A Mike Kruhl Story: Ask the Telephone

Mike Kruhl is my alter ego who was a golden age of science fiction writer. The stories… aren’t good, they are tongue-in-cheek, usually efforts to break out of a writing rut.  I hadn’t posted any fiction to the blog lately, so I dug this up, written in September 2007.

Ask the Telephone

“Bullpunk! The Cleveland Indians won 4 games to 2 against the Boston Braves,” Richard Dinkens said before scooping up a huge handful of peanuts from the bowl in front of him. Bits of his previous handful flew from his mouth when he spoke.

“Ask the telephone,” Chuck the bartender said, wiping up the spit and peanut shards from his bar with his ever present bar towel. Greg Matrius, the balding man on the other end of the argument, agreed with Chuck. “Yeah, why argue, we’ll just ask the telephone.”

Richard slid off his barstool and walked over to the payphone. He pulled a punchcard from the cubbyhole next to the phone and jabbed at it with the metal stylus which hung from a ballchain. Richard spent five minutes with the punchcard before he was ready to feed it into the phone. Bob Jennings sat silently all the way at the end of the table. All conversation stopped as Greg and Chuck waited for Richard to ask the telephone about the facts of the 1948 World Series.

“For the love of Pete!” exclaimed Bob, slamming his glass of rye on the rocks onto the bar. “I remember the day in which people knew facts. There wasn’t any reliance on these new fangled devices. Hell, in my day, the telephone was just for talking to people.”

Chuck rolled his eyes at old Bob. “Progress doesn’t stop just because you don’t want to deal with it, Bob,” Chuck said as Richard waited for the response to print out.

“Bars used to have Farmer’s Almanacs and Books of World Records to settle these arguments,” Bob continued his harangue.

“Yeah, yeah, and you had to buy a new copy each year to make sure you had the latest information. It was a giant scam. Now we have access to the central file system. Every book, every newspaper, every city record from every city. All from the telephone,” Chuck said, drying a glass with his bar towel.

Bob mumbled to himself and finished his rye.

“Got it!” shouted Richard. “I was right.” He waved the paper above his head excitedly and shoved it at Greg after reaching the barstool. “Read it and weep.”

“God damn it!” Greg blurted, “I can’t seem to remember anything anymore.”

Greg tossed down a few bills for his drink and tipped his hat to Richard, “Chuck, Dick, Bob… see you gents tomorrow.”

When Greg arrived home, he hung his hat on the coat rack and sniffed the air. “Is that roast beef I smell?” he asked loudly. His wife’s voice floated from the kitchen, “It sure is. It is a new recipe though, I asked the telephone and the old recipe changed.”

“That’s weird. I hope it is as good as the old recipe,” Greg said, stripping off his tie. His wife Farrah stepped from the kitchen, wiping her hands on her apron. She gave him a hug and a kiss. “I’m sure it will be just as good. I just don’t now why it would change like that. I should have written it down, but I figured I could just save the punchcard instead of the recipe.”

“How did you know it changed?” Greg asked as he sat down at the dinner table.

“The old recipe didn’t require cumin. This one does. I’ve never purchased cumin before. I had to make it without it.”

“I’m sure it will be great. It smells great,” Greg unfolded a napkin into his lap and ate his roast beef dinner.

When Greg went to work the next day, he faced chaos. The secretarial staff shouted and sobbed. He grabbed one of the girls and shook her, “What is going on?”

“It’s bad, Mr. Matrius, real bad. Something happened to the Central File System. All the records we submitted last week are gone!”

“What? How is that possible?” Greg pushed the girl to the side and rushed to his office. From his desk drawer he pulled out a small box filled with punchcards. He slid one of them through the slot on the phone and waited. The taperoll attached to the telephone fed through another slot and the response from the Central File System emerged. He stared at the answer mouth agape. “No response possible.” One after another, Greg slid his punchcards through the telephone. “No response possible.”

In offices all over the world, the same scene played out. The telephones didn’t have the answers.