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Ralphie's Bop City Pt. 2

So there I was, running this sort-of-art project. It started with a single answering machine on my regular phone line, using an endless loop cassette answering tape, and eventually became a dedicated phone line using 3 rotating answering machines, each using regular tape.

One machine was always in the shop, one was in use, and one was on deck. I changed the message, on average, every 2 or 3 weeks. I edited the messages using 2 cassette decks and the pause buttons - although for a few months I actually physically edited the cassette tape with a blade, using a cassette splicing block, lots of patience, and a fine arsenal of swear words.

I kept this project mostly on the DL; I might mention it in conversation, but it was a very casual thing. Since the project had gotten a fair amount of traction on ts own word of mouth (see Pt. 1 of this story), I didn't feel the pressure to keep banging on people to call.

Answering machine 1970's

One question always came up once people listened to Ralphie's: "But how do you make money on it?" When I answered "I don't," they invariably followed up with "But then why do you do it?" When they heard me say "Because it's fun," they''d nod slowly, then look at me with an appraising glance. Why would anyone do anything just for fun?

Only once (really) in 16 years was this routine ever varied.

In the early 80''s, I had the good fortune to work on a project with Mal Sharpe, who did person-in-the-street interviews for a package of commercials I produced and d irected for 1-800-OK-CABLE. Mal flew to New York and spent several days with a film crew (and me) roaming the streets in midtown.

I knew Mal by reputation; he'd made 2 solo comedy albums for Rhino Records of street interviews, and he'd hosted a pleasantly loony television show in the early 70's called "The Street People." He was great to work with, and I was lucky to spend a bit of time just drinking coffee and hanging out with him.

I told him about Ralphie's Bop City one afternoon after the shoot, sitting in the cafe of his hotel.

"How does it work?"

"People call a number, they hear the answers to a question, then I come on and ask the next question, then they can leave an answer."

He sat quietly, considering this. "And the first question people always ask you is ''How do you make money on this?'', right?"

I nodded, amazed. He just shook his head. "Like money is the only reason to ever do anything."

Like I said: a perceptive, talented person, and I was lucky to work with him.

I've included another Ralphie's recording, it's the answers to the one I posted last week. In the next post, I'll talk about some of the callers I actually met.