Over a few weeks in the fall of 2001 a bunch of randy, lonesome lechers up late at night on a Yahoo masturbation chat room got lucky with a sex-crazed piece of jailbait calling herself Kathy McGinty. Her photograph showed a young blond with a smoldering gaze curled up barefoot on an unmade bed and wearing a school uniform that revealed the slightest peek of white panties. She had no trouble finding guys to chat with, and occasionally she'd invite them to call a phone number with a Chicago area code. "This is Kathy," said the outgoing message on the voice mail. "Leave me a message. If you sound sexy enough I'll call you back."
Many lads called and spoke with Kathy who, when asked, matter-of-factly described herself as "five two, blond, nice tits, wet pussy." She got right to business, asking "What do you look like?" and "What would you do to me if you were here?" Many obliged, awkwardly and enthusiastically describing "very large hands" or offering promises of licks to the thigh and spankings. Kathy seemed easy to please, quickly responding with dirty talk, heavy breathing, and rapturous moans. But after the preliminary verbal crotch sniffing, something made the quivering excitement in the men's voices give way to befuddlement. There were frequently long silences before Kathy's replies, and there was lots of white noise in the background whenever she said anything. Sometimes she repeated herself using identical intonations and inflections.
When callers asked why she sounded so funny, Kathy would apologize: "I'm sorry, I'm on the speakerphone so I can touch myself." Many were unfazed by the occasional lapse or oddity, so absorbed in their own efforts they seemed hardly aware of her. Then Kathy would get angry. "You phone-fuck like a faggot," she'd say. "I can't feel your dick. It must be teeny." Or she'd go crazy: "Check out my hairy balls!" "My muff has tusks!" When Kathy climaxed she sounded like she was being murdered. Invariably, when she started talking backward or announcing "Satan controls my robotic vagina," the encounter would end on a dial tone.
Like most telephone pranks, Kathy McGinty was born out of boredom. Derek Erdman, a painter who runs Hyde Park Records, and Julia Rickert, a UIC lit student, were living together in Pilsen that fall. "It was getting cold out," recalls Erdman. "I spent a lot of time on the Internet, and Julia spent a lot of time reading gigantic 18th-century books about parliament and romance."
The pair took out their ennui on virtual onanists because they were "easy marks," says Erdman. "If botanists were really eager to talk about something fascinating, we'd have done that as well." At first they amused themselves by harassing chat room denizens online. When that lost its thrill they put out the phone number and began collecting voice-mail messages. Then Rickert wondered if there was a way to talk to the callers without sullying themselves with actual conversation, and Erdman produced an old Yamaha sampler. They created a list of stock phrases to move the conversation along--and a bunch that might stop it in its tracks. Rickert recorded these in tones variously disaffected, bitchy, childlike, or carnal.
Initially they cultivated their victims, chatting them up via instant messages before inviting them to call. Finally they used the chat room to post a general invitation to call.
"And they called right away," says Erdman. "It was like they were rabid."
Erdman frequently had trouble locating the most appropriate responses on the sampler, which explains the unnatural silences. As they recorded more calls they added more phrases and got better at keeping the conversations going. Many callers seemed to have experience describing their fantasies--they just weren't particularly good at it. Erdman isn't unsympathetic. "It's hard to talk dirty. But, man, it's funny to hear people do it."
They were amazed at how many callers stayed focused on the task at hand. It sometimes seemed as if Kathy could say anything without distracting her suitors. "Except they don't like to be called racists," says Rickert.
"Yeah, that's the line," says Erdman. "You could say they were child molesters." To their credit, however, none seemed bothered when Kathy said she was in a wheelchair. In fact, it's hard not to pity a few callers who seem genuinely interested in Kathy's satisfaction. One old guy, after describing a series of gentle kisses to her face, lapses into fearful, vulnerable silence.
Eventually the late-night calls got old too, especially after one caller remained impervious to all attempts to stanch his ardor. "He actually got off, which made me real sick to my stomach," says Erdman. "He calls her 'bitch' a lot. After that call, I really felt queasy."
"You were like, 'Let's just go to bed,'" says Rickert.
Erdman has a habit of pulling people's chains and then publishing the results. In college in Ohio he responded to about 150 ads placed by imprisoned bikers in a motorcycle magazine. Claiming to be a lonely woman who'd lost her virginity to a biker at 13, he received about 130 generally pornographic responses from inmates. He printed the results in a zine he called The Diane Files. "I got afraid after a while," he says. "My friends started sending me fake letters from prisoners saying 'I know what you did. I'm gonna find you.'"
A few months after Erdman and Rickert retired Kathy McGinty, they sequenced 21 of the funniest calls on a CD-R and began offering it through Erdman's Hamburger Records label. The disc was championed by distributors and record stores, and they eventually made about 400 of them by hand. Its notoriety grew in part when someone repackaged it and began selling it on his own. When Erdman tracked him down and determined that the bootlegger didn't plan to pay them anything, he programmed a modem to dial the guy's 800 number for a few days, costing him several hundred dollars in phone charges. "He was furious," says Erdman. "So I guess we considered it even Steven after that."
Last spring Erdman and Rickert tired of copying CD-Rs and re-released a Kathy McGinty "collector's edition" CD with six extra tracks, including some early voice-mail messages, most notably one left by a fellow who dreams about seducing Kathy while wearing doctor's scrubs.
So far Kathy's lovers haven't come back to haunt them. Maybe that's because some people still don't get it. Erdman once anonymously left a copy for a soundman at a local club. A few weeks later he received a recording from the guy graphically describing a three-way he'd had with his wife and a friend (the recording's available on Erdman's Web site, derekerdman.com). Another time they began getting calls for Kathy from vocalists answering a newspaper ad she'd allegedly placed recruiting musicians for a September 11 theme band called "Osama Bin Rockin'."
Certain people just don't think the prank's funny. Erdman and Rickert are often asked if they feel bad for duping the poor suckers.
"I have a justification all worked out," says Rickert, who's now an editorial assistant at the Reader. "Perhaps it was good for them to learn a lesson that was only embarrassing, not detrimental financially. Maybe now they've learned that people on the Internet aren't necessarily what they appear to be. When some Nigerian con artist is trying to get them to deposit a lot of money in a foreign bank account they might stop and think, 'Wait a minute--I got had by that sexy girl.'"
"Yes, Julia was going out of her way to help," says Erdman, admitting his motivations aren't so selfless: "Deceiving can be a real good time."
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jim Newberry.