The Telephone

Chapter Two of a short memoir I wrote about Taffy. Taffy can always find you.

The phone number hasn’t changed in over thirty years. Like her apartment, Taffy’s phone number is a constant in the life of all who know her. Family members fear seeing it in their Caller ID on Marmoset’s Day if they haven’t called her first. At the same time, we all know that if we pick up and dial that number, she will always be there to talk with. Most of all, there’s a serene comfort in knowing that if you dial those 7 (or 10) digits, Taffy will likely be sitting there, in her chair with a glass of wine, her cat and a book. If you ever need to find someone, you call Taffy and she uses that rolodex by her armoire/bar.

The catch about that rolodex is that things are filed so that they make sense to Taffy, and not necessarily anyone else. For example, the pet store is filed under C for cat (I would have picked P for pets) and her sister Roie is under R, instead of S for either ‘sister’ or ‘Shensa.’ The married in people are often filed under the name of the person who was in the rolodex first, and every single entry is written in purple ink.

I was about 13 and off on a date, while Taffy was over visiting me and Dad in Del Mar. While I was out, there was a phone call and Dad was still laughing by the time I got home. Apparently Taffy had answered the phone and the conversation was something like this:

Taffy: Hello?
Harvey: Hello. Who’s this?
Taffy: Taffy. Who’s this?
Harvey: Taffy! Hi, it’s me, Harvey.
Taffy: Harley?
Harvey: No, Harvey! Don’t you remember me?
Taffy: Harley? Who’s Harley?
Dad: Mom, who’s on the phone?
Taffy: Someone named Harley.
Dad: Give me the phone. Hello?
Harvey: Steve? It’s Harvey.
Dad: Mom, it’s your ex-husband! Harvey! Harvey Epstein!
Taffy: Well why didn’t he say so?

My cousin Dawn Clement has a slightly different sort of phone memory:

I was talking to Taffy on the phone and telling her about my (then) fiancé, Keith. I told her that we both wanted to have a baby, but that we had differing ideas about how soon. I wanted to have the baby right away and Keith wanted to wait awhile. Taffy very seriously suggested that I poke a hole in the condom so that I wouldn’t have to wait!

The other great phone call I remember was when I was visiting Taffy over a summer in the late 1990’s and a telemarketer called. I didn’t get to hear his end of the conversation, but as soon as Taffy said ‘hello’ I could tell this was going to be a doozy. She listened for a moment and then informed the poor caller, in her most imperious voice, “This is Ms. Taffy Epstein, there is no mister. I divorced the son of a bitch years ago!” With a triumphant look, Taffy turned the phone off and sat back in her chair with an indignant huff.

My aunt Susan was the recipient of one of Taffy’s best phone calls.

Anyone who knows Taffy knows the following:
She can find a needle in a haystack

Stories abound about Taffy finding people. She once found my niece, after she had run away, and no one else could locate her. Countless times, when I was foolish enough not to have kept her informed of my whereabouts, she tracked me down. I’ve had the police pull me over, while I was on a date. Just to let me know my “mother was looking for me” I’ve even had the president of New Jersey Bell call me, admonish me for not calling my mother, and then connecting the call to her. I was in Switzerland, at school, having returned from my Spring break. I failed to contact Taffy to tell her I was safe and sound. Back in the states Bell Telephone was on strike. But leave it to my mom to have a friend, who had a friend, who knew the Pres. of NJ Bell. That time the gendarme came to my dorm, did their own bit of scolding, and then took me to the station to take my medicine from the NJ Bell exec, and then Taffy. Of course, she was a sweet as could be!

But her ultimate sleuthing story happened about 15 years ago. My husband, John Hickey, and I had invested in an apartment on Riverside Drive. We had renovated it and had put it on the market. As luck would have it, the stock market crash happened about the same time, and so we sat on the property without a buyer in sight. John had a job that was taking him to Japan that summer. After his tour I flew over to spend a week or so touring the countryside. We left Taffy in charge of the real estate deal, with strict instructions, “Don’t accept any offers under $250,000”. Off I went to join John.

With all of our money tied up in real estate, we were on the budget tour. We had a friend who, with her husband, was an ex-pat living and working in Tokyo. Rosemary was a great tour guide, and the three of us did budget traveling and stayed in Japanese style hostels. You know, the kind of places that you had a room and that’s it. No phones, no amenities. And we had no planned itinerary. One night, about 3 in the morning, at one of these Japanese hotels, there was a soft knocking on our door. Coming out of a deep sleep, John answered the door. Here stood a young Japanese woman. Bowing with courtesy, she said “Call from Taffy. Offel on Livelside Dlive, $240 OK?”

Only Taffy! My Mom

For a woman who dropped out of high school and became an accountant, Taffy could always get things done.  She also never once failed to let me know she loved me and thought about me.  When I was in college, she’d send me some spending money and also call me up to check in on me.  I was always her sidekick, so I thought this was the normal sort of relationship one had with your family.  My roommates I think just loved it when she sent us parcels of food.

We talked a lot during my first year of college, since the Indians were making a run for the World Series (we lost to Atlanta).  I wore my jersey around campus and almost every night we talked about the game and the standings.  At that time, both of us could list the batting order for the Tribe (Lofton, Vizquel…).  The next year though, the Tribe wasn’t doing so hot, and we talked a little less often.

One night during my second year of college, she called laughing her head off.  She’d just seen a commercial that reminded her of me.  I asked her what the commercial was, and instead she starts asking me if I remember when I used to play Batman and Robin with her.  Of course I did.  I was Batman and she, Robin, drove the Batmobile.  I used to use her garage door opener to talk to Commissioner Gordon, like it was a walkie-talkie.  Apparently in this commercial, she saw a young man drive his new car up and park it half-way in the garage.  A woman (presumably his wife) walks up, holding the baby, and they admire the car.  Then the baby presses the garage door opener again and again, smashing it down on the car.

“I just imagined all the garage doors you must have opened driving back from the Warehouse!” roared Taffy into the phone.

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