Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Tapes

Before the Internet came into our homes and when computerized bulletin board systems remained largely the domain of geeks, one of my hometown newspapers -- the Raytown Dispatch-Tribune -- tried an analog version of Facebook. They called it "The Tapes."

You called the paper's 24-hour automated answering machine, and an unidentified voice greeted you: "Thank you for calling The Tapes. We really do care." The voice instructed you to speak your opinion for publication. "But don't use your real name, which we can't do. Instead, make up a pseudonym."

Every Wednesday, the editors dumped their answering machine output into a full page of opinions signed with names like "Tired Of It," "Proud NOT To Be Union," "Never Again," and "Yeah, Me, The Lousy Cop."

People vented to the tapes about everything...

"Why is Save Mart charging $4.00 for whole head lettuce?"

"I don't care what my husband says, Italians are good people."

"Who is this guy on here? Man, I thought I was calling for pizza."

"I just know it. The Royals are gonna blow it in the ninth inning..."

"To the lady driving in front of me who hit the turtle. You didn't try to move sideways. You didn't try to slow down. I went back and picked up what was left of the turtle."

"How do you get fruit juice stains out of carpeting?"

"This is to the person known as The Other Woman. I want you to know how horrible you've made it on my family."

"Help! I need to find the book with the nursery rhyme that goes, 'There once was an elephant, who wanted to use the telephant...'"

"We are new to this town and we want to find a church that preaches against sin. So many of the ones around here just seem like get-acquainted groups."

"Have any of you people got that call from that woman who asks you to guess her name?"

"I got that call and had it traced. They told me it was coming from the Gladstone area..."

"I told that woman to go back to reading her Bible and hung up."

"I just heard this awful song by Guns 'N' Roses. It was off their album G'N'R Lies..."

"VD is rampant because we have so many hot-pants teenagers around here."

My personal favorite:

"I heard a woman screaming next door this morning and I called police. It turns out she was in the throngs of love with somebody. I'm glad you're all right, but you scared me!"

To this day, I can't believe the paper made an entire page into a graffiti wall. Yet for all its freewheeling, this page still had an editor, meaning trolls, haters, and libelers never made it in. I never missed reading it, this gossipy guilty pleasure masquerading as community journalism.

I still say you could do something like it in the print world. Let people email their comments in, confidentiality assured, pass them through a minimally-invasive editor, and you've got something. Maybe.

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