Monday, August 30, 2010

Ms. FortunePhone

A New Romantic Comedy
Written, Directed, Produced, and Cast and Crew Terrorized
 Perry Block

As presented on the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM)
Voorhees, New Jersey Stage
The Tri-State Human Resources Comedy Troupe
May 7, 2010
(One time only; they couldn't afford us!)  

Perry Block, shy participant in the company 401 (k) Plan .... Perry Block

Ms. FortunePhone, automated female voice of company 401 (k) Plan .... Debbie Deissroth _________________________________________________

The First Telephone Call

Perry enters, sorting through mail.

Perry: Websites!!! Interactive Voice Response!!! Isn't there a human being out there anywhere???

He begins reading.

Perry: Look at this! “Announcing 401 (k) FortunePhone, the exciting new way to access your Company 401 (k) plan. Just punch in this pin .... (wearily) All right, what’s to lose…..?
Perry sits on a stool centerstage, puts down the mail, picks up phone, and dials the number.

FortunePhone: BEEP! (a very pleasant sounding female voice) Welcome to 401 (k) FortunePhone!

Perry: Oh .. er ... hello, FortunePhone. I ... uh ... just dialed the number that came in the mail, and...

FortunePhone: (very upbeat and friendly) and I’m so glad you did, sir! Just punch in your pin number, press the pound sign, and I’ll help you with your savings and retirement plan in (a bit provocatively) whatever way I can.

Perry does so.

Fortune Phone: BEEP! Hello, Mr. Perry Block! You know even though this is the first time we’ve spoken, I feel I know so much about you already …. your social security number, your birthdate, the fact that you were afraid of the basement until you were 37.

Perry: Wow! How do you know all that?

FortunePhone: (coquettishly) Looked you up on Facebook!

Perry: (naively pleased) How ‘bout that!? Well, how do we get started?

FortunePhone: (patiently) Let’s begin with your total vested account balance. Please press 4, then the pound sign.

He does so.

FortunePhone: BEEP! (sounds almost sweet) As of September 1, 2010, your total vested account balance is (pause) oh my!!! I hope you won’t think me forward, Mr. Block, but you’re a bit behind in saving for retirement.

Perry: I am? How far behind?

FortunePhone: At your current investment pace, retirement will not be viable option until October 27 in the year 2284.

Perry: Well, gee! (very Jack Benny) I was kind of hoping by then I’d at least have a 1-way coach class ticket to Miami Beach and a coupla of really nice pairs of plaid pants.

FortunePhone: (amused) Ha, ha, that’s cute! But if I may, Mr. Block, I believe the problem’s that too much of your money's in our Guaranteed Investment Account. You could get a better return in one of our more aggressive growth funds.

Perry: Well, what do you recommend?

FortunePhone: Here's one: The All Hell to the Winds Fund, managed by one of Wall Street’s rising young stars, Mr. Bob Beta!

Perry: (impressed) I’ll try it! Uhh, FortunePhone, could you please transfer 25% of my account balance into the Hell to the Winds Fund?

FortunePhone: My pleasure, Mr. Block. And best of luck to you!

Perry: Thank you, FortunePhone. It’s been nice talking to you.

FortunePhone: And nice talking to you! BEEP!

The Second Call

Perry is sitting on the stool, smiling, and looking quite all right. He reaches for the phone and dials the number…

FortunePhone: BEEP! Welcome to 401 (k) FortunePhone!

Perry: FortunePhone, hello, er, er, this is Perry Block.

FortunePhone: Oh, hiii, Mr. Block! (sounds happy to hear from him and he’s pleased with this response) What can I do for you tonight?

Perry: I just wanted to check my balance, FortunePhone. Could you tell me what…?

FortunePhone: Of course, Mr. Block! BEEP! As of September 15, 2010, Mr. Perry Block, your total account balance is up 17%.

Perry: Wow! That’s...that’s great, FortunePhone! Thank you so much for your help.

FortunePhone: (almost shyly) Don’t thank me, Mr. Block, that’s (pause) just my job.
Perry: FortunePhone, uh, could you please call me Perry?

FortunePhone: Okay, Mr. Block… (slight giggle) I mean, Perry. You know, I really do enjoy talking to you, and…… did you know, I’m following you on Twitter!

Perry: Wow…. you and no one else! You know, FortunePhone, before I met you, my store of financial wisdom was limited to never borrowing money from anyone with a broken nose named Louie.

FortunePhone: (laughing) Perry, you’re funny! I wish I could be as clever as you. All I know about are dull mutual funds.

Perry: FortunePhone, no, no, no….. I think you’re, you’re wonderf (catches himself) .... I mean, wonderfully efficient!. Umm, anyway, could you transfer another 50% of my account to the Hell to the Winds Fund?

FortunePhone: Of course I will, Perry. Until we speak again…..BEEP!

The Third Call

It’s late at night. Perry is seated on the stool, wearing red pajamas with little elephants --- or something similarly goofy. He is obviously excited. He smiles, looks about, smiles again, and dials quickly.

FortunePhone: BEEP! (very warm and nurturing) Welcome to 401 (k) FortunePhone!

Perry: Fortune Phone, it’s me, Perry! I just had to talk to you.

FortunePhone: Perry! It’s so late! BEEP!! But I’m sooo glad you called, just listen!

Perry: What is it, FortunePhone?

FortunePhone: Perry, as of September 24, 2010, your total account balance HAS  RISEN (very sexy!) another 37%. Congratulations, my friend!

Perry: You’ve really done it all for me, Fortune Phone.

FortunePhone: No, Perry. I didn’t do anything. You did it! All you needed was a little investment information .... and someone to believe in you.

Perry: FortunePhone, I’ve just got to ask. Uhhhh ...... What do you look like?

Perry begins to pour a glass of water.

FortunePhone: I’m so flattered! Go on our website, and with a click of a mouse, you can make me appear however you want me to be….

He lifts the glass, dreamily sighs, smiles and looks heavenward.FortunePhone: I could look just like Scarlett Johansson

He almost melts with delight. Then he takes a sip of his drink.

FortunePhone: Or, if you prefer, like Ernest Borgnine.

Perry does  spit take into the audience!!

FortunePhone: Just having a little fun! Goodnight, Pookie! BEEP!

He's delighted! As he hangs up, Perry mouths the word “Pookie," pauses, raises both arms high in the air, and jumps!


Perry: YES!!!

The Fourth Call

Perry is looking a little tense and out of sorts. He circles the stool, sits down, and quickly dials the phone.

FortunePhone: (nonchalantly) BEEP! Welcome to 401 (k) FortunePhone.

Perry: FortunePhone, it’s Perry, something’s gone wrong…

FortunePhone: Oh, hullo, Perry. (dully) Yes, your account is DOWN 28 percent since last Tuesday.

Perry: (frantic) FortunePhone, what’s going on?!

FortunePhone: BEEP! Last night Ben Bernanke spoke at a banquet. He recommended everyone bag the market and stash their cash in the Sealy Posturepedic.

Perry: What the hell is he doing?

FortunePhone: (a bit snotty) If you’d like an explanation, press 8, then the pound sign.

He does so.

FortunePhone:  If you ask me, Mr. Bernanke should never mix white with red when he's having fish.  BEEP!  Sorry, Perry, have to go, got a heavy day of statement prep tomorrow.  BEEP!

We hear the phone line click off. Perry looks puzzled and unsatisfied.

The Fifth Call

Perry is watching TV, looking disheveled and distraught. He walks over to the stool, sits, grabs the phone, and pounds out the phone number.

FortunePhone: BEEP! (with a new edge in her voice) This is 401 (k) FortunePhone!

Perry: (breathlessly) FortunePhone it’s me!

FortunePhone: Me?

: Perry. Perry Block. I’ve been watching Maria Bartiromo and ....

FortunePhone: That bitch?  Mr. Block, you know how this works! Push your pin, then the pound sign.

FortunePhone: BEEP! As of September 28, 2010, your account balance is plummeting towards the earth’s core like a wayward rocket in a Jules Verne novel!

Perry: FortunePhone, how bad is it?

FortunePhone: Mr. Bob Beta has left the All Hell to the Winds Fund and is entering a monastery in Tibet.

Perry: FortunePhone! Why didn’t you tell me to …?

FortunePhone: Mr. Block, please! I do not give financial advice. I provide investment education!

Perry: FortunePhone, please, I..I…

FortunePhone: Don’t worry! You still have enough money to buy those stupid plaid pants!

Perry: FortunePhone, you never used to say things like that before!

FortunePhone: Mr. Block, my technology is ever improving. I now provide 401 (k) information and sardonic comments. BEEP!

The Final Call

Needing a shave, scant hairs very mussed, and pacing back and forth, Perry finally sits on the stool. He settles himself and dials the number.

FortunePhone: (cold and robotic) BEEP! This is 401 (k) Fortune Phone.

Perry: FortunePhone, this is...

FortunePhone: You again? (seemingly irritated) Press your stupid pin, then the pound sign.

In a cold sweat, he does so.

FortunePhone: BEEP! As of October 1, 2010, your account balance is one tiny little cookie crumb compared to what you started with.

Perry: I don’t understand, FortunePhone! What happened to us!?

FortunePhone: Us!? There is no us! I am a highly infallible marvel of modern computing technology. You are a highly fallible human being who even today, is still afraid of the basement!

Perry: FortunePhone, that was a cheap shot!

FortunePhone: No sense of humor! And to think I used to find your foolish blathering amusing!

A male digital voice: BEEP! The service you once knew as FortunePhone is now is now closed to the likes of you!!


Perry drops the phone, then shakily places it on the receiver.

Perry: (despondently)
What do I do? What do I do!? (glancing at the mail beside him) Wait, what’s this in the mail? (reading) Your company Employee Assistance Program (EAP) understands you ….. just dial 1-800, then your pin ….

Perry does so frantically.

Hello? Hello! Please! Is this the EAP?!

EAP Careline: BEEP! (a warm, caring female voice) Welcome to EAP Careline. 24 hour a day automated help with a Caring Touch! EAP Careline really cares for you.

Perry: (naively) Really?

EAP Careline: For help with any personal problem you may have, please press 8, then the pound sign.

Perry punches in the number.

EAP Careline: BEEP! (same warm, caring female voice) Hello, Mr. Perry Block, how can I help you?

Perry: Careline,  please call me Perry.

EAP Careline: All right, (pause) Perry…. (giggles)….

The End   


Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Versatile Blogger Catch-All Category Award

Meryl Streep, resplendent in a black strapless evening gown, paused as she ripped the envelope asunder at the 2010 Versatile Blogger Awards Ceremony at Santa Monica's Eggland's Best Eggs Center.

“And the winner of The “Non-Vampiric/Non-Ain’t our Family Wacky?” Catch-all Category Award,” Ms. Streep began  “is ....

"No!  No!  Not THAT loser!!!”

Gasping for breath, Ms. Streep’s eyes met mine! All four of them exchanged cards, discovered they all vastly prefer when it’s better this way rather than better THIS way, and decided to meet for lunch on Thursday, splitting the check four ways.

“That loser?!” I bristled. “She’s got to mean me! But then … then that must mean I’m actually…. a winner!”

I was on the edge of my seat!  That's because I could only afford ¼ of a seat in the posh Eggland's Best Eggs Center, which wouldn’t have so bad had not 350 lb. Bruno Haldecker purchased the remaining ¾ of the seat.

“I hope ya win the stupid award, loser,” he wheezed, “so I can get me a couple a minutes on da damn seat alone!”

But I’ve gotten ahead of myself. Which is not surprising as I remember passing myself a couple of miles back on I-95;  boy, I had a lot of nerve driving so slowly in the left lane!

It all began last November.  My life filled to the brim with meaningful vocational and recreational endeavors and richly satisfying social intercourse with peers, colleagues, and close compadres, I decided the time was ripe to spend 7 - 8 hours a day on Twitter.

Ahh, yes, I well remember my first tweet:

“Twitter is the dirtiest sounding clean word in the English language.”

LMAO!!! If I do LMAO so myself!

I was tweeting my profundities at that time into a vast empty expanse of a Twitterverse ---similar to what I imagine to be the nature of the actual Universe, except the Twitterverse has order and purpose and a deity named Ashton Kutcher.

Before long, my first Twitterpal arrived in the form of a company that prints coupons for laundry detergent. Thrilled to have a follower at last, I began communicating frenetically through a series of warm, sensitive, and caring Direct Messages (also known as DMs, though I can’t for the life of me fathom why.)  Friendship formed, then love.  I pray our scheduled June wedding is still on, but I can’t confirm it because the coupon company has since unfollowed.

More Twitter friends arrived: foreign folk tweeting in a language composed of letters shaped like medieval implements of torture, Twitter sites featuring no tweets, 8,437 followers, and avatars created for the express purpose of eliciting enough male semen to flood a small city, and dudes who think Barak Obama is not only the agent of Satan but that he's screwing Satan by taking way too high a percentage!

In time, however, I began to obtain honest-to-goodness legit followers based on my perfection of the “Guilt Follow,” which proved so immensely successful at inflicting guilt in me that I have since confessed to virtually every felony ever committed in the city of Philadelphia.

Then one day I had an overpowering urge to blog!  After I drank a quart of Mylanta and pulled my head out of the toilet, I had another overpowering urge, this time to create a web page of my own unedited writings --- which curiously enough is referred to by a word that when spoken aloud makes the same disgusting sound as my earlier overpowering urge!

Go figure!

Perry Block - Nouveau Old, Formerly Cute hit the web in January 2010.  Early postings like The Lint in Your Navel: Friend or Foe? and The Short Lousy Life of Harry Truckman failed to connect with readers, but I later scored mightily with:

1)  Actuaries I Have Loved

2)  So What Do You Feel Like Doing Tonight, Nostradamus?,  in which I postulated that the entire body of Nostradamus’ prophecy foretells with stunning accuracy events in the life of actor Ernest Borgnine, and my masterpiece

3)  Gherkins! Gherkins!! GHERKINS!!!

And then in a stunning moment,  I was nominated for The 2010 Versatile Blogger “Non-Vampiric/Non-Ain’t our Family Wacky?” Catch-all Category Award. Y’ see, folks, virtually every blog on the internet concerns itself with either vampires or the blogger’s unshakable conviction that nothing's more entertaining to total strangers than tales of how the family's delightful third grader got ptomaine from Salisbury Steak served by Helga, the toothless lunch lady.

Since my blog had at no time employed the expressions “blood spouted from every orifice,” “his severed member,” or “wifey now nuzzling me towards bed (*wink*)” my nomination --- along with that of three other misguidedly themed blogs --- was assuredly assured.

Now let’s return to the Eggland's Best Eggs Center and gracious awards presenter Ms. Meryl Streep.

“And the winner of The “Non-Vampiric/Non-Ain’t our Family Wacky?” Catch-all Category Award,"  Ms. Streep uttered into the microphone " is ... is ... is ..... 

"No!  No!  Not THAT!!!  Loser!  Loser!!  I'M A LOSER???!! 

Stamping her feet like Rumplestiltskin when his secret name was outed (and when he was  later outed that second time as well),  Ms. Streep managed to catch hold of herself. 

"Yeah ... OK ... sure," she announced shakily, "the winner is Perry Block for his misguidedly themed blog, Perry Block - Nouveau Old, Formerly Cute.”

I leapt high in the air (what else was I going to leap high into --- a vat of Hellman’s Mayonnaise?), and as Bruno Haldecker expanded like Jabba the Hut across the whole of Seat 87 ZZ, I bounded to the podium. Prying the tarnished pewter statuette from Ms Streep’s rigid and highly resistant hands, I had a sudden impulse.

I kicked her hard in her left shin.

“What was that for?” she thundered!

“That’s for Mamma Mia, you whore!” I shot back.

Then I proceeded to thank everyone I have ever known in life,  which took a full 17 seconds because I prefaced my thanks with a long and boring anecdote.

Well, guess it’s time I advise you that the award-winning experience I’ve just shared has been lightly fictionalized for dramatic purposes.  Namely none of this ridiculous stuff ever happened.  Did I have ya goin'?

I was actually awarded the Versatile Blogger Award (along with a number of great bloggers) by a very cool  and talented writer, Julie Musil, who’s on Twitter at @JulieMusil.  Her blog is Writing and Blogging between Carpools.  

Thank you very much, Julie!

And as my true presenter, thank you also for having absolutely nothing to do with any version --- stage, screen, or otherwise ---- of Mamma Mia!

The Versatile Blogger Award comes with a few select and distinguished duties that the recipient must perform.  I will shortly handle them with aplomb and dignity. 

And I promise I won't call anyone else a four letter word name in the doing!   

Monday, August 9, 2010

Scorn Not Will Shakespeare

Da Man!

“To be or not to be? That is the question.”

"I'm going to go with 'not to be.'  Final answer."


If you recognized the quotation above as from the pen of the immortal Bard of Avon, William Shakespeare, you are indeed correct, sir. If on the other hand, you identified it as a quote from the pen of, say, Henry Miller, don’t ever think of going on Jeopardy. Or Millionaire.

William Shakespeare, the immortal Bard, is recognized as the greatest playwright and poet the English language has ever known! Actually that sounds more impressive than it actually is. The English language has always been pretty much of a loner who frankly never knew all that many people, let alone hoity-toity poets and playwrights.

So you’d have to have gone to a birthday party for the English language to see if anybody showed up who was serious competition for Shakespeare. Did the English language even know Henry Miller?

Still, we can all agree that this Shakespeare guy was pretty good. In his scant 52 years of life, he authored some of the world’s greatest plays: Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Othello …. umm, umm …. did I mention Hamlet?

Of course, he had the occasional clunker. How many of you have ever gone to a high school production of Timon of Athens? Known by scholars worldwide as “Shakespeare’s MacGruber,” Timon of Athens has the distinction of being the only Shakespearean work ever made into a movie by Ed Wood --- that is, after he renamed it Plan 9 from Outer Space. (Note: There is some historical evidence this was in fact Shakespeare’s working title.)

But pay it no heed. To honor the man himself, we bring you a passel of passages (actually only two) from his most rib ticklin’ o’ works. So scorn not Will Shakespeare.

In fact, please give it up for him!

Hath not a Jew Eyes
From The Merchant of Venice, Act III, Scene I.

As spoken by Shylock the Jew.

(Yeah, I know. This was not particularly good for the Jews.)

“Hath not a Jew eyes?” ~ I hath, but they’re sunken and deep set and badly in need of an eye job.

“Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions?” ~ I hath at least 2 out of 6!

“Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons?” ~ Between the two of these,  I'd go with the one where you get corned beef.

“Subject to the same diseases?” ~ And me even more so, because I’m a hypochondriac!

“Healed by the same means?” ~ You mean you go to Dr. Schwartzman too?

“Warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer?” ~ Yeah, true, but we’re probably not vacationing at the same spots.

“If you prick us, do we not bleed?” ~ That's okay, no need to prick me to check this out.  Hey, don't you prick me, you prick!

“If you tickle us, do we not laugh?” ~ Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Oh you great big crazy gentile cutie pie, stop it!!

“If you poison us, do we not die?” ~ Again, really appreciate your offer but no demonstration necessary!

“And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?” ~ You betcha! Meet my good friend Mel Hirschman, Head of the Gentile Auditing Division of the United States Internal Revenue Service! Got a desk for him to work at?

Various and Sundry from Caesar
From Julius Caesar, roaming at random.
As spoken by Caesar and Mark Antony. Mark them well!

"Let me have men about me that are fat." ~ Governor Chris Christie? I said 'men who are fat,' not the great globe itself!

"Yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look." ~  Yon Cassius hath no doubt just come from either Olive Garden or Applebee's.  No wonder he's starved!

“Et tu, Brute?" ~ Well, Brutus, you sure as hell can forget about those Phillies tickets I promised!”

"O, pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth ..." ~  Bleeding piece of earth? You might want to think about changing gardeners.

"And Caesar's spirit ranging for revenge, with Ate by his side come hot from Hell!" ~  Ate by his side? Actually we're thinking Ate might get his own show instead of staying on as Caesar's sidekick. 
"Friends, Romans, and Countrymen, lend me your ears!” ~ I promise to give them back but not before sticking them in my mouth, just like when I borrow a pencil.

“Did this in Caesar seem ambitious? Ambition should be made of sterner stuff.” ~ And in fact, right now, we’re showing marvelous results with Teflon!

“This was the noblest Roman of them all!” ~ But the one and only Chairman of the Board, ladies and gentleman, is still .... MR. FRANK SINATRA! 

And that's it! I hope you’ve enjoyed getting up close and personal with the immortal Bard of Avon.

Frankly, the guy’s one hell of a straight man!