The Story

You've probably heard of Yoko Ono. Well, I recently spoke to her on the phone. Sunday, August 11th, I went with my friend Josh to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art to see an exhibit of Yoko Ono's works.

She has a piece called "Telephone Piece" in which she has a phone installed at her exhibit. She then calls the phone in the exhibit every once in a while to speak to whomever happens to be standing around. I had learned about it in Cleveland, where she had a phone installed at a John Lennon exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

On the way to the SFMoMA I told Josh about the piece, not really expecting to see it at the exhibit we were going to. It was there, though, so as a joke to myself I spent a moment staring intently at the phone thinking, "Ring! Ring!!" Then I turned my attention to another piece, having had my fun. As soon as I turned away from it, the phone really did ring! Since I was standing right there I answered it and talked to Yoko Ono. Everyone in the gallery stopped what they were doing to form a big crowd around me to watch what would happen.

She was really loud, and dominated the conversation mostly because she was so loud that I couldn't interrupt her, but also because I was a little intimidated by her, and because I was nervous about the crowd of people staring at me. She asked me what I was doing, and I said I was walking around the exhibit looking at the pieces. She asked what I thought of them, and I made the mistake of saying, "Oh, they're very interesting." "Interesting" is obviously not a word an artist wants to hear applied to their work, so she said, "Interesting?! I don't like that, what do you mean by that?!" I tried to explain that I thought the pieces were thought provoking, and she asked what thoughts they provoked. I was really feeling stressed out by her interrogation and was starting to lose my cool at that point. I said they each make you think about different things, I couldn't make sweeping generalizations about all the works.

She decided then to move on to another topic and asked if I knew where her stones were. I had no idea what she was talking about, so I tried to stall by saying that I wasn't sure... She shouted "You're in my exhibit and you don't know where the stones are? What are you doing there?!" or something like that. Then she told me to turn around, they're behind me and to my left. That instruction and some help from somebody standing nearby pointed me in the right direction. She had me go over and pick up a stone and bring it back to the phone. I told her to "Hold on." while I got the stone and she said something like, "I'm a voice in a phone, I don't have any arms, how am I supposed to hold on?!" I just said, "OK, just wait then!!"

When I put the phone down I realized I had a sort of strange territorial feeling about the conversation, because I got a little angry when somebody else picked up the phone while I was gone and tried to talk to Yoko Ono. Apparently Yoko Ono didn't like it either. I described the stone to her, and she said, "I like that one, his name is Harry." I tried to be a smartass and said "No, I think this is Harry's cousin." I think that was the moment when she said something like, "Oh, you're making a joke. That's nice. Only, your joke's not funny, that's why you're not Yoko Ono." I tried to explain that I was under a lot of pressure because of the crowd of people staring at me.

The way she shouted into the phone and sometimes referred to herself in the third person reminded me and my friend of Elmo afterwards (and their names rhyme, too). Anyway, she had me get another stone, and while I was away my friend Josh picked up the phone and heard Yoko shouting, "And don't let those other people pick up the phone again!! I don't want them picking up the phone. When I'm talking to somebody I only want to talk to that person." Then she started pretending to make muzak hold music.

I got back and she said, "You were gone so long I had to make my own muzak." Again, trying to be a smartass, I said, "Well, that must have been the artsiest muzak ever." Then she ordered me to describe the stone, so I did and she said, "You're too descriptive, I could never be naked with you." Being a nice guy, I tried to say that I wouldn't be harshly critical of someone were I to be naked with them. Somehow I put that thought into these words: "I'm sure I would only say nice things." Then she yelled, "Are you making a pass at Yoko Ono?!!"

After that the conversation began to deteriorate, and she soon grew bored with me and told me to pass the phone to somebody else. I handed the phone to my friend Josh, and she immediately told him to tell her his secrets. My conversation with her probably took 5-10 minutes, but it seemed like an eternity. Josh got stumped right away, unfortunately, because he really didn't have any secrets to tell, and couldn't think of anything to make up. He just said, "I'm sorry, I can't accommodate you right now."

She told him to "step it up" and pass the phone to somebody else. While Josh was talking to her, his cell phone rang, which was really entertaining to him and those of us watching. After that we were both so freaked out by the whole experience that we had to give up on trying to appreciate art for a while, so we went to the cafe to try to recover from that brutal assault on our senses. Josh tried to find someone he could tell the story to, but none of the people he called answered their phones. We mostly just sat, had some beer and coffee, and tried to reenter the real world...


But wait, there's more to this story than meets the ear [eye?]...

Several weeks later I received a phone call from my friend Josh, who had just gotten home from touring with his band. He told me he had received a letter from California while he was away, and he thought he should read it to me because it pertained to me. I racked my brain but could not think of what the letter might be about, so I waited anxiously while Josh found the letter. In the letter was a copy of this article (scroll down till you see "You Can Call Me Yoko Ono"), which Josh read to me over the phone. Since the article is somewhat poorly written and a bit hard to understand, I will summarize it for you here:

Two friends went to the "Yes" exhibit at the SFMOMA, and encountered the Yoko phone. One curious friend picked the phone up and discovered that there was a dial tone. After the first friend was shooed away by a security guard, the second friend made a bold move and used the Yoko phone to call his own cell phone, thus capturing the Yoko phone's number on his caller ID. The friends took that number home, and the following Sunday they had a female friend of theirs call the museum and pretend to be Yoko Ono. She did such a good job impersonating Yoko and humiliating the museum goers that they decided to make a regular thing out of it, and began having people over for Sunday brunch followed by a call to the SFMOMA. How a bunch of people managed to listen to the conversation and not laugh their asses off, I don't know. Anyway, this impersonator is the woman that Josh and I talked to, not Yoko Ono!!

There you have it. Rather than having a brush with fame, we instead became the unwitting victims of a hoax. Fortunately I think I probably gave them very little satisfaction, at least compared to the people who took their shoes off and ran around shouting. Still, though I definitely see the humor of the whole thing, I can't help but feel a little angry about being deceived like that. So, I've come up with the following plan:


I think this plan would work because it would involve playing up to the vanity of the perpetrators and to their belief (expressed in the article) that Yoko would approve of their hoax. Some research would have to be done to lend authenticity to the impersonations, and it would probably be a good idea to call from 212 (New York) area codes, to reduce suspicion.

Then again, maybe I'll just find the perps and kick their asses...