NYNEX, Embedded Angel of New York City

[Image: The original fire house from Ghostbusters, seen here via Google Street View].

Every once in a while it's rumored that there will be a Ghostsbusters III – the current rumor being that Judd Apatow might produce – and so, today, while walking around the National Gallery of Modern Art here in Rome, in a state of 100º exhaustion, I got to thinking about what would make an interesting plot if BLDGBLOG were somehow hired to write the screenplay.
And this is what I came up with:
It's 1997. NYNEX is on the verge of being purchased by Bell Atlantic, after which point it will be dissolved in all but name.
But all hell starts breaking loose. Pay phones ring for no reason, and they don't stop. Dead relatives call their families in the middle of the night. People, horrifically, even call themselves – but it's the person they used to be, phoning out of the blue, warning them about future misdirection.
Every once in a while, though, something genuinely bad happens: someone answers the phone... and they go a little crazy.
Thing is – spoiler alert – halfway through the film, the Ghostbusters realize that NYNEX isn't a phone system at all: it's the embedded nervous system of an angel – a fallen angel – and all those phone calls and dial-up modems in college dorm rooms and public pay phones are actually connected into the fiber-optic anatomy of a vast, ethereal organism that preceded the architectural build-up of Manhattan.
Manhattan came afterwards, that is: NYNEX was here first.
It's worth recalling, in fact, that NYNEX – at least according to Wikipedia – actually stood for New York/New England, "with the X representing the unknown future (or 'the uneXpected')." It's like Malcolm X's telephonically inclined, wiry cousin.
So the phone system of Manhattan – all those voices! all those connections! leading one life to another – starts to act up, provoked by its dissolution into Bell Atlantic... and the Ghostbusters are called in to fix it.
Fixing it involves rapid drives from telephone substation to telephone substation, from library to library, all while Dan Ackroyd's character keeps receiving phone calls about a family crisis... his ex-wife is calling... his dad is calling... they're urging him to stop this whole, crazy Ghostbusters business... He starts acting funny. The voices on the phone say strange things. They call at strange hours. He feels kinship with public pay phones; they sometimes ring as he walks past. He tries to call his family back – but they're not answering.
Harold Ramis starts to suspect something.
In the background there are shadowy figures called out to fix transmission lines – but they are actually wiring something up... something big...
The whole movie then leads up to the granddaddy of them all: an electromagnetic confrontation inside the windowless, Brutalist telephone switching tower at 33 Thomas Street (rumored haunt of the ghost of Aleister Crowley).

[Image: 33 Thomas Street, via Wikipedia, "is a telephone exchange or wire center building which contains three major 4ESS switches used for interexchange (long distance) telephony..."].

The opening scene: a pay phone on a sun-splashed street near Washington Square Park. You can see the famous arch in the background.
A man is sitting nearby, outside a deli. He's got a bagel and a coffee and he's reading the New York Times.
The phone starts to ring. He looks at it. It rings and rings.
He gets up, finally, and approaches the phone – and he answers it.
It's his dad.
But he thought his dad was dead.
Ghostbusters III.
The city's telecommunications system is not some mere collection of copper wires and fiber optics, the film will suggest; it's actually the subtle anatomy of a barely understood supernatural being, an angel of rare metals embedded in the streets of Manhattan.
Somewhere between AT&T and H.P. Lovecraft, by way of electromagnetized Egyptian mythology.
These metals, Harold Ramis will explain, pushing up his eyeglasses, also correspond to materials used in pre-Christian burial rituals throughout Mesopotamia. Copper coffins. Traces of selenium found in embalming tools. He refers to Tiamat, dragon of multiple heads, and he draws mind-bending parallels between Middle Eastern mythology and the origins of NYNEX. NYNEX/Tiamat. NYNEX/Michael. NYNEX/Metatron.
Certain members of the audience think the whole thing sounds like bullshit. But they like the special effects. And who cares, anyway.
So the movie will involve everyone from Guglielmo Marconi to Thomas Edison to Alexander Graham Bell (he's the "ultimate sorcerer," Dan Ackroyd exclaims, laughing along with the rest of us), and it will make reference to the hundreds of architecturally interesting telephone substations scattered throughout the greater New York region.
It's voodoo meets urban infrastructure by way of Avital Ronell. Architecture students will flock to see it.
Having seen the film, people will long for the days of pay telephones – when, according to the film's mythology, you were actually using the body of an angel to make local phone calls.
Within the film, then, there are also brief scenes of excavation – a kind of angelic archaeology wherein Bill Murray digs through the plaster of tenement walls in search of ancient trunk lines. But he accidentally breaks into the plumbing.
At one point, he and Ernie Hudson drive north along the Hudson, discussing Christian archangels, afraid to use the car phone, looking for some kind of old anchorage point for the phone system.
They think maybe they can just shut the whole thing off.
They are surrounded by dark trees and the scenography is breath-taking.
Harold Ramis then uncovers a diagram of city streets and the exact locations of NYNEX lines; these line up with other diagrams from some Central European grimoire that he finds down in the basement of the New York Public Library.
They're getting close, in other words.
And that's when they discover 33 Thomas Street.
In any case, the film is released in the summer of 2012 and it's a runaway blockbuster. It's "a return to American mythmaking," A.O. Scott writes in the New York Times, and there's immediate talk of a Ghostbusters IV.
Manhattan is the wired center of a vast, global haunting, a transmission point crisscrossed by whispers above a magical infrastructure no one fully understands.
Ghostbusters III: hire me, and I'll write it! I don't think it'd be a bad movie, actually.

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Anonymous Steve Silberman said...

So, just the other day, in some online garret, I wrote "Geoff Manaugh regularly writes blog posts that would be amazing science-fiction stories." Then I wondered, hm, am I hyping too much? Answer: no.

June 18, 2009 5:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your derivation of NYNEX is correct. When the Baby Bells were cut loose from Ma Bell in 1984, New York Telephone and New England Telephone merged into NYNEX.

Surprisingly enough, the old 1-800-54NYNEX access numbers for credit card calls still work just fine, though it's Verizon that answers now.

June 18, 2009 5:40 PM  
Anonymous Greg Brown said...

Sounds kind of like the premise of The Children's Hospital: a pediatric hospital-turned-ark inhabited by an angel in the walls.


June 18, 2009 5:41 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

I'm curious about the current Ghostbusters III rumor. As I understand it, the just-released Ghostbusters video game is essentially Ghostbusters III (it was written by Ackroyd & Ramis), and according to an interview I read, they chose this medium since their avatars could run around NYC and fit into their jumpsuits better than they could in real life. I'd be thrilled to seen another movie, though.

I loved your NYNEX scenario, and agree that it would make an intriguing plot. I'll just have to wait and see if the game lives up to its potential.

June 18, 2009 5:50 PM  
Blogger GlenH said...

Well, I would pay good money to see it!

June 19, 2009 2:49 AM  
Blogger V. said...

Leave Rome before it's too late!

June 19, 2009 3:26 AM  
Anonymous James said...

Awesome story. Telemancy is a good kick - have you read Charles Stross' Bob Howard stories? Lots of excellent electrical-circuits-meet-magic-circle stuff...

Also, is there a reason behind the Crowley connection? Can't find any other references, but I wouldn't put it past the Beast...

June 19, 2009 7:08 AM  
Blogger irve said...

The second part of the series would introduce Wardenclyffe Tower as the first try of the entity later named NYMEX to reach out to the crowds.

June 19, 2009 8:48 AM  
Anonymous 256 said...

Wonderful. I particularly liked the phrase "an angel of rare metals".

June 19, 2009 9:02 AM  
Blogger anthonybphoto@gmail.com said...

Awesome idea, love the story line, would be a hit for sure. Now get in contact with those dudes and make it happen!

June 19, 2009 12:54 PM  
Anonymous Josh Glenn said...

NYNEX -- it really sounds like a giant Blakean angel trapped under the pavement of New York. Which reminds me of one of my absolutely favorite juvenile-lit post-apocalyptic SF novels, Peter Dickinson's THE WEATHERMONGER, in which a giant mutant who turns out to be Merlin is discovered in an underground chamber in modern-day England -- he gets addicted to morphine, and in his drug-addled daze he causes England to revert to the Middle Ages.

Also, the idea that our voices are communicated through an angel's body makes more sense to me than actual telephonic technology.

Think of all the uncanny telephonic movie scenes you could reprise knowingly: Donald Sutherland talking to the operator in BODY SNATCHERS, and *she knows his name*. Robert Redford walking along the length of a bank of phones in THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR and each one rings as he passes - the CIA trying to get in touch. The telephone booth trap in THE PRESIDENT'S ANALYST. Some movie I can't remember where an UNPLUGGED phone starts to ring (oh -- it's THE RING). Um, I'm sure there are others I'm forgetting.

June 19, 2009 1:03 PM  
Blogger tudza said...

Pay phones? What are these pay phones of which you speak?

June 19, 2009 4:13 PM  
Blogger Geoff Manaugh said...

Robert Redford walking along the length of a bank of phones in THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR and each one rings as he passes - the CIA trying to get in touch.

Josh, that's one of the best re-visions of a scene I've ever read! Awesome.

Glad you all liked the idea! I can't imagine anything actually coming of this, but I would be unbelievably excited to see this made.

And, Irve, adding the Wardenclyffe Tower would be fantastic - a bit close to The Prestige, perhaps, but a really interesting set.

June 19, 2009 5:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do it, Geoff! Or if not a movie, it'd be a kickass comic.

June 19, 2009 5:55 PM  
Anonymous SavageAmber said...

YESYESYESYESYES!!!!! Hire me too!

June 19, 2009 6:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It does not need to be set in 1997. You can have it be set in the present. Verizon is removing payphones since in this Age of the Mobile Phone there is not a need to have as many Pay-Phones on the street as they already do. The events of the film can be this Paranormal force fighting back in anger for being slowly killed after growing so large for decades.

June 19, 2009 10:39 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I don't believe this has to be a Ghostbusters movie, but it's worthy to be made. Write it, I want to see it.

June 19, 2009 10:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Love it!

June 19, 2009 10:56 PM  
Anonymous Erik said...

Wow Geoff! What a great story! Though I happen to love the original Ghostbusters, its appeal is decidedly camp. The story you outline sounds like much deeper, sweeping, even epic science fiction. Really fantastic stuff, I think it could also make a great read as a novel.

June 20, 2009 12:38 AM  
Blogger pjamesstuart said...


June 20, 2009 6:56 AM  
Blogger Rob MacDougall said...

Marvelous. And I agree with Erik: this is too good to be a Ghostbusters movie.

Maybe it's a sequel to my own sentient network / telephone history horror movie? :)

June 20, 2009 6:46 PM  
Blogger Gil said...

This is (sort of) the plot of part of Grant Morrison's run on the DC Comics "Doom Patrol" comic in the early 1990s. Lifting a bunch of conspiracy-theory concepts from "Illuminatus!", Morrison's story includes the American phone system coming alive underneath the Pentagon.

~ Gil

June 21, 2009 5:29 AM  
Anonymous k* said...

Ha! My friends and I used to refer to that creepy building as "the Great Satan" back in the NYNEX days, so I love the Crowley tie-in. We knew it was a whole-building computer or switching station of some kind, but it was pretty mysterious to us, without Wikipedia and all.

June 22, 2009 1:05 AM  
Blogger David Mead said...

Excellent idea. I agree it could work without the Ghostbusters. More along the same a Pual Auster or House of Leaves type of story.

Yuo should definitely do it.

June 24, 2009 2:50 PM  
Anonymous Steve Witham said...

Don't forget the phones in The Mothman Prophesies, one of which finally does ring after being unplugged.

I just read Clarke's "Dial F". In it, everyone gets a call one midnight, but there's just some sort of noise on the other end. The next day some guys sit around speculating while all hell breaks loose.

In Bradbury's "Dial Double Zero," which only appears in a TV documentary, one guy gets calls that imitate his words mechanically, then his voice, then get more interesting. He tries to tell people but they think he's crazy and...

I peeked into the windows of a switching center and seen big empty floors, I wonder whether it's because the technology for the switches continues to shrink.

June 26, 2009 12:10 PM  
Anonymous andrew said...

There is an old and amazing Primo Levi short story that centres around a telephone system that assumes consciousness..can't remember name but worth looking up...your story idea is gorgeous though...WRITE THE THING!

June 26, 2009 12:48 PM  
Anonymous Nieske said...

This sounds SERIOUSLY good.

June 26, 2009 1:22 PM  
Blogger solipsistnation said...

You ever read any Tim Powers? If not, you should.

June 26, 2009 2:10 PM  
Blogger Sean said...

Please, please, please shop this around. I'll see it opening weekend AND buy every possible version of it on DVD/BluRay/you-get-the-idea!

June 26, 2009 3:21 PM  
Anonymous Zac said...

You might need to talk to the estate of Arthur C.Clarke... To me, it sounds like a Ghostbusterization of his 1963 'Dial F For Frankenstein' short story (collected in _The Wind From The Sun_)

June 26, 2009 5:21 PM  
Anonymous cgeye said...

I always thought the painted codes and symbols phone crews use to mark cables and constructions were runic in nature -- and that if observed from the proper height, the pentagram-like symbols would emerge.

That, and phone crews, electric crews and firemen were battling bands of mages, with their own agendas....

[word verif.: didease -- What Sean Combs had after his neglect crushed those City Center audience members]

June 28, 2009 7:13 AM  
Anonymous David Wogan said...

I love this! Kind of reminds me of a mix between Neon Genesis Evangelion, Lain and Ghostbusters. I think I'd be satisfied with any screenplay that relates architecture back to ancient Babylon or Sumaria , a la the first movie.

When I was a little kid growing up I always wondered what a third Ghostbusters movie would entail...Hopefully we'll find out soon!

June 28, 2009 3:58 PM  
Blogger Geoff Manaugh said...

Thanks again to everybody for this hugely positive response to the film idea. I definitely can't say, in any realistic way, that a new movie will come out of this, but I would be absolutely thrilled beyond belief if this were actually to become the next Ghostbusters... No emails from Harold Ramis yet! But I'll let everybody know if anything comes up.

Thanks again, though - I really appreciate the positive response, both here and in many emails I've received. So thanks!

June 28, 2009 4:21 PM  
Blogger Rey O said...

I really enjoyed reading this, it'd make for an ambitious and fantastic movie.

One thing that struck me while reading this was that it felt more in line with a Japanese RPG then it did Ghostbusters (which isn't necessarily a bad thing).

And then it hit me, what your plot so accurately keys into, and what I always felt Ghostbusters was intrinsically tied into, was that New York City is a character unto itself.

Similarly, the RPG series Persona was always about the character of Modern Japan (Tokyo in 3, Inaba in 4). Thematically where one is about exorcising ghosts in buildings the other is about exorcising demons from pysches.

It's also worth noting that the main villain from P3 is NYX, the Greek mythological goddess of night. I imagine that could fit somewhere nicely.

June 29, 2009 11:45 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

Awesome. One thing, I'm pretty sure the X in Nynex stood for "exchange".

July 19, 2009 2:00 PM  

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