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?
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.
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.
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.
Her: I’m trying to reach Otto’s Mom’s Name.
Her: OTTO’S MOM’S NAME WITH THE WRONG MIDDLE NAME.
Him: You have the wrong number, ma’am. There’s no one by that name here.
Her: But this is the number I have.
Him: YOU HAVE THE WRONG NUMBER.
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.
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.