Back in 1983, I was the sound man for the filming of a Cheerios TV commercial. I was told to set up my gear in the dining room of a house we rented in Westbury.
The assistant director-production manager was speaking on the house phone. As he hung up, the owner of the house told him that her phone was off-limits. She said that she ran a small business from her basement, and this was her only phone line.
Of course, this was long before cellphones were common. The assistant director tried to explain that the cost of renting her house had included the phone — and he couldn’t possibly operate without one. He even offered to pay her extra, but the woman said no.
He looked at me and said, “Bernie, could you please figure out a way for me to have a phone here? I’m begging you!”
I looked out a picture window at the backyard and saw her next-door neighbor about 80 feet away. I went outside and introduced myself to a pleasant woman who was trimming her hedges. I explained our phone problem and asked whether it would be OK to run a line from her house to our house.
I think that because I came across as an honest fellow, she agreed as long as it didn’t cost her anything. She also told me that she and her neighbor hadn’t spoken for the last two years, referring to the woman in coarse language.
I gave a production assistant a $20 bill and sent him to Radio Shack to buy a cheap phone and 100 feet of phone wire. Twenty minutes later, I hooked up the line to the neighbor’s phone terminal in her basement. I ran the wire across both lawns and through a window at our rented house. I did a quick hookup and, wow, I had a dial tone!
I placed a small sign near the phone saying that all calls must be made by reversing the charges. No calls were to be charged to this phone.
The assistant director called me a genius. He immediately made a few important calls. While he was on the phone, the homeowner came in and asked whether I had hooked up the phone to her line. I said absolutely not. I told her about the “deal” I made with her neighbor. She asked me how much I paid her neighbor. I said it was a very “nice” amount, which made her angry.
The day went fine. When the job was done, I packed up, and I went next door to disconnect the phone line. I thanked the woman for her assistance. She refused to take any payment.
As I was leaving the rented house, the owner insisted I tell her how much I had paid the other woman.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “but that’s between me and your terrific neighbor.”
I advised the homeowner to remove the word “no” from her vocabulary if a film company should ever rent her home again. I doubt she ever found out that I had fibbed to her, and that her kind neighbor let us hook up the phone line free of charge.
The next day, the producer called to thank me for performing a phone miracle — and told me to add $100 to my invoice.
Reader Bernie Zuch lives in Woodbury.