Rifling blindly through the real estate section of the Kingston Freeman, Earl Rayburn picked up the phone on the half-ring.
“Kingston Realty,” he said, his voice deep and pebbly, pushing his butt deeper into his swivel-back chair and propping his feet on his son Spencer’s desk.
“Mr. Rayburn?” It was the excited voice of a young man, and Earl caught himself wondering which property the guy was calling about–knowing he hadn’t placed any ads because it was Thursday, that he never placed ads on a Thursday, and that the ads didn’t include his name. He wondered if he owed anyone money.
“Speaking,” he said, creeping his feet back down to the floor
“Mr. Rayburn, I’m calling from the Kmart Corporation in Troy, Michigan. At headquarters,” he added needlessly. The softly folding features of Earl’s face, like a sepia-tinted Hollywood hero, or the grooves of an ivory cameo on a periwinkle brooch, loosened just a notch. He couldn’t help himself but smile.
The young man said, “I just want to make sure I have the right person. You’re the Earl Rayburn who worked at the Kmart in Kingston, New York, in–the voice trailed off in search of accuracy–“nineteen sixty four to seventeeeee”–his voice dropped an octave–four?”
The guy seemed to catch his breath as if the culmination of years of research, rather than a week of Mondays, were at hand.
“Invented the Bluelight Special?”
“That’s me again,” Earl smiled. And just to tweak him. “Got a whole twenty five dollars gift certificate too.” He paused for effect. “But that was a lot of money in those days,” he added.
There wasn’t what you would call a reaction, but he realized there wouldn’t be. In Corporate America, he remembered, only vice presidents and above were allowed to laugh on the phone. Or maybe the other guy just didn’t get it, hadn’t been told the context, just get this guy on the phone and make sure it’s the right guy.
And no laughing.