Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Ding Dong - the Queen of Mean is dead
What a miserable wretch she must have been. I'm only surprised that she didn't have her dog killed now so she wouldn't have to wait to be buried with it. When Leona Helmsley was sentenced to the Bedford Hills Women's Correctional Facility in 1989 for tax evasion she, and other celebrity prisoners, were at my mercy. Bedford, NY is right in the heart of celebrity ridden Westchester County. Martha Stewart could deliver hot pies to the prison. Hilary & Bill could drive 10 minutes up the Saw Mill Parkway to help eat them and probably do. If you are lucky, you could get run down (and not killed) by a celebrity in any number of small towns. James Coburn almost got me with a Jeep as I crossed (With the light!) in front of the Reed Library in my hometown, Carmel. But I digress. I was back working at my first full time job since my kids were born - a telephone operator for AT&T. The Carmel office handled a huge volume of collect calls from the inmates of the dozens of state and federal prisons that dot the landscape in the largely agrarian communities in the counties that lie north of the richer bedroom communities serving Manhattan. Unlike of old-fashioned switchboards (which I also operated back in '71) we had no control over what calls we received. The collect call from prisoners flowed into our headsets endlessly but were always interesting to me. Prisoners would often try to engage us in conversation outside of the scope of our handling the call - frowned on by management of course. There were perverts galore and no shortage of cranky bastards looking to verbally abuse whoever they could find - telephone operators were always handy. Dealing with miscreants appropriately was always a challenge. Many operators suffered from job-related stress. I thrived on it but it always saddened me when requests to accept charges were denied. Leona was another matter. She never seemed to get the hang of what was required of her and being a prisoner bound by the rules of the facility must have been extremely difficult for her. All she had to do was pick up the phone and say "collect call" at a minimum. Invariably, she had to be prompted to make this request like she was mentally deficient. Some operators took it as an act of defiance on her part and would hang up on her after the required prompt and 15 seconds wait. I was intrigued. If a call came in, and there was silence on the line I would intone "What is it you wish, Madam?"in my best Masterpiece Theater butler's voice, and she would mutter "Collect call." in a venomous hiss. My next obligation was to ask the identity of the caller even though I knew who it was. "May I have your name, please?" Her response was always eerie. As if she was announcing the Second Coming and I was a pagan idiot, she gave one imperious response "HELMsley". Of course, they always accepted the charges.