Just a Friendly Robocall

(Originally appeared in The New Yorker, August 2012)

Hi there. I hope I am not disturbing your dinner. This is Arnold Landis, calling to discuss a most crucial choice you’re going to have to make this upcoming November. You know what’s meant a lot to me? All of those times we attended each other’s birthday parties, back-yard barbecues, and watching each other’s kids play soccer on Saturday mornings. What memories! And while my marriage is ending, our friendship has only just begun. This November, when the Landis divorce is finalized, do the right thing. Choose Arnold Landis as your friend for the future. Paid for by Arnold Landis.

Hello. This is Maxine Landis, and I want to talk to you about something very valuable to me. Loyalty. Through the years, I have enjoyed the friendship of just so many honest, hard-working people. People like Walter and Marie Pollard, who have welcomed me into their wonderful monthly canasta nights. People like Lester and Susan Fenner, who, in 2006, helped me organize a block-wide sidewalk sale, only to see it blossom into an annual and much cherished tradition in our development. I believe that these bonds were forged and strengthened thanks to one simple thing: loyalty. This November, stay loyal. Stay friends with Maxine. Paid for by Maxine Landis.

Hello, friend. This is Arnold Landis calling. Maxine Landis has been speaking a lot about loyalty of late. I’ve seen firsthand how easily such “loyalty” can be tested. I’ve seen Maxine Landis coldly cut off friends over something as minor as an unreturned serving dish. I’ve seen names get crossed off Maxine’s invite list as retribution for a perceived snub at the supermarket. I’ve seen Maxine Landis refuse to attend holiday parties in protest against what she considered a garish Christmas-light display. If loyalty comes easily to Maxine Landis, disloyalty comes even easier. Don’t get stuck with a backstabber. Choose Arnold Landis as the friend you keep this November.

This is Maxine Landis. I wasn’t alarmed by Arnold Landis’s recent turn toward name-calling, since I’ve heard Arnold Landis call his so-called friends much, much worse. People like Martin Powter, whom he once referred to as Captain Baldspot. People like Elisabeth Tandy, whom Arnold nicknamed The One With the Alcoholic’s Nose. People like the Blitsteins, whom Arnold called The Shitsteins. Do you want to remain constantly on guard, wondering what horrible names you’ll soon be called behind your back? Of course not. Go with Maxine.

Hi there. This is Kevin Joyce, the actor. I had the high honor of playing the role of Fagin at the most recent Rockville Dinner Theatre production of “Oliver!” I have also played the lead in “Barnum.” But today, I’m calling on behalf of my good friend Arnold Landis. I’ve spent many evenings with Arnold, and I can tell you that he is bold, creative, and willing to take phone calls from friends at all hours, as opposed to Maxine, who is never willing to speak on the phone after 9 P.M. She literally refuses to pick up the phone. I mean, who does that? She’s probably not even listening to this 2 A.M. robocall! That’s rude. When Arnold and Maxine split up this November, I’m sticking with Arnold. Know why? He’s a friend who doesn’t keep one eye on the clock.

Hello, this is Amanda Joyce, good friend of Maxine Landis and wife of Kevin Joyce. Maxine and I have known each other for years. She’s helped me through some really tough times with grace and kindness. Never once did she blame me when I told her that Arnold Landis had made a subtle but unmistakable pass at me at the Conaways’ Labor Day cookout in 2008. This November, remember: if you want a friend who isn’t going to ruin a perfectly innocent garden party with unwanted groping, Maxine’s the friend for you.

Hi, this is Kevin Joyce again. The actor. I’d like to stress that I am well aware of what took place at the 2008 cookout. I remember things a bit differently. I remember a lot of exposed cleavage, and a desperate, almost pathological yearning to appear a hell of a lot younger. And a good friend who was clearly way too mortified and embarrassed to ever consider making a pass. Hey, Amanda! Everyone found your behavior pathetic; even the godforsaken Shitsteins! Arnold is—and shall forever remain—my good friend. Take it from the guy who played Fagin. And P. T. Barnum. You can trust me.

Hiya. Arnie Landis here. Before you ask, yeah, I’ve had a few. And, yes, I know it’s midnight on a Tuesday. Is it Tuesday? Here’s a message for the world. Know what you got. Just know what you got. Before you let it go. Yeah, yeah. I’ve said some things. I don’t know. I’m very tired. It’s just that, well, life is an odd thing, isn’t it? I’m going to hang up now, because the room is starting to spin, but before I do, I just want to state that you are all my friends, regardless of whom you decide to pick this November. I better hang up this thing—am I still recording? I miss her smell. Bye.

Hey, it’s me. Maxine. Apologies if I’m disrupting your Memorial Day festivities. Last night, I found myself—totally by accident—driving past the condo where Arnold is currently living. Things looked pretty sad. Not politically sad, just … sad. His lights were off, but I noticed that he was using a cheap shower curtain as drapes, just as he did when we first met in off-campus housing at University of Maryland. Man, the things we did to each other behind those shower curtains! Hard to believe we’re even the same people. If anyone has seen or heard from Arnold, please tell him to contact me. I want to talk.

Arnold Landis calling again. Please tell Maxine I’m fine. That wasn’t a shower curtain, just a drop cloth that I used the other night when I painted my television black before I threw up out my window. Maxine, damn it, this is asinine. Won’t you give me another chance? There. I said it.

Ahoy, friends! Maxine Landis calling. I’ve given you the facts, now I want to hear from you. I’m embarking on a listening tour over the next few days, and I want your valuable input on a deceptively simple question: Should I accept Arnold Landis back into my life and heart? Anyone who can explain what in the hell an old gal like me is supposed to do with her heart will receive a free “Maxine the Machine” campaign button!

Hey, hey, hey!!! We do so hope that we’re not interrupting your dinner. This is Arnold and Maxine Landis calling, and we want to invite you to the best renewal ceremony ever thrown. Arnold and Maxine are back on the same ticket, and we are pounding the pavement to get you to join us as we renew our vows this Tuesday, in Ballroom C of the Holiday Inn on Route 28. We appreciate the momentum our supporters have lent to our respective campaigns. With this in mind, we’d like to harness all that energy by throwing our remaining funds into determining who will remain friends with the divorcing Amanda and Kevin Joyce. First, Arnold will make the case for Kevin, and then Maxine will do the same for Amanda. Who will be your choice for Joyce? If we could just have twenty-five minutes of your most precious time…

–Co-written with Bob Powers