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© Steve Kristof, all rights reserved
We recently switched phone companies on our residential line. Bad decision! I’m convinced the turmoil took a few years off my life, but that’s a story for another time. Suffice it to say that we switched back to our original phone provider after only a day and a half of being “serviced” by the newcomer that promised the moon but only came through with a tiny foam ball. I think their understanding of the term “service” was akin to doing everything possible to cheat, frustrate and infuriate their customers.
After recovering from that chaos, I was pleasantly surprised to find that my “old” phone company – the one my wife and I had been with forever – was pleased as punch that we decided to return home. So pleased, in fact, that they offered a sweetheart deal for a year, despite the fact that we had only left them for a matter of hours. Of course, we snapped it up. Best of all, when the year is up we’ll be paying them less than we did previously, but getting more services.
Caller identification is one of those new services. The ability see who’s on the other end before you pick-up the phone is a fantastic feature. I really can’t believe we didn’t sign-up for this ages ago! I should have realized, though, how vital it is. For years, co-workers rolled their eyes and looked at me like I was a fossil the odd time the subject of caller ID came up and I mentioned I didn’t have it. Now that I’ve gotten used to it, I understand where they were coming from. I am definitely a caller ID convert.
It just never occurred to me that it would save time, emotional health and relationships. The phone rings, its little display lights-up and…bingo, it’s decision time! Hmm, do I really want to talk to him or her right now? Do I have enough time to invest in a conversation at this particular moment? Do I need to hear the telemarketer behind that toll-free number reading a script in his painfully monotone voice? How about that “friend” who calls only when she wants something? And don’t forget the guy who’s ten digits should warn anyone who’s ever met him, that he’s going to badger you, pin you down and make you commit to something you really don’t want to do.
My wife and I still take the vast majority of calls, but having the ability to pick and choose is glorious! I’m certain that in the past few months this feature has prevented at least a handful of not-so-pleasant husband-wife discussions, based on some idiotic thing that someone thankfully never got a chance to say!
But what do you do when you don’t recognize the caller’s name or number? Many people are adamant about not picking-up the phone if they don’t know who’s calling. “Let the answering machine take it,” they say, “because you never know what kind of crazy person might be on the other end.”
Alas, the fear of the unknown. Yes, it could be something unimaginably bad, but then again, it could also be something exceptionally good. Occasionally I’ll let it ring if I don’t recognize the name or number, expecting that whoever it is will leave a message on the machine. However, with my curious and maybe even a bit suspicious nature, I’ve found that to be a bad strategy. When I decide not to answer a stranger’s call, the caller usually hangs-up without leaving a message. That’s when the unanswerable questions begin.
Who was it, why were they calling my house and why did they hang-up? It can’t be a telemarketer because it’s a local number. Maybe it was a very important call. That’s when my overactive imagination kicks-in and that’s not a good thing. It takes roughly two minutes to convince myself that the unknown caller who wouldn’t leave a message is a harbinger of impending doom. Either that or it was surely a lawyer with some amazing news about a huge wad of money coming my way. Yes, I probably did some good deed years ago for some rich guy I barely knew. The guy had no family and was so impressed with my kindness that he secretly put me in his will as the sole beneficiary of his assets and insurance policy.
Well, it could happen. In any event one of those mystery callers happened to show-up on our caller ID just last week. Never heard of the guy’s name. This time I followed the bad strategy and let the answering machine pick it up. Of course, as soon as he heard my outgoing message the caller hung-up. Then, just like clockwork, my imagination took over and, well, by the time five minutes had passed I convinced myself that I was in some sort of trouble, was dying, was about to get rich and, finally, that I almost got rich but lost the opportunity because I didn’t take the call.
Then it occurred to me. This caller ID thing has a history! My curiosity got the best of me and I did it. I called the number. I was definitely not prepared for what was to come.
The voice on the other end was harsh – not unlike that of a chainsaw getting caught on nails in a piece of wood. It was not going to be a pleasant experience.
He didn’t answer with an agreeable “Hello”. Instead, he barked like a mean dog, shouting, “Why are you calling me?”
“I didn’t call you,” I tried to explain, “You called me. I’m just calling you back.”
“What do you want?”
I could almost feel his angry, hot breath through the phone. Disarmed, I said, “Um, I’m not sure…I’m…um…”
He interrupted in a very slow and measured fashion, making it clear he thought he was talking to a moron. He said, “Then I’ll ask my first question again. WHY ARE YOU CALLING ME?”
“I just, um, thought you might have needed to get through to me and…”
That’s right, the jerk hung-up on me. I didn’t expect the guy to be a real prince, but to shout and then hang-up on me? Who does that, anyway? Give me a break!
Well, that was last week and now I’m over it. This week brought something new. Yesterday I got another call from a stranger. After rapid mental debate I grabbed the phone and said, “Hello.”
The caller was a young woman with a cheerful and pleasant voice; not at all like last week’s cretin. She asked, “Hi, is Gerry there?”
I chuckled in an equally cheerful manner and then said, politely, “No, I’m sorry, you’ve got the wrong number.”
Argghh! Who are these people? What would it have cost her to say she was sorry for bothering me? At the very least, I expected a “bye”, but no way. Was she making a point, embarrassed or in a hurry? To me, it doesn’t matter, it’s just plain rude.
I was all ready to let it go, but then I noticed something. It was that little caller ID window. “Hmm,” I thought, “I could call her back…”
Some people just never learn a lesson.
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