City Paper is not for tourists
“These are your baaasic rights,” coos the sultry voice into your ear, “as protected by…laaawww….”
Thus does a seductive reader identified as “Bambi” count down the Top 10 on the Bill of Rights Hot Line, a new 900-number service created by Greenbelt, Md., resident Bob Pagani. For $1.98 per minute, citizens unsure of their constitutional rights can, as Pagani puts it, “have them read to you as you’ve always wanted.” That is, in a breathy, come-hither manner similar to the Sweaty Fantasies line or 976-SPANK ME.
Pagani admits that his endeavor falls “somewhere between real serious and tongue-in-cheek.” The germ of the idea was planted during the 1992 elections, when he read a survey indicating that only 37 percent of Americans recognized the First Amendment when it was shown to them. Pagani found this “bizarre and annoying,” and decided that “what the Constitution needs is sex appeal.”
Still, it wasn’t until the newly empowered Republicans started toying with the Fourth Amendment (prohibiting unreasonable search and seizure) in the name of fighting crime that Pagani was moved to action. The liberal-minded entrepreneur says he finds himself “in curious agreement with Newt Gingrich,” noting the congressman’s frequent calls to citizens to actually read the Constitution. Pagani gleefully concedes that he is “making a fast and sleazy buck off the founding fathers,” but claims bipartisan support for placing the basic tenets of democracy a money-making phone call away. “This is what America’s all about.”
Not too surprisingly, Pagani is a telemarketer, for Gannett. He found that setting up a 900 line involved little more than contacting a service bureau—a company that specializes in providing such accounts, in this case Bureau One, an Oregon firm—and “shipping them some money.” Pagani’s hot line cost him a flat $800.
In fact, the only difficulty came when he was asked to submit the text for approval. The words upon which this nation was founded were promptly rejected. Bureau One wanted a notarized letter from a lawyer attesting that what Pagani had sent them was the actual Bill of Rights, free and clear of any copyright infringements.
Pagani will receive 90 percent of the billing revenues after the service bureau takes its cut. Though he hasn’t seen any cash yet, Pagani seems more excited by the prospect of large checks arriving in his mailbox than his original semi-altruistic intent of creating an informed populace. “It would certainly help me secure my life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness,” he allows.
Most of the hot line’s callers so far have been friends, so the reaction has been predictably favorable. Pagani has received one letter from a woman he characterizes as an “enraged feminist,” who saw an ad for the hot line in the University of Maryland’s Diamondback newspaper and apparently expected a somewhat different reading. “It’s hard to find just the right tone” for the ads, Pagani says.
Credit for that goes to Bambi, a Philadelphia friend of Pagani’s who insists on anonymity. She works hard at making the venerable words seem prurient—the phrases “just compensation” and “search and seizure” sound particularly lewd—despite the fact that all those “shall nots” ruin any romantic rhythm. While Pagani calls the First and Second Amendments “the hot ones” for which people will stay on the line, it is the heavy-breathing Sixth (the right to a speedy trial) that seems to ring Bambi’s Liberty Bell.
Having exercised his freedom of speech, Pagani is giddy at the thought of future ventures. “We could do the Bible next,” he says with impious enthusiasm, noting the tantalizing possibilities provided by “the begats.”
Until then, for a good constitutional time, the Bill of Rights Hot Line can be reached at 1-900-868-2702. Full protection does not extend to those under the age of 18, who must seek permission from their parents.