As a young man, I never used to like the telephone! Oh, I knew it was a wonderful invention, a labour-saving tool, and a life-saver in time of emergency. And I was aware that it brings old friends together and ties families more closely to one another. I understood that it is, indeed, a modern marvel.
But I never liked it. In the first place, I never felt at ease when I was talking to someone on the phone. When I couldn’t see the person to whom I was speaking, it didn’t feel right to me.
In the second place, my phone always seemed to ring at the most inopportune moments; for example, when I had just sat down to dinner, when I was busily engrossed in some leisure-time activity, or (most annoying of all) when I was the only one home to answer it. Although it was located in a central part of the house, I never seemed to be close by when it rang.
But, without a doubt, the worst thing about the telephone was the wrong number. And it didn’t seem to matter whether I was doing the calling or receiving the call. Wrong numbers were a pain in the neck!
Whenever I dialed a wrong number, I was immediately apologetic to the person who answered. I knew that my own carelessness had put the other party out, and I tried to make amends. However, my efforts were invariably met with some sort of angry or impolite response. It usually began right after I realized I’d dialed incorrectly.
“Oh…oh, I’m sorry,” I would stammer. “I guess I have the wrong number.”
“Obviously!” would come the reply, followed closely by an abrupt banging of the receiver in my ear.
What bothered me even more, though, was when I answered a call from someone who had the wrong number, because I still ended up being the bad guy.
“Hello?” I would answer.
“No, I’m sorry,” I would start to say, “but you have…”
“Where is she?”
“Uh…I don’t know. You’ve dialed…”
“Who’s this?” the caller would demand, cutting me off again.
“It’s me,” I would reply lamely, “and there’s no one here by the name of…”
“What number is this?”
And when I would give it, I’d get a snarling rejoinder, like, “That’s not the number I want!”
I was never quick enough to miss that banging receiver. Worse, I was left with the feeling that it was all my fault for even thinking of answering when the call was for Jenny (or whomever the person had asked for).
On more than a few occasions, I actually resorted to dirty tricks, more to avoid the unpleasantness than out of any malicious intent.
“Just a minute,” I sometimes replied when the caller asked for someone I’d never heard of. I then laid the receiver by my phone, placed a cushion over it, and forgot about it. After a few minutes, the caller would get tired of waiting and hang up. When next I passed by the phone, I gently replaced the receiver.
Occasionally I would respond by saying, “Jenny? She left quite a while ago. She should be at your place any minute! Tell her to call when she gets there.”
And I’d hang up first.
Or, more than once, I asked the name of the caller, told them to wait, then made a show of yelling for the non-existent person to come to the phone.
“Jenny! Phone for you. It’s Alice!”
After a few seconds, knowing the caller could hear me, I’d yell again, “No way, Jenny! If you don’t wanta talk to her, you tell her! Not me!”
Sometimes I could hear the caller bang the receiver down from ten feet away.
I never believed that any great harm would arise from these tactics, and it sure made me feel better. I might even have taught those careless callers to be a little more conscientious when dialing.
Somewhere along the way, I discovered the best and most effective way to deal with those nuisance calls, and it was relatively simple. It did take some measure of will-power, and it required a little practice at first to get the hang of it. And I no longer had to spend time dreaming up new tricks.
When the phone rang, if I thought it might be a wrong number, I didn’t answer!
Of course, with the advent of smartphones, all my reasons for disliking the phone have evaporated. Now, I can see the person to whom I’m talking, so that excuse is gone. I’m never too far from the phone to answer a call, because it’s always with me. There are no wrong numbers, because the name of the caller flashes on my screen.
But the biggest reason I have for changing my mind is that, as I’ve grown older and somewhat less active, seeing old friends less and less often, I crave the connection with people. Instead of willing that old black phone not to ring, I now yearn to hear the ringtones in my pocket.
And so, I confess a dark secret to you. Now—even when I know it’s a wrong number, even when I don’t recognize the name of the caller, even if I’ve been happily reading in my armchair, or dozing quietly—I answer the call. If it’s for Jenny, I don’t care anymore. I have even chatted happily with many fast-talking telemarketers, who quickly become anxious to get off the line with what they must assume is a befuddled, old geezer.
I love the telephone!