This isn’t the best story in the world, but I’m feeling a little ookie, so it’s all I got.
I used to be a singing telegram girl. This was long ago and far away, when my voice was decent and my butt was tiny. Each day, I’d arise and put on my uniform– a pair of black tuxedo pants, a red jacket with braiding and brass buttons, black Capezio shoes and a red pillbox hat. I’d head to the office, and someone would hand me a stack of orders, each of which represented an appointment to sing a song. Each form indicated an occasion, a location (usually some public place, like a restaurant or an office) and a “victim” (the person to whom I’d sing).
Our busiest time of year was the week of Valentine’s Day. One song, every 30 minutes or so, all day, every day for 4 crazy days. People were so anxious to order these things that once we became completely booked on the big day, they’d settle for a day or two before or after.
The work routine went like this: Grab your orders, zoom to the delivery site, find a place to park, seize your kazoo and a card, run to the designated area and start calling out the victim’s name. When they appeared, mortified and blushing, make a big to-do over them, and begin singing– loudly:
“Be my, be my Valentine baybee
Be my, be my honey child.
Darlin’, my heart is yearning for you, dear
Oh Valentine, you just drive me wild.
Oh when that southern moon rises in the sky,
With you I want to spoon
While the moonbeams dance in our eyes.
Cupid’s arrow hit my heart, love
Now darling, you’re always on my mind
Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah
Oh be my, be my Valentine!”
(I forgot that second-to-the-last line)
There’d be a really fancy kazoo break in there, and a lot of dancing around, then we’d end with a flourish, down on one knee, hand the recipient the card and announce the name of the telegram’s sender. Example: “Happy Valentine’s Day to my widdle shnooky ookums. Love, Harvey.”
There were no cell phones in those days, or if there were, they were the size of compact cars and we didn’t carry them. We’d stop at a pay phone after every few deliveries, to call the office and let them know which missions we’d accomplished. Often, we’d be given more orders to fill.
There were also frequent stops back to the telegram company to pick up flowers, candy, or balloons to include in our presentations. The place was filled with singing bellhops, gorillas, Fred Astaire and Dolly Parton lookalikes, all ready to descend on the hapless lovers of mid-south.
Okay, so I was really young, but this week long musical love fest really tested my energy levels. There was almost no time for sleep, for food, for anything. I looked and felt like hell. At some point, one of my co-workers said, “Here. Take this. It’ll give you energy.” He handed me a little blue pill, and like an idiot I swallowed it, no questions asked.
Within ten minutes, I was feeling better. Within twenty, I was feeling great! Zip! Zip! Zip! I was gettin’ er done, enthusiastically serenading men and women across the metro area. Zippity doo dah! I was peppy! I was fabulous!
Then, I was sick.
The little blue pill started scrunching the top of my head like a vise, my heart began racing, and I suddenly had to vomit. My routine became: stop the car on the side of the road, open the door, hurl, get to my destination, and sing. Rinse and repeat. Ahhhh, romance!
At some point, I called the office, and was told, “Channel 5 News is doing a story on us. A reporter’s going to meet you at the next stop to interview and film you.” And so they did. I promise, that story did nothing to promote the fine art of singing telegrams. I have no idea what I said, but there I was for all the metro area to see, a whacked out, nauseous, speed freaked, bleary-eyed young woman, making myself dizzy with every dance routine, my Tic Tac covered vomit breath rasping out love songs for multitudes to hear. It was a beautiful thing.
At some point, it became apparent to the folks at the office that the only thing holding me up was the starch in my uniform. The fellow who’d given me the happy pill took me home, and I crawled into bed, where I remained for two days.
So here’s to you, singing telegram messengers of the world, on this lovely Valentine’s Eve. Twenty-eight years later, I still feel your pain.