Hello Operator, please give me number 9

By Mir
March 12, 2008

I have a love-hate relationship with the phone. On the one hand, it IS a device for making with the talky-talky, and anyone who’s ever met me knows that I am quite enamored of the talking. OBVIOUSLY. And I clearly recall having spent the majority of my teenage years with a phone stuck to my head. But now in real, adult life… well, the phone, it vexes me.

Of course, telemarketers are part of the reason I find it vexing. And yes, there’s that whole DO NOT CALL list, but it turns out that there’s so many caveats on that list, it’s next to useless. Anyone with whom you’re already doing business, for example, is allowed to call you about new products. So my credit card companies are free to call me up to offer me THE REGISTER to prevent identity theft and pay my bills should I become incapacitated and possibly administer foot rubs to my husband if I’m unavailable… all for the LOW LOW PRICE of one pound of flesh per month! Stuff like that.

* * * * *

When we started having all that trouble with our cable service, our hopes weren’t particularly high about being able to get DSL. That’s because we tried to get DSL when we moved in, and although it was available in our neighborhood, there’s a limited number of nodes which can be active (or something) and they were “full.” We’d put ourselves on an “alert us when available” list but had never heard from AT&T, so when we called up to BEG THEM to connect us, we figured they’d tell us no dice. Much to our surprise, they agreed to hook us up right away. Huh.

In the meantime, we were averaging a CALL A DAY from an automated 866 number, and you know how this works, right? A computer dials, so when you answer, there is a loooooong and maddening pause before a real human gets on the line. I had taken to picking up the phone, saying “HELLO??” and then slamming it back down in a huff when no one responded right away.

A couple of days ago I decided to stay on the line and give the calling agency a piece of my mind, hooboy. (You know where this is going, right?)

Her: Hello, Mrs. Otto?
Me: YES?
Her: How are you today?
Me: I’m FINE. Can I HELP you with something?
Her: Mrs. Otto, this is Shalalalala with AT&T DSL, I was calling today to see if you were interested in our service….
Me: Oh! Hahaha! Actually, we’ve already got DSL, we just got hooked up. SO YOU CAN STOP CALLING NOW.
Her: Oh, you did? Okay, would you like me to activate that for you, then?
Me: Ummm… it’s already working. It doesn’t need activation.
Her: Oh, did you want to discontinue it? I can take care of that for you.
Me: What? NO! NO, IT’S FINE! We don’t need ANYTHING.
Her: But did you want to sign up for our service?
Me: We. Already. Have. It.
Her: So you’d like to cancel?
Me: I’m hanging up now.

* * * * *

I don’t often talk about relations between our home and my ex, one because I’m trying very hard to adhere to the “if I don’t have anything nice to say, shut the hell up” credo, and two because I like to limit entries to 100,000 words or less. But a constant source of tension for a long time after our move was my ex’s insistence on calling the children every single night. That—in and of itself—is not a problem; he wants to talk to them every day, fine. The problem comes in that 1) he insists on being the one to call us, 2) his window for convenient calling is very rigid and almost never syncs up with when would be convenient for us, and 3) any failure to make that call happen in a way that he finds pleasing must be me trying to keep the kids from him.

So we went through a lot of hassle and aggravation where—for quite a while—every single time we sat down to dinner, the phone rang. Now, at that point, we had two choices. Either we could answer and say “We’re eating right now, we’ll call you back” (which generally made him angry), or we could ignore it and let the machine pick up, at which point he’d leave a message on the machine… and then call my cell phone… and then call Otto’s cell phone. Neither option was really working. And how often did the call come during dinner? ALL THE TIME. It got to where one of the kids would holler “BAT SIGNAL!” as soon as the phone rang. It was as though the very act of assembling with our dinner was his prompt to call.

After a while, Otto came up with a brilliant idea: We now take the phone off the hook during dinner. I calmly informed my ex of our decision to do so, explaining that this way, it would be a non-issue: he would know from the busy signal that we were eating, and we could eat undisturbed. Meal time has been much more serene for us since we embraced this practice, and really, it prevents ALL calls which allows us to prioritize our nightly family time.

The other night I called the kids while I was out running errands, and the call went unanswered. I left a message. Then I finished my errands, and returned home with dinner. Otto and I plated up our meals, and had just sat down to eat—in fact, I think the chopsticks were an inch from my mouth—when the phone rang. “BAT SIGNAL!” we said, in unison. It even works when the kids aren’t even here!

* * * * *

One night while Otto wasn’t home, I got a phone call from a name/number I didn’t recognize. Let’s say the caller ID said… JANE PAYMENT.

Me: Hello?
Her: Yes, hello, I am trying to reach Otto’s Mom’s Name.
Me: Ummm… you have the wrong number.

(This is where it gets dicey, because Otto does handle a bunch of bills for his mom, and sometimes people do call here about stuff he needs to handle.)

Her: Are you SURE? Because I think this is her number.
Me: Well, okay, I think you have the wrong number, but that IS my mother-in-law’s name. Is it possible I can help you with something?
Her: She is LATE on her CAR PAYMENT. We need it IMMEDIATELY.
Me: Oh! Hahaha! Well, then you definitely have the wrong Otto’s Mom’s Name and number. My mother-in-law doesn’t have a car.
Her: Yes she does.
Her: I need the car payment.
Me: That’s… nice? You have the wrong Otto’s Mom’s Name, ma’am. My mother-in-law doesn’t have a car. Sorry.
Her: But—
Me: Good-bye!

I never told Otto about the call—it just slipped my mind.

Yesterday JANE PAYMENT came up on the caller ID. Otto asked me if that was someone I knew, and I said no, but something in the back of my brain was niggling at me while he answered.

Him: Hello?
Her: I’m trying to reach Otto’s Mom’s Name.
Him: Who?
Him: You have the wrong number, ma’am. There’s no one by that name here.
Her: But this is the number I have.

Otto hung up, and then I remembered the previous call. “THAT’S HER!” I said. “That’s the lady who called insisting your mother had an overdue car payment!” I told him about the other call, and he told me about the wrong middle name. And then the phone rang again. And it was JANE PAYMENT again! I offered to take it but Otto said he’d handle it.

Him: Hello.
Her: blah blah blah
Him: Listen, you not only have the wrong number, my wife just told me you’ve called here before? About a car payment? You need to stop calling here, YOU HAVE THE WRONG NUMBER.
Her: No, I never called here before. I may have just given the number to someone else, but it wasn’t me.
Him: There is no Otto’s Mom’s Name With The Wrong Middle Name here. Please don’t call again.

I may have swooned. He’s such a take-charge kind of guy. Take THAT, Jane Payment!

But I still sort of hate the phone.


  1. All Adither

    You and the phone. It IS complicated.

  2. Dani

    Umm… has the theft of Otto’s mother’s identity crossed your mind? That’s the first thing that entered my mind.

    I’d give her credit report a look-see just to be safe.

  3. Flea

    I miss my caller ID. And I love saying, “Please take me off your list,” when someone I don’t love calls. The law states that they have to or they’ll be fined, and it has worked for me for the last seven years. I don’t even wait for the spiel. Immediately it’s “Take me off your list.” Then, “Yes ma’am.” Click. They never call back. LOVE IT.

    And bully for Otto with the phone off the hook!

  4. Laura

    We hardly ever answer the phone – and we never answer during dinner or the early evening. My seven year old doesn’t even look up when the phone rings!

  5. Marissa

    My sister in law cuts off most telemarketers etc. with “Do I have an account with you?” – “No, then please remove my name and number from your list and do not call this number again.” CLICK

    The number we were assigned at our new house apparently was also listed as a contact number for a health insurance company on their statements and bills!! For three months sweet little old ladies were calling to inquire about Senior Choice. I built up a lot of good karma nicely telling them “I’m sorry but this is a residence and we just got this number, I don’t know why it is listed on your bill/statement. I believe there is also a 1-800 number listed, please try that instead. Thank you.”

  6. Megan

    What I hate is that the phone? It lets me call people and that means sometimes people expect me to call people and I don’t really like calling people. Not all people, just some people. Because it’s scary. Telephonophobia.

  7. Emily

    ARRGH!! I hate the phone calls from debt collectors – they are the worst! The people who owned our phone number before must have been real dead beats, we get at least 3 collector calls per month for 3 different people. I have a liteny that I go into every time we get a different collector.

    Right now we’re battling the Discover card people – even after I told them to take us of the freaking list!

  8. Lori

    I always do the “take me off your list” number when the random Invest In My Real Estate Co. calls come from India. After getting three calls from the company I’d asked to take me off their list the first time, I listened to the spiel and said, “hey, I’ll need to discuss this with my husband. Can I get a number where I can call you back?” I’d looked up how to complain about telemarketers on the FTC site after the second call, and apparently you need their number to file a complaint. The guy on the other line was THRILLED and gave it to me right away. “Thanks!” I said. “I’ll be using that number to file a complaint with the FTC for violating my request to remove me from your call list — not once but twice.” Poor guy nearly shit his pants. Begged me not to turn him in. Bingo, no more calls.

  9. janssen

    Wow, love is dealing with telemarketers. We all love Otto.

  10. LuAnn

    Jeez…where do they get these phone center people???

  11. Mama with Marriage Tips for Men

    Oh, I really wonder why did we so attach to phone when we were teenagers? And yes, you’re right. Now, I also don’t maintain such a good relationship with the phone.

  12. Momma Em

    I get tons of those kind of calls at work, but the kind that piss me off the most are the recordings of some person making a speach and when people try to fax to my phone. ESPECIALLY when they try it 20 times in a facking row!

  13. Headless Mom

    The calls that I love (not) are ones for my dead (2 years now!) FIL that never lived here. They are autotmated and no amount of button pushing or staying on the line can get a human being to tell them that he is DEAD.ALREADY.

  14. heels

    When we had a regular phone (cell phones only now- it solved a lot of problems!) we CONSTANTLY got calls from debt collectors insisting that we owed them money, all because my husband has one of the most common names in the US and, apparently, shares that name with numerous debtors.

  15. Burgh Baby's Mom

    I have a love/hate relationship with the phone. I love to hate it. (But I love caller ID–that there is the greatest invention EVER. I can now know exactly who I’m ignoring when I refuse to answer the phone.)

  16. Daisy

    Cell phones are the same way. They’re a fabulous convenience, but I’m not sure I always want to be available so conveniently.

  17. Wendy

    I HATE the phone. It seems that no one calls until all hell breaks loose in the house. It can be quiet all day, but as soon as the kids are home, homework needs to be done, dinner needs to get started or I am at a cruical point of a show (happened yesterday while watching the Tudors) the phone won’t stop ringing. So, the rage in my voice when I answer the phone keeps most people a one time caller.

  18. D

    Had a chuckle over the DSL call – how long would it have been before the guy offered to come over and wash your windows? :-)

  19. Jamie AZ

    Ugh, my comment just disappeared…

    In a nutshell, we get collection calls for a woman (Shannon Kyles, who are you?!) who either had this number before us or is using it now even though it’s not hers. Luckily those that we’ve spoken with have been quick to remove our number from her files. Even the person calling about the woman’s mother’s estate – scary.

    And, Mir, I giggled at your title today, referencing number 9. It made me think of “Client 9″…

  20. Niki

    We used to get tons of calls, even when we were listed on the do-not-call. Also, our number was one digit off from:
    the pizza place
    an elementary school (which my kids attended)
    and a local garage
    Also, our number ended with 1212, which meant people somehow thought we were “information” – because, apparently, you can dial any prefix followed by 1212 and it’s supposed to be information, right?

    We solved this problem by switching to Vonage. In our area, you could NOT take your local number with you, so we got a new number. And our old number (almost 3 years old now) is still listed in the phone book. Our new one has somehow not yet been released to the telemarketing world, though I’m sure it will happen someday. Now if I could just figure out a way to get people from just showing up at my house – window people, siding people, and people who want to come in and talk with me about their particular religion. Ugh.

  21. Sue

    I hate the phone too. I hardly ever answer it. What drives me most crazy though is when my dearly beloved will call the house and get the message saying I am ON THE PHONE, so then he calls my CELL PHONE. I have never answered it, but he keeps on doing it.

  22. Katie

    Hate the phone… My husband refuses to answer the home phone because he says everyone who knows him and really wants to talk to him will call his cell. Which is terribly inconvenient if I’m out and he accidentally leaves his cell in his car while at home.

  23. MomCat

    A pound of flesh a month for all that? Can you indicate from where they take it?

  24. Jen

    LOL @ JamieAZ & the “client 9” bit — my mind went to the same place!

    about the AT&T lady… oh.my.GAWD. i woulda screamed at her.

    i love my privacy manager. hardly any telemarketers get through to me – and if they do, it’s my own fault for giving them permission (Carnival Cruise Lines! leave me ALONE!)

  25. tuney

    I was SOOO expecting a post about prostitution with today’s title. I wasn’t sure where that was gonna COME from, but still.

  26. Sheila

    Remember Christy? Jane Payment is probably looking for HER mother-in-law.

  27. Jenny

    Our phantom is “Rebecca Ballenger” — she apparently owes someone a lot of money and has also defaulted on a judgment. I have a personal policy that if I don’t recognize the number, I don’t answer; if you really need me (and know me) you will either leave a legitimate message or call my cell phone anyway. Caller ID is a beautiful thing…

    Anyway, that reminds me of my mother-in-law, who inadvertently started a furor when my husband’s alumni association called about something legit, only they called his parents’ house. She, thinking it was an annoying telemarketer that she’d been dealing with ad nauseum, picked up the phone and when they asked for him, she blurted, “He’s dead!” and hung up. Needless to say, we had to field a few calls and explain that the reports of my husband’s death had been greatly exaggerated.

  28. Tootsie Farklepants

    I have a similar toxic relationship with my phone.

  29. BOSSY

    Bossy doesn’t have a love/hate relationship with the phone. Not at all. She has a *fear* of the phone.

  30. janie

    You know what’s really bad? When the debt collectors call for your new husband’s ex-wife who never lived here. Then they ask weird things like “Do you know her number?”, “Why doesn’t she pay child support or have custody of her kids?” It’s creepy the things they find out to get you to pay your bills!!!

    Oh, and as tempted as I was, I didn’t give them her number, because I’m nice like that.

  31. Heather

    I enjoyed Jenny’s story. And Otto is so dreamy when he’s fending off annoying phone people ;-)

  32. sophie

    My favorite story about unwanted phone calls predates the Do Not Call List. My father had a really crappy day at work, and the second he sat down to eat “Bat Phone” went into action. He picked up the phone and said,”This better mnot be a marketing call!” He heard a gulp and a click. I have also heard someone say, “Sure, I’d love to talk, could you hold on a moment?” just before hanging up the phone.

  33. mike golch

    the phone is semi complicated what’s really complicated is wadeing threu the press tis for this press that for something else and than end up talking to some person in a foriegn country because mr big shot C.E.O.wants to make the max profits ant the min.costs! Mikey shut up,now remember NO diatribes on other peoples sites!!!! REMEMBER????????

  34. Jane

    Hello Operator, please give me number 9
    and if you disconnect me, I’ll kick you from behind – the frigerator, there lies a piece of glass…..
    Am I the only one who remembers this? My sister called me yesterday with it on her mind too.
    And yes, the Do Not Call List is worthless, that’s why we have caller ID. Just don’t answer.

  35. David

    Hmm. That Do Not Call thing’s worked really well for me, so far. That, and the fact that my phone line is also my internet line. Guess what my phone line’s busy doing, pretty much from the time I get home till the time I go to bed. Go on, guess. = )

  36. carson

    My previous number was apparently incorrectly written on one of the courtesy phones at the Emory University Hospital ICU. I tracked down the real number and had it next to the phone, because anyone calling that number had bigger worries than me being interrupted.

    My current trouble is the woman who scampered away from some debt who has a very similar name to my daughter and me. Her last name is the same, and since it does have 9 letters, people somehow overlook the fact that the first name isn’t a match.

    I have answered the phone with, “If this is a marketing call, I’m not buying.” But that doesn’t irritate me quite as much as the robocalls for politicians do. Even when I want to vote for the candidate.

  37. Cele

    I just ranted about hating the phone too. Well it was among a lot of rants. But I totally get you.

  38. Brigitte

    If the number shows on our caller ID, and they call about 5 times a day for weeks on end (which the NRA just was doing to us, who knows why, we’re not even members), our phone service lets us block incoming calls from some numbers . . so I wrote that one down and blocked it, HA!

  39. Meg

    I love your husband and I think you should clone him off so we can all have one.

  40. Heidi

    I usually slam the phone down when I hear that long pause, too. I was extremely busy the other day and dropped everything to answer the phone. Instead of hanging up at the pause, I waited for the (slightly distracted and irritated, like I’d kept HER waiting) “Hello?” I was so grumpy I yelled “WHAT?” There was a bit of a pause, and then I was sweetly informed that “Oh, I’m sorry dear, I dialed the wrong number.” Afraid to take me on, was she? Ha! So there you have it–shouting “WHAT?” may be just the thing to do.

  41. Dawn

    I hate the phone too.

    I have some telemarketing firm calling me on behalf of the Scientologists. Several times a day. They got the right name but most definitely the wrong person. But they swear I’m a customer.
    I have gone from politely telling them they have the wrong number to threatening to sue if they call again. One of the reps actually thought I was stupid enough to fall for “well, let me just update your address then so we can send you the materials again.” RIIIIGHT. Because that’s EXACTLY what “take me off your list and don’t call me again; you have the wrong number and I am not interested at ALL” means.

  42. Jen

    We have no land line and the spammers have yet to find our cell phones and I highly recommend going that route.

    My husband is currently living in another state due to job relocation. I put the kids on a better bedtime schedule (8pm) while he’s gone. He refuses to accept that and continues to call to say goodnight as late as 9:30. Drives me crazy.

  43. Lindsay

    “They couldn’t do anything to fix it, and so eventually I went to bed. This morning? Everything’s working fine. Go figure. Thank you, cable fairies!”

    I just found the site and have years of reading to do, but laughed out loud at this. I have decided the best way to fix an internet outage is:

    1) Make phone call to a help centre in India (Dell) and walk through such exciting steps as follow cord from outlet to computer, turn computer on off etc.**
    2) After about 1/2 hour of no progress, bite tongue when they ask for comment on how helpful their service was, hang up phone and vow to write letter asking for waiver of fee for days internet service was down.
    3) Go to bed cussing
    4) Wake up and enjoy amazing internet speed and forget anything ever happened until the next time you have a project/assignment to submit for grades/money and are under a deadline.

    **Although the situation will not be resolved during the phone call, if you don’t make it, the situation will NEVER be resolved.

    Damn this internet dependence….

  44. trinity67

    God you’re funny!

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