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6 Entertaining Hotlines to Soothe Your Dystopian Lockdown Nightmares

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Update 7/7/22: This article was written in 2020, on the very first day San Francisco began sheltering in place due to the dangers posed by COVID-19. Please excuse the fact that I was still under the impression that “three weeks is a long-ass time to be stuck indoors.” I live on a completely different planet now. — R.A.

I’d like to start this by warmly congratulating you on all of the extra time you now have to tackle that pesky book/video game/movie pile that’s been gathering dust for months. But—and it’s a but so big Sir Mix-A-Lot would approve—three weeks is a long-ass time to be stuck indoors. We all know stir crazy is right there on the horizon, waving at us like a… well, whatever you call these things.

So to break up the imminent monotony, might I suggest a gorgeously Gen X habit to indulge in? Hotlines, baby. Hotlines. In the ’80s, everyone from Paula Abdul and the Fresh Prince to Hulk Hogan had them. And guess what? We totally need ’em again. Here are some hotlines to bling as the lockdown kicks in.

The Existential Crisis Hotline: (800) 488-7211


Set up by a Canada-based artist named Meg Rabbit, the Existential Crisis Hotline is lovingly and thoughtfully designed to make you feel better about your own existence. Whether it’s giving you a three-step program to change your outlook on life, telling you to think about “extinction events while you take a shower,” or reminding you how statistically lucky you are to even be alive, this hotline feels tailor-made for the world’s current predicament. (Even though it’s been around since 2018.) What’s more, if you leave Meg a message and request a response, she promises to get back to you. How sweet!

Dial-A-Poem: (641) 793-8122


Invented by New York poet John Giorno all the way back in 1968, Dial-A-Poem offers up edgy odes, frequently written and performed by the Beat writers we love to tell visiting family members about on their obligatory North Beach walking tours. When I called at 1:30am, I got a recording of William Burroughs reading from Ah Pook is Here, which momentarily transported me off my couch and into a packed club with a delightfully rowdy audience. Fantastic escapism. Feel free to BYO wine.

Callin’ Oates: (719) 266-2837

“Welcome to your emergency Hall & Oates helpline,” the British lady voice says when you call this number. “To hear ‘One on One’ press 1. To hear ‘Rich Girl,’ please press 2. To hear ‘Maneater’…” You get the idea. Sure, it’s only a Hall & Oates song generator, but dude. This might just be the thing that inspires you to put on pants today.

Amy Langer’s Random Thoughts: (510) 900-9831

Langer was a founding member of the much-beloved San Francisco Neo-Futurists theater group. After stepping down from her co-artistic director position there last year, she made this brilliant hotline. When I called, I listened to a thought-provoking passage (complete with soothing music) about robots. It included C-3PO analysis, book recommendations and some philosophical thoughts about how AI ultimately mirrors human behavior even though we think of it as cold and objective. I will be calling every day for the next three weeks.

Dial-A-Song: (844) 387-6962

They Might Be Giants are possibly best known for their 1989 hit “Birdhouse in Your Soul,” but in 1983, the duo set up a hotline that proves to be just as immortal. The story goes that, in the midst of some personal crises—John Flansburgh had been burgled and John Linnell had broken his wrist—the friends used Flansburgh’s personal answering machine to get new music out to people. Today, despite advances in all other technology, it’s still going strong. I called it and listened to an odd little song called “I’m Not A Loser,” which was apparently written for the SpongeBob SquarePants musical.

Hogwarts Admissions Office: (605) 475-6961

Do you have offspring? Is one of them yelling at you right now, while you’re trying to make a conference call? If that child likes Harry Potter and knows how to operate a telephone, point them at this. Sure, they’ll get called a muggle at the end of it, but it’s voiced by someone who sounds an awful lot like Professor McGonagall (Maggie Smith in the movies) and it will get said offspring off your back for five minutes. Worth a try, right?

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