on a Sunday morning? I picked up my phone and saw "Restricted" on the Caller ID.
CALLER: Is Chris there?
LAURA [Politely inquires]: Who's calling?
CALLER: It's Spike.
LAURA: [Assumes the obvious, that it's Spike Lee, but feeling a bit mischievous, innocently inquires] From...?
CALLER [Annoyed, blurts out]: It's Spike LEE.
LAURA [At a loss of something jaunty to say. Pauses, then replies]: Uh... well... actually... you have the wrong number---
LAURA: [Thinks, Oh, those movie-star directors -- no sense of humor at all.]
After the Spike Lee call, I realized my "Chris Hot line" was a live wire. Other celebrities would probably be calling. "You have the wrong number: was such a boring thing to say -- I wanted to have an appropriate number to give to future callers. Through a Google search I located Chris's management agency, and spoke with a guy there about my "unexpected" situation. He said he would contact Kali, Chris's assistant, and ask her to get back to me with a number I could give out to future callers.
The next day my cell rang, with "Restricted" once again appearing on the Caller ID. I had a feeling the call was not gonna be for me.
CALLER: Hi, I'm calling from Jerry Seinfeld's office. Jerry would like to get two tickets to Chris' show in LA this weekend. Would that be possible?
LAURA: Sorry, you have the wrong number.
I know it was a lame response, but I had yet to hear from Kali. I wanted to be more helpful, but there wasn't much else I could do.
I called my contact at Chris's agency. "Jerry Seinfeld's office just called. I really need that number!" This time he gave me Kali's cell, a number identical to mine except for the last digit, and told me I could give that out when I received additional calls. I was a tad disappointed -- I was hoping they would give me Chris's number instead of his assistant's. Oh, well.
Good thing I got Kali's number, because the calls kept coming. I averaged about five a week. My new cell phone became a portal into the celebrity/entertainment world at large. When it rang literally anyone could be on the other end of the line.
To have a bit of harmless fun, I devised this game to play with the Chris-callers: In my most proper executive assistant manner, I would try to get their full name, what company they were calling from, and the reason they were calling, all the while not letting on that they were in fact talking to a random NYC girl (me) who was in no manner, shape or form associated with Chris Rock, his staff, or his entourage.
After getting the info, in a polite and helpful manner I would then say, "There's actually someone else you need call who can help you with this matter. Her name is Kali, and her number is 917---" The caller would then graciously thank me for my help. See, I told you my fun was harmless.
I was puttering around my apartment one evening when my cell phone started to ring. I picked it up and saw a number beginning with "310." Hmm, California. I bet this is another... you know what.
CALLER: Hi, is this Malaak?
LAURA: No, it's not. Who's this? [Note: I later did a Google search and "Malaak" was Chris's wife]
CALLER: It's Adam.
CALLER: It's Adam Sandler.
LAURA [Thinks, Ah, yes, there's no mistaking that distinctive voice of his]: Oh, hi!
LAURA [Suddenly overcome with a bit of punchiness]: So, are you calling Chris for business or pleasure?
ADAM [Laughs, taken slightly off guard, but still retains jovial attitude]: I'm calling Chris to say hello and chat. So, is he there?
LAURA [Knows it was now time to confess]: No, well -- he's not. You see, I'm actually this random New York City girl who happened to get Chris's old cell phone number.
ADAM [Lets out a big laugh]: Wow, that's really funny! That's great! You must be having a fun time with this!
LAURA: Yes, I am. And what also makes it fun is that coincidentally, I write true stories about my life in New York, and this will be another funny, true story to write about. Oh, I have a number you can call to reach Chris.
ADAM: That's okay -- I have his home number. Well, good luck, and sorry to have bothered you.
LAURA: No bother at all. Bye!
The next afternoon I was on a bus heading to Woodstock when my cell phone started to ring. I ruffled around my bag and located my cell. The Caller ID read "Restricted," the standard Chris-call tipoff.
CALLER: Hi, is Chris there?
LAURA: Who's calling please?
CALLER: It's Jack Nicholson.
LAURA [Nearly drops dead, but then thinks, Wait a minute. Adam Sandler sounded like Adam Sandler. I've seen The Shining and Easy Rider, and that did not sound like Jack Nicholson. In a brazen, skeptical tone says]: This doesn't sound like Jack Nicholson.
CALLER: I'm his assistant.
Although I kind of knew it wasn't really Jack, when I heard, "I'm his assistant" it was such a let down. So close, but no cigar. Can you imagine if it had really been Jack?
But getting back to the important matter on hand -- the nerve of that guy. You don't go around saying you're "Jack Nicholson" when you're Jack Nicholson's assistant. Didn't they teach him anything in celebrity assistant school?
Jack's ASSISTANT continued, "Jack has tickets to the Laker's game tonight, and he wanted to know if Chris is available to join him. Will Chris still be in LA tonight?"
Blasé, I replied, "There's someone else you'll need to call who can help you with that." I gave him Kali's number and we hung up. My heartbeat returned to its resting rate.
The Chris-calls came unexpectedly, at any time and place, and soon I became consumed with this newfound, pressing need to be on top of my cell phone at all times. One afternoon I visited the Museum of the City of New York. The security guard saw my cell phone and said, "Please turn your cell phone off." That sent a shockwave right through me. I can't turn my cell phone off! What if I miss an important Chris-call? To seem agreeable I turned it off, but as soon as I was out of his sight I turned it back on. This behavior had certainly come a long way from the days when my brother used to express annoyance at me for never answering my cell phone.
I was at a new temp job when my cell rang. The Caller ID showed a "603" area code, which I didn't recognize. I also didn't recognize the name of the caller: Ken Burns. After he told me his name our conversation went as follows:
LAURA: What's this regarding, please?
KEN BURNS: Stand up.
LAURA: Do you want to book Chris for something?
KEN BURNS: No. It's regarding a film we've been discussing doing together -- a documentary on the history of Stand Up.
LAURA [Feeling somewhat embarrassed for being nosy]: Oh, there's actually someone else for you to call....
A co-worker with an avid interest in my ongoing Chris-call accounts was standing near my desk when I got off the phone. I said to her, "I just got another call for Chris, but I never heard of the guy. His name was Ken Burns."
"Ken Burns! Oh, my God! I can't believe you just talked to Ken Burns! He's a great documentary filmmaker. Do a search on him and you'll see all the great stuff he's done." Yes, Google proved me ignorant, thank you.
We were still discussing the Ken Burns call when my cell rang again with "603" on the Caller ID. "Oh, no! He's calling back!" I was almost afraid to answer it.
"Answer it! Answer it!" she ordered.
LAURA: [Meekly] Hello?
CALLER: Hi, it's Ken Burns. I spoke with you a few minutes ago. I called the number you gave me and no one was there. I got the voice mail of someone named "Kali."
LAURA: Kali is Chris's assistant....
KEN: I left a message, but, do you think I could call Chris at his home?
LAURA: Uh, sure. You can try him at home....
Am I bad? Yeah, maybe a bit, I admit. But c'mon. If you got the number, would you pass up this great entertainment, ever so conveniently placed in the palm of your hand?
Uh, huh. I didn't think so.
I finished writing mthe preceding story on a Saturday afternoon. After posting the story, originally entitled "Crazy, Random Chris Rock Thing" on my website, I sent an e-mail to my notification list readers, notifying them of this new offering and providing a link to the story.
Over the years I had built up a decent-sized notification list, which was great because it enabled me to get immediate feedback on new material I posted. The first few e-mails I received regarding the Chris story were very positive: "That's a great story!" "Can I just say how brilliant this story is!" "Hilarious!" "Loved it!" I was pleased at the initial response.
On Saturday evening I visited my friend Nancy. I read the story aloud to her and we laughed throughout my reading of it. I mused, "I wonder what Chris would think if he ever read it?" We smiled and shrugged it off.
As soon as I woke up on Sunday morning I checked my e-mail. There were additional responses from "Notification List" readers who had enjoyed the story, but then there was also an e-mail from a guy who mentioned that he had seen the story on MetaFilter. I had never heard of "MetaFilter" so as a first guess I typed the obvious "metafilter.com" into my browser. Up popped their homepage. It was a discussion-forum type of website. To my surprise, at the top of the page it read, "Chris-calls! What if you received Chris Rock's old cell phone number and his celebrity friends kept on calling you?" Following was an extensive thread of comments on the story, and then comments on the comments. As I scrolled down the page I read numerous comments trashing the story. But not only did they trash my story, they also trashed me. Here's a sampling:
"It's too bad someone with no sense of humor got the phone."
"I kept thinking there would be an interesting or funny point to her story. I was wrong."
"She didn't know who Ken Burns is? Sheesh."
"Carrie Bradshaw she is not."
Another comment: "I'd swear this was a Jean Teasdale article." Oh, great, I thought, who's that? I assumed it was another put-down -- I was right. Through a quick web search I discovered "Jean Teasdale" was a fictional mock columnist in The Onion, described as "an overweight woman in a small town who loves her cats and Patrick Swayze," and was someone who "thinks she has a sense of humor but has very pedestrian tastes and a very humdrum lifestyle."
Many of the MetaFilter readers expressed disappointment with the story because they wanted me to have really pranked the callers. Well, I disagree. The way I figured it, the last thing a celebrity needs -- or any of us for that matter -- is another annoyance. By not annoying Chris's callers, I felt that translated into not annoying him. Yes, I had my little bit of fun, but throughout my dealings with the Chris-callers I always remained respectful, gave them helpful information (Kali's number), and in the end "wasted" a truly insignificant amount of their time. To me it was about being an ethical person and doing the right thing. In a way it can be likened to finding a wallet containing money and identification. Some would return everything, som would keep the money and return the rest, and some wouldn't return anything. It's happened to me before and I've returned it all. Would the snarky MetaFilter commenters return it all?
Throughout that day, I left a series of my own comments on the MetaFilter thread. When the online snarkfest subsided, I was put through the wringer, but things ended up in my favor, because at the time MetaFilter was a highly trafficked site. The exposure led to links on other sites, which led to more and more links. Before I knew it, my Chris Rock cell phone story was all over the Internet.
By Wednesday, I began receiving much more e-mail than usual: "I found your site through a link on Popdex," "I saw you on BuzzMachine," "Blogdex," "Crains Detroit News," "VH1," "USA Today," and many others. Also that day, I received e-mails from two radio stations requesting to interview me. At work, I snuck into a private conference room to conduct the interviews. No one had an inkling of what I was up to, which added to the fun of it.
Thursday was a very busy e-mail day, with more and more people discovering my site through various linkage of the story. It's still out there, linked all over the web.
In my apartment Friday morning before work, as I was drinking my coffee, my mind was thinking, thinking, plotting, planning, scheming. Instead of spending the next hour exercising, I sat down at my computer, whipped up an e-mail, and sent it to my "Notification List" readers. It told of the buzz going on with the story and my new idea: "What if we band together and launch a blitz to get the word out about the story everywhere we possibly can? Let's see how far we can make this thing go!"
By noontime response was pouring in. The fuel that had been added to what was already a fire succeeded in now making it burn like crazy.
Friday evening, in the midst of the e-mail blitz craziness, it was time to say, "Bye-bye New York, hello Savannah." I left on a ten-day excursion compliments of Tim. He had recently bought a house near Savannah and flew me down to help fix it up.
Excitement was in the air. I looked forward to getting out of bustling NYC to visit a beautiful Southern city I had never been to before. I was also looking forward to spending time with Tim and his partner Warren, which was always a lot of fun. And not that I needed another reason to be excited, but there was one: my Chris Rock story was jumping all around cyberspace. Who's living room would it end up in next?
Whenever I fly, I prefer a window seat. I got one that night on my flight to Savannah. Face pressed to the window like a little kid, with wide eyes I gazed out at the intricate web of amber-toned electrical illumination below me. I watched as it became sparser as we flew farther away from the intense concentration of Manhattan Island. It made me think about how interconnected our whole world is.
Electricity and the Internet reaching all of these houses... I wonder if my website made it into any of these tiny speck-of-a-houses down there?
Late afternoon on Saturday, we headed to the home of one of Tim's friends for cocktails before dinner. Riding in the backseat en route to the gathering, I was admiring the elaborate moss dripping from the trees (a common sight for Southerners; a novel sight for a Northerner like me), when my cell phone went a' ringy ring ring. The Caller ID it displayed an area code I didn't recognize.
CALLER: Hi, is this Laura?
LAURA [Surprised, assumed the caller was going to ask for Chris]: Um, this is Laura.
CALLER [Very enthusiastic]: Hi! This is Gayle, Chris' mother-in-law. I read your story about getting Chris' old cell phone number and I absolutely loved it. I thought it was one of the most hilarious things I had ever read. I wanted to call you and say hello -- and then I realized I already had your number.
LAURA: I'm so glad you liked my story. Thanks so much for calling and letting me know! Do you think you might be able to... pass the story onto Chris?
GAYLE: Sure, definitely. But he's on tour now, and when he's on tour he's really busy, so I don't think he'd be able to get to it for a while...
When I had mused to Nancy, "I wonder what Chris would think if he ever read the story?" the notion of him reading it seemed pretty far-fetched. But now, a mere week later, it didn't seem far-fetched at all!
Mid-afternoon on Sunday, we headed to Tim and Warren's new house to start our fix-up work. Tim's chosen task was bricking up an interior wall. Warren and I were going to do some painting. I chose this wall adjacent to the second floor outdoor porch. I was wearing my tres chic painter's outfit of pants that were too small in the waist so the waistband was rolled down and the zipper was left not fully zipped, a faded purple bra top, and shoes I had mummified with blue painter's tape.
The three of us took our posts and began our work. I was painting for all of ten minutes when my cell phone started to ring. Sorry Tim -- duty calls. I put down my paint-sopped roller and walked over to my phone. I saw "Restricted" on the Caller ID.
CALLER: Is this Laura?
LAURA: Yes, this is Laura.
CALLER: Hi, it's Chris Rock.
With all that had been going on lately this wasn't the hugest, most out-of-left-field surprise, but still -- my first instinct was not to believe it. I thought I was being pranked. (Or "punked" as they say.) By whom I didn't know, but punked/pranked nonetheless.
I wasn't familiar enough with Chris's voice to identify it, so for the first few minutes of our conversation I wasn't sure it was really him. But as our conversation continued, I began to settle into the fact that yes, it really was Chris.
We had a very nice chat. He was friendly and genuinely interested in me. (What do you do? Where do you live? How old are you?) We talked for a while about a bunch of things.
When Chris had asked, "What do you do?" I mentioned my website and writing. For my "day job" I said I was an Executive Assistant: "Kind of like Kali, you know executive/personal assistant."
"For a celebrity?"
"No, for an executive in an office."
"We have to get you out of that! I'll give you the name of my literary agent - he's one of the best agents in the city. You can say I referred you." Chris also gave me his new cell phone number. My thoughts flashed back to yet another of the snide MetaFilter comments:
"My favorite part of Laura's essay: 'I was a tad disappointed -- I was hoping they'd give me Chris's number instead of his assistant's.' Yeah, that's what they were gonna do: give the weird phone stranger their boss's direct number."
"Weird phone stranger" -- is that what you think I am? Well, obviously Chris doesn't share your sentiment.
Continued exposure of the story caused my Inboxto be flooded for the next week. All kinds of interest poured in. Of particular note: the National Post, Canada's national newspaper, asked if they could run the piece and pay me for it [that ended up happening], an indie writer/director in LA was interested in my material, [I never followed up with him] and this guy thought my story would be good for a new reality show his production company would be pitching to HBO [that never materalized]. Most importantly, many new people were introduced to Laura's NYC Tales, which encouraged me to pursue the idea of turning my many tales into a book.
After my original story was written, I received a few additional calls of interest. I'm usually not a name-dropper, but allow me please to drop a few here: I also talked with Damon Wayans (friendly and cool), Peter Farrelly (the director of "There's Something About Mary," who was great), and Jerry Seinfeld. Ah yes, good ol' Jerry Seinfeld. We had such a lovely little chat, now didn't we Jerry?
CALLER: Is Chris there?
LAURA [In her pleasant executive assistant voice]: Who's this?
LAURA [Immediately thinks, Oh geez, it's Jerry Seinfeld! Acts unfazed. Politely and innocently asks]: Jerry--?
JERRY [Snippy and demanding]: Who's this?
LAURA [Taken aback, yet standing her ground]: Well, who's this?
JERRY [In a startlingly nasty tone]: This is a DUMB GAME. Is Chris THERE or NOT?
LAURA [Choked up]: Um, um....
The interaction left me aghast and distressed. So nasty! Would Jerry Seinfeld really have been that rude? Isn't he the quintessential funny nice guy like Adam Sandler? The "Jerry" I spoke with never did say his last name, so in all fairness there was a chance it wasn't in fact Mr. Jerry Seinfeld himself.
After work that day I went to a Nancy's apartment. Her TV was on when I got there and coincidence had it that an "Seinfeld" rerun was playing. I paid attention with a curious interest. In the skit, Jerry started arguing with George. The minute I heard Jerry's nasal, kvetchy bickering, I thought, Yup, it was Jerry Seinfeld all right.
My opinion of the "Seinfeld" we all know and love has been forever tainted. But all things considered, it was a small price to pay.