Goodbye to my major claim to fame: Carl Kassell’s voice on my answering machine


The man, the myth and the message

Time and progress have come to the CollateralDamage household and we are getting rid of the land-line telephone. So we no longer have a group phone. That phone line is where, for the past 12 years, Carl Kassell‘s voice has resided. Unfortunately when I wrote that script for Carl (I should really put that on my resume) I made it specific and included our soon-to-be-gone phone number. Click here to listen to Carl as he answered our calls for so long.

I won this cherished item by correctly answering 4 (count ’em FOUR) questions about the news on NPR’s quiz show Wait, Wait … Don’t Tell Me. (It was their first year-end show and they upped the ante on the questions. They’ve never done it again and so I remain the only person ever to have gone 4 for 4.)

Having Carl’s voice is, in fact, every bit as cool as you think it is. More than once I have received messages about how cool a thing it is from people who have called the wrong number. And once a wrong number even called back to hear it again. Carl Kassell has also helped to encourage a certain sense of humility in me. Several times I have received a phone call from friends who said, in disappointed tones, “Oh … you’re home. I wanted to hear the message. If I call back, do you mind not answering?”

People frequently asked me how I got to be on the show. It’s a question I find confusing because the answer is so obvious: I called the number they repeat dozen times each week. No secret to it. I wonder if Wait, Wait … has a policy against two-time winners? I’m going to use the same tricky maneuver I used the last time — the telephone — and try to go for the gold again.

Until that happens I will cherish the cassette tape with the Wait, Wait logo on it and all that greatness within it.

With Hillary out, what now?

The AP is reporting something a lot of people weren’t sure would come to pass:

WASHINGTON – Hillary Rodham Clinton will concede Tuesday night that Barack Obama has the delegates to secure the Democratic nomination, campaign officials said, effectively ending her bid to be the nation’s first female president.

I find it amazing that both parties managed to pick the one candidate who could actually make a race of it. That’s good news for the GOP and bad news for the Democrats.

The economy is in the tank, we’re in a war no one (any longer) wants to be in and the current president is about as popular as a nudist at an Amish church dinner. Obama should be 20 points up right now.


There’s the melanin issue, there’s the youth issue, there’s the class issues, there’s the war hero issue, there’s the bitterness issue. Thus John McCain — who I think rode with Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders in Cuba — has an arguable chance to be the oldest president since Ronald Reagan’s brain.

Let me be clear about one thing: I have voted in every election since Reagan/Carter and I think this is the best choice I’ve ever been offered. I have issues with both Obama and McCain and I like both of them as well. I have never been able to say that before in a presidential election. One of the two men I agree with less than the other but even the one I don’t agree with I wouldn’t be totally miserable to have in office. I think it is an excellent sign that both candidates have not only been guests on Wait, Wait … Don’t Tell Me but both have been really, really funny. Huzzah for humor!

Bumper sticker courtesy of the most excellent Agatha & Louise in Portland, ME.

US prisons spark new diet fad

According to the BBC: “An overweight prisoner in the United States is suing the authorities for not feeding him enough after he lost about seven stone (45kg) in jail.Apparently on the other side of the looking glass stones and KGs are a type of weight. Who knew?

What will really make this diet take off: The prison says it gives prisoners at least 3000 calories a day in food! I predict Leavenworth will soon replace South Beach as the name in weight loss!

Sadly the truth is much more prosaic. Yes our plaintiff, Broderick Lloyd Laswell (awaiting trial for murder) did lose 99 pounds in a mere eight months while eating a reasonable amount of food. That is probably because for Mr. Laswell 3000 calories a day was a marked decrease in what he usually consumed. When he arrived at the jail Mr. L weighed 187kg. To those of you who, like me, this number means nothing, try this: that’s 411.4 pounds.

In his complaint Laswell writes that,

“On several occasions I have started to do some exercising and my vision went blurry and I felt like I was going to pass out … About an hour after each meal my stomach starts to hurt and growl. I feel hungry again. … The only reason we lost weight in here is because we are literally being starved to death.”

Well, he was literally eating himself to death before…

Maybe the headline should read “Weight, Weight, Don’t Tell Me…”

Wait, Wait … Don’t Make Headlines???

My favorite NPR show is actually making news … of exactly the sort it should.

The headline: Justice Breyer goes 0-3 on NPR news quiz

The Lede: WASHINGTON – Here’s what Justice Stephen Breyer revealed about the Supreme Court in his appearance on a radio quiz show: His judicial robe gathers no lint because it’s synthetic.

If it had happened anywhere else it would have been perfect fodder for the show.

Wait, Wait … Don’t Tell TOM HANKS?

Having Carl Kassel's voice on your answering machine is a great thing, trust me. I won this cherished item by correctly answering 4 (count 'em FOUR) questions* about the news on NPR's quiz show Wait, Wait … Don't Tell Me. More than once I have received messages about how cool a thing it is from people who have called the wrong number. And once a wrong number even called back to hear it again. Carl Kassel's voice is, in fact, more popular than I am. Several times I have received a phone call from a friend who said, in a disappointed voice, "oh … you're home. I wanted to hear the message. If I call back, do you mind not answering?"

(I won this wonderful prize back in the golden age of American political humor. The great thing about the Monica Lewinsky scandal was that whatever your position you could easily admit that this was just a freaking weird thing to be arguing about. And, oh yeah, it didn't really matter because, as we all realized later, no one died as a result.)

I am not just a WW…DTM winner, I am a devotee. I have listened to it since it first hit the air and try to never miss it. The rest of the Collateral Damages know that on Saturday between noon and 1 (when it airs on WBUR) dad is not to be bothered even if the house is on fire. When the show first hit the air, the only guests they could get were other NPR personalities whom, I can only guess, owed the producers money. In time the producers were able to get people who weren't on their payroll to appear. I remember how slack-jawed with awe host Peter Sagal was when they got their first semi-celeb, actress Martha Plimpton. A fine actress to be sure but not exactly someone who can, as they say, open a movie.

So it was I who was slack-jawed this week when I found out that the guest was none other than … Tom Hanks, who could probably fund NPR on an annual basis with what he leaves on his dresser at night. No surprise that Hanks was very funny, he does do that well. However it was Paula Poundstone who comedically topped everyone else with a one-word answer about beverages served in certain government buildings. Wow, that's all. Just wow.

*And I remain to this day the only person ever to go 4-for-4 on the show. Not that I'm bragging or anything… Odd thing: people who listen to the show frequently ask me how I was able to get on. Well, I did something very tricky and insider (since I used to work for a part of NPR, I know these things) but which I will now share with you: I called the friggin' number. Shhhhh. Let's just keep that between us.