With a Henry Mancini themesong featuring a jazzed-up boogie and a horn section, Mr. Gunn looked much like a skinhead of today except for the suit, tie, and wingtip shoes. He was always listening to jazz and smoking cigarettes, with his super-short hair, quiet manner, and the relentless interest of sultry women. Mr. Cool.
Later, he appeared in a movie that prominently featured his high-tech telephone answering machine, which was a reel-to-reel tape deck mounted in the wall. He was just too cool to have an old-fashioned answering service with a switchboard. This tape deck looked really neat in the middle of the wall of his living room.
And so, fifteen years later, this is probably why I bought the answering machine.
In the 70’s, when answering machines first came out — huge, bulky black boxes — they were regarded with suspicion. It’s mostly forgotten today that, at the time, reaching a machine instead of a human might be considered a kind of insult. Dehumanizing. Rude.
Not long after, Thanksgiving came around, and my mother and two brothers decided to give me a call. I came home and found the message.
My mother, clearly startled, is saying, “Hello? This is your mother. I’m just calling to wish you a …” here she paused, and sang the rest, “Happy Thanksgiving Day!“
As she fumbled to hang up her phone, I could hear my two young brothers in the background, puzzled because she’d begun talking, and then suddenly was hanging up; they were saying What? What is it? And just before the connection closed, I heard her voice.
“G**damned machine,” she said.
Huh? But it was so cool on Peter Gunn!