The Pursuit of Happiness


When I was six my mother gave me the job of answering the home telephone. I was proud of the assignment and remember feeling rather powerful when I picked up calls. “Hello!” I’d importantly answer. “You’ve reached Juniper 8-697. Who is calling, please?” If the reply was “Mr. Dahl” my mother would shake her head and whisper, “Say I’m not here!”

Calls from Mr. Dahl were exciting because of my mother’s response, and since I assumed his name was “Doll,” I couldn’t stop wondering what sort of doll could make telephone calls. This was in the pre-Chucky and pre-Barbie and Ken days, so I imagined that Mr. Doll was a very smart baby or a girl pretending to be a man. He was actually a bill collector mom was dodging.

The whole neighborhood knew she was hiding out from Mr. Dahl because Juniper 8 was a party line. Consequently, it was common knowledge my parents were behind on their house, car, insurance and utility payments. Even I suspected that our neighbors listened in on our phone calls. This was confirmed one morning when Mrs. Kalinowski patted me on the head and said, “You’re doing a good job with that Mr. Dahl guy.”

Years later, I was in the army with a Spec 4 named Dahl, who was mostly distinguished by the amount of Central Highland’s hash he smoked and by the titanic number of times he reported for sick call. I found him holding a letter and crying on his bunk one day. “Ma says dad’s run off with some slut he collects bills with, and he ain’t coming back!” Then he brightened. “Hey? Can I get a hardship discharge?”

The Dahls are on my mind because I got a “friend” request on Facebook this morning from a guy named Dahl who lives back in the state I’m from. I’m a little torn up by it. I know that Facebook is just a 21st-century party line for people in their second childhood, but do I want my little part of it cluttered up with Dahls? It sort of feels like I’ve been there and done that.

What do you think?