Episode 78: Hang Up And Try Again by Derek L. Palmer

Teenager, Afton McCarthy, encounters a rather unusual video game in the local mall’s arcade, the Magic Phone Booth. She and her friend Brenda discover that it’s not quite a game, but is exactly what it advertises itself to be.
Afterward, Big and Rish ask themselves, “Who you gonna call?” They also welcome a celebrity guest, of sorts. Many offensive comments abound, but what else is new?

Special thanks to Michael Eliyahou, Lizanne Herd, Julie Hoverson, and Abigail Hilton for lending their voices to today’s episode.

Right click HERE to download the episode, select Save Link As, and save the file to your hard drive.


Related Links:
Julie Hoverson’s 19 Nocturne Boulevard Podcast
Lizanne Herd’s Site
Abbie Hilton’s Cowry Catcher’s Site
Some sound effects were provided by freesound.org.
Music was Way Too Much by Leslie Hunt.
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License


26 Responses to “Episode 78: Hang Up And Try Again by Derek L. Palmer”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    I can’t get it. so sad, bring it back before you make the tears fall and I get all emo. :(

  2. What seems to be the problem, Anonymous? Are you trying to snag the episode via I-Tunes? I was able to download it by right-clicking the “here” button, but also started it right up by pushing the Play arrow.

    We’re twice as smart as the people of Shelbyville. Just let us know where the error is, and we’ll fix it.

  3. It’s not easy explaining why you’re crying on the elliptical at the gym. Curse you, Derek L. Palmer!

  4. Nicole Suddeth Says:

    Is it weird that I liken Announcer Man to a more inebriated/smoke-filled Carl Kasell? Now whenever I listen to Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me I’ll be thinking of the Dunesteef…and that’s just wrong.

  5. Am I a bad person for really wanting to point out what I didn’t like about the story?

    Firstly – and most importantly – I felt that this story suffered from a serious case of Tell-Don’t-Show Syndrome (TDSS for short). I found the narrator telling me a lot of things that either I knew already, because I could detect it in the characters’ actions, or that I didn’t know but would have preferred to see in the story, rather than in narration.

    Relatedly, the story seemed to pull its punches. I don’t want to hear the narrator describe why the character pulled back from the edge… I want to see her fall over it. I want her to screw up, find out too much, and live her life with the consequences of her experience with magic.

    For example, some things that occurred to me while I was listening…
    * Afton finds out something bad about her future (you’ll never marry, your mother will die soon, etc.).
    * Afton finds out something problematic and upsetting – in the sense that it upsets her life, not in the sense that it’s bad per se (you will take a serious and important role in some future crisis, your growth will eventually lead you to realize that you are gay – I actually thought this one was happening, given how much Afton was noticing her friend – etc.)
    * Afton has an experience of communication with God that is somehow disturbing (not in the horror sense, but in the God is something good but not necessarily human sense).

    Finally, I thought that the writer didn’t do a great job of making sure the teenagers talked like teenagers. This is extraordinarily hard to do, and I understand that.

    All that said, I basically liked the story. It was sweet and funny and amusing, and I liked the basic pretense of the story. I just thought a few elements were a little weak.

    • Couldn’t agree more, Mark. So many missed opportunities…

      My own particular irk with the story was the omniscient viewpoint used to avoid awkwardness rather than to clarify and expand upon the nuances of character. Between that and the cop-out avoidance of actually letting Afton talk to God, this story was an exercise in disappointment. It was sweet and charming, but it gave pat answers to what could have been fascinating questions.

      I’m also severely confused about why we needed the future-Afton bookend to introduce the story; it seemed completely irrelevant to anything in the story.

      • Cambodia Carl Says:

        What is this, Pseudopod? I admit I was a little put off by a couple parts of this story (and you got a point about the bookends), but don’t judge it by the disastrous and horrific possibilities it failed to mine. I can come up with nightmare scenarios too, such as Afton saying she wants to talk to herself in ten years and a funeral home answers, but I don’t think that’s what this story was supposed to be.

        Maybe I missed the point of this one, though, and it was meant to be disturbing instead of harmless and “uplifting.” I haven’t seen a ball dropped so hard since Back to the Future, when Marty went on the date with Lea Thompson and backed out of it. Shoot, I sure wish they’d had him f**k his mom and end up being his own father. What a great chance wasted!

        • One big difference being that Back to the Future had a lot of laugh-out-loud lines, whereas this story was going more for the sort of warm’n’fuzzy Hallmark card feeling. I don’t necessarily want horror, but neither do I want to be told, “It’s better not to talk to God at all because… uh… it just is, ‘k?” I’d have felt the message a lot more if we’d gotten to see what sort of problems having an open line to her sister might have caused Afton instead of just hearing some platitudes from a Mormon arcade jockey.

  6. I really enjoyed the story. I’m another former teen of the 80s and I thought the time period was captured really well.

    To me it was refreshing that no one doomed themselves with the magic phone calls. Although, who know what happened to Afton’s brother related to his Clark Kent comment, or Brenda’s future relationship with her husband? Maybe those calls had disastrous consequences that we don’t learn about. But I like that Afton got some closure through her conversation with her sister, and was able to let the phone booth go in the end.

    The voices and the production were really well done and I enjoyed the pre- and post-story conversation. Although, I don’t get any of the Transformer references! Star Wars, yes. LOTR, yes. If you guys some day talk about the Brady Bunch or Lost in Space (the t.v. series) I’m right there with you, but I’ve never had much to do with Transformers, either then or now!

    • I imagined that, as mentioned in the story, Brenda will have forgotten about the whole thing, but there will come a day when she comes home, and her husband will be expecting a “naked” reward for putting up with her strangeness on the phone that afternoon. It could have disastrous consequences, I suppose, if she doesn’t fulfill her promise. If she says, “Not tonight, honey, I’ve got a headache,” then that could be the beginning of the end for their happy marriage, and it will be all her fault for the false promise she made as a teenager.

      What will Superman do to Steven? Well, I don’t think Superman ever took that oath that Batman took not to kill. So, there may be no end of things that could happen to Steven for trying to spread around Superman’s identity.

      I’m just glad they didn’t call any of the proposed soap opera characters. I had my fill of Bo and Hope back in the 80s when my sisters watched. I don’t think I could handle another round. It would be worse than that upcoming Smurfs movie.

      • The narrator has already established that the people answering the phone calls, though real, live in some alternative reality from the one Afton inhabits. She talks to a different version of Brenda, for instance, than the one across the room. She will never meet the version of Brenda who spoke to her on the phone, although that version was “real.” Similarly, Brenda will never meet the version of her husband with whom she spoke. I thought this rule was cleverly introduced into the story. It did not seem forced and cleared up time-twister problems.

  7. Intriguing story. I liked it a lot. The ending didn’t worry me. It’s very human to avoid Big Things in life if they can be avoided by simply not being there. Also encou8nters with the inexplicable are often papered over by the mind. What we can’t rationalize we often drop into the mental too-hard basket and forget.

  8. I’m a little surprised at the disappointment people are expressing. This story is not about pushing people to their limits, or going to the big “What if” moment, or pulling the veil back all the way. It is about the tenderness of youth, living with regret, the foolishness of the teenage mind. This is a character story, using the speculative element to explore that landscape rather than the other way around.
    Stories like this remind me of of those by Clifford Semak – ordinary humans confronted with confounding circumstances and doing the best they can within their simple lives.

  9. STORY: I agree with some of what commenters Mark & Nathan said. There was a lot of telling. However, my main issue with the story was that it took too long to get where it was going, and then once it was there not enough time was spent. Reminds me of when I drove to Charlotte from Atlanta to see my sister — 4.5 hours in the car each way (we were driving with a two-year-old and needed to take breaks), and we only spent four hours actually IN Charlotte.

    Minor nitpicks: there wasn’t nearly enough foreshadowing to indicate that Afton had a dead sister, the name “Afton” (I’ve never heard it before, but maybe that’s me), the exceedingly long denouement that was fraught with the dangers of being caught (“Afton blew off school Tuesday morning and caught a bus to the mall — she never did that, but this was too important.” There. Saved four paragraphs.).

    I loved that “Mervyn’s” got a namecheck and the people that were chosen to be called (including Superman), and overall I did enjoy the story. I just wonder what else was cut out of the shorter version. And I’m glad there was no enormous monster or anything like that, although the lightheartedness of the opening made me think there would be.

    PRODUCTION: Rish did a pretty good Tom Cruise voice. The music blew out the voice a little bit at times — I have to listen with the volume at 40 to hear the voices, but then the music comes on and HOLY CRAP SOUND EXPLOSION!

    COMMENTARY: I’ve known some twins, including my cousins (fraternal) and some friends in high school (identical). They all seem to get along very well, with little to no sibling infighting. I could always tell the identical twins apart — their faces are slightly different in the cheek area, and anyway, now one has a child and is softer around the edges while the other is a fitness expert and is in amazing shape.

    Who would I call? I’m with Rish — I’d want to call myself when I was younger — either in fourth grade (which is when I started gaining weight) or in my freshman year of college (to remind me not to jump into a certain relationship). I almost think that could’ve been a good angle for the story — you can only call yourself, but you can call yourself at any time in your life.

  10. Well, to all those of you who thought the story was too long, didn’t need the bookend, had a denouement that went on for too long, etc. let me say that it was totally my doing. I believe we mentioned in the show that the author offered us a shorter version of the same story. In that short version, there was no bookend, the denouement was shorter, and there was significantly less in the middle too. I turned the author down in favor of the longer story. I didn’t want to lose the call to the cutest boy in the world, or the call to Brenda while she’s off getting quarters.

    It was a good story either way, but I liked it better with what it had in the long version. I was drawn to the story because it was sweet, cute, and fun. I guess we just don’t do enough happy stories on our show, and we’ve conditioned you all to expect tragedy and misfortune, but we like a little happiness and wonder once in a while too.

    As for the bookend, the story could have done without that, I guess, but I thought it served as a nice indication that this was a sweet, happy story, not one that would turn tragic or nasty. We see from the very start how Afton turned out fine, and looks back happily at the magical time she had.

    I don’t know…that’s what I was thinking when I picked this story anyway.

  11. unascertained Says:

    Hurrah! Fame at last!

    I liked the story. It was sweet and I wasn’t expecting any sinister twists because it just didn’t have that type of vibe. A bit of light-hearted whimsy every now and again is good for the soul.

    I think that any of who have lost loved-ones under sudden and unexpected circumstances can understand the desire to have one last chance for that one last conversation.

    I’m not sure who I’d call otherwise. I’m not sure I’d want to talk to any of the fictional characters I like because part of their charm is that they don’t exist. I wouldn’t speak to my past-self because I’m pretty sure that the bad times I’ve gone through have made me into me and without them I’d probably be a less interesting (and certainly less experienced) person. Perhaps future-me, although putting the burden of changing history on them is sort of cheating.

  12. I enjoyed this story when I read it, and I enjoyed listening to it. I thought that the teens made a realistic number of calls and had a realistic amount of creativity. Anyone put suddenly into this situation would likely draw a blank at first. Only later, with a few hours to think about it, would the really big calls occur to you.

    It is a convention in these types of stories that the character cannot get back the magic – at least not in its original form. The protagonist often spends the denouement pining for the things she failed to do with the magic for the brief, unexpected moment when it was within her grasp. Afton would never have re-found the magic phone booth, even if she’d gone looking. She nevertheless regards her brush with magic as a positive experience and creates closure out of it. This produces a warm, contented feeling in the reader, which is a nice way to end a story now and then. :)

    If you want to read more into it, you could speculate that the story is saying something about human nature and people’s level of desire to actually know whether or not there is a god or an afterlife. Sometimes people have one spiritual experience, which creates belief that lasts the rest of their lives, even if they never have another such experience or if many later experiences contradict that one magical moment. Afton has had such an experience with magic. It confirms her concept of religion.

    But has she really gotten proof of god and an afterlife? Her brother talked to Superman – a being who does not exist in their reality. Afton talked to an alternative version of Brenda whom she’ll never meet. What would a call to God mean under these circumstances? What does that say about her conversation with her sister? Was her sister any more real than Superman? Does the magic really work they way they think it does?

    I did not think the story offered pat answers at all. I thought it had an interesting mix of pessimism and warm-fuzzies.

  13. Abbie coming on reminds me: We’ve got a story by her in the pipeline and I was working on it tonight, and in her author’s note, she talks about the origin of her story was reading another story and not liking the direction it took. So she went out and wrote her own story so that it could explore what she wanted and head where she wanted it to go.

    I’m sorry that not everyone enjoyed this week’s episode, but the silver lining could certainly be that one or two of you end up writing a story with a similar premise, and sail that puppy down those dark avenues or over the rapids that you wanted this story to go. Or better still, write a totally different story, but use it to explore the areas or answer the questions that you didn’t feel this one did.

    The first screenplay I ever wrote was inspired by seeing the Dennis Quaid/Sean Connery movie DRAGONHEART, and being bummed out that it didn’t go where the trailer made it look like it was going. I won an award for that. And I wouldn’t be at all surprised if HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON was inspired by a very similar experience William Davies or Chris Sanders (or even Cressida Cowell who wrote the novels) had.

    You never know, even if you hated the story, you might be grateful you heard it somewhere down the line.

  14. Abbie said:
    “But has she really gotten proof of god and an afterlife? Her brother talked to Superman – a being who does not exist in their reality. Afton talked to an alternative version of Brenda whom she’ll never meet. What would a call to God mean under these circumstances? What does that say about her conversation with her sister? Was her sister any more real than Superman? Does the magic really work they way they think it does?”

    This is exactly what I took away as well. Cool to see I wasn’t alone there. I liked the story. It made me smile.

  15. Charmayne Says:

    It was something very human and real about this story. Funny that I say real when there was majick involved. Somtimes one event or moment of clarity can change the way we can look at our lives. If I had a phone call to make, I would call my (future adult) children.

    Was I a good mother or did I totally mess up. Did they turn out to be the good people I’ve raised and wanted them to be?

  16. I liked this story, great concept and well written. I thought the perfect ending would have been right after the girls went to the bathroom during the first trip to the arcade. (“…but both were ignored.”). That’s were I thought it was going to end and it would have been lovely.

    A great story can be diminished because the author feels a need to tie up all the loose ends. Life is filled with loose ends. Give me a tight story that leaves me wanting a bit more every time.

  17. Charmayne Says:

    In response to Bob:

    I remember the author saying something like..he had a shorter version of the story. I bet it probably ended there. at the arcade. But in a way, the story is still left open. She never found the machine again, so her question was left unanswered.

    Interesting take : )

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