After Florida's September to Remember, with Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne, we need every friend down here we can get. Even politicians. Even U.S. Senator Bob Graham, and he's a lame duck from the minority party. If memory serves, he was the first of my surprise callers. I've never met Mr. Graham, and while they say he's a great guy, if a bit boring, I was at first astonished that he had left me a personal message on my answering machine.
Next came Al Gore, who despite having spent quite a bit of time down in the Sunshine State four years back, also has never shaken my hand. Al nonetheless wanted me to ensure that my vote gets counted in this election. He said it without bitterness, almost.
MISSED BY MARTINA. Bob Graham phoned another time or two after that. Then, one evening toward the end of October, I came home and saw my answering machine's red light flashing rather jauntily. I figured it was Mr. Graham yet again, just making sure I had gotten his voting advice. But when I punched the machine's "play" button, who should I hear but Bill Clinton! He, too, wanted to make sure I got to the polls -- early, if possible.
How much more of a friend could you want than a two-term ex-President fresh from the cardiac ICU? Even so, I did feel a twinge of envy when I learned Martina Navratilova had phoned my mother-in-law and encouraged her to vote. Then, perhaps the next day, the phone rang again. A woman, who identified herself as an "educator" stressed just how important this election is.
Another woman called a few days after that. The voice quality of her message was so real, and by now I was so hungry for actual conversation, that I began to respond. But she just kept on talking: "I'm Susie So-and-So. I'm a nurse." She said it with such authority I nearly stuck out my tongue and went, "Ahhhh."
GREETINGS FROM "CHEERS." She droned on about the nation's health-care policies, the 45 million uninsured, and so on, and my mind began to wander. Was she one of the nice nurses I've encountered so often, or was she one of the cold, careless ones who smokes Marlboro Lights out by the ambulance bay on her break? (Ever notice how many hospital nurses are smokers?)
Anyway, I don't want to suggest I've been anything but ecstatic about all this attention. Best of all is that I have all these new Hollywood buddies. One day, I had a message from Danny DeVito and his wife, Rhea Perlman. I spent half the afternoon trying to recall the name of the barmaid character Rhea played on Cheers. Finally, I remembered, it was Carla. Carla, or Rhea, wants me to vote, too.
Then, on Saturday, I was working in the yard, still cutting up citrus limbs that had fallen to Frances and Jeanne. The phone rang. Naturally, I dropped my handsaw and ran to answer it. Bette Midler! Back in the '70s, and even the '80s, I really enjoyed her act. Now, I was just glad to hear her voice and find out she's still alive.
So you can see why I'll be sad to have it all end. Maybe, just maybe, it doesn't have to. Bob and Al, Bill and Martina, Danny, Rhea, Bette, warm-hearted, nonsmoking nurses everywhere, you're all invited to my house for Thanksgiving dinner. You have my number -- RSVP. Barker is a senior writer for BusinessWeek in Melbourne Beach, Fla.