Barry Smith: Reach out and touch someone
September 22, 2003
I’ve received more wrong numbers in my life than anyone I know.
In college, my number was just one digit off from the number of the local movie theater. Once I caught on to this, I put the following outgoing message on my machine.
“Hi, you’ve reached the Downtown Do-deca-plex. We are currently experiencing difficulty with our projection system, so all of our films will be acted out by the snack bar attendees. Make sure you don’t miss Jimmy Dreffer, the kid with the zits who’s in charge of melting the popcorn butter, as he recreates the role of Tom Cruise in “Risky Business.” And speaking of butter, in Theater 2 we’re screening the classic “Last Tango in Paris,” starring ticket-sellers Julie Kline and Timmy Merenes. Don’t tell their parents. Shows start earlier than usual, because they all have to get home to do their homework. Our sound system is also on the fritz, so all actors will be using megaphones. Thanks for calling.”
When I got my first apartment, my telephone number was, for some strange reason, 912. So in the wee hours of the morning I’d get calls from frantic housewives hiding under the bed claiming that there was an intruder in their house. The first time this happened I thought it was my girlfriend calling me up for some kinky late-night phone talk – remember, this was in a world before Caller ID – so I responded with: “Oh, really? And you say you’re UNDER the bed? What are you wearing? It must be dusty under there. Maybe I’d better come over and clean you off.” Then I remembered that my girlfriend had a futon.
The novelty of that wore off eventually, so I had my number changed. Unfortunately, it was changed to 412, so I spent an entire summer looking up phone numbers for people.
Unable to afford my own apartment, I moved in with some friends. As it turned out, their number was a subtle transposition of the Poison Control Hot Line number. I tell you, I wish I had a dime for every time I told some stranger to induce vomiting.
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“But I got Windex in my eyes!” they’d protest.
“Look, did you call to argue, or to get professional help? Now I want to hear some hurling, and I want to hear it now. I’ve got other things I could be doing, you know?”
Moving out on my own again in early 1989, I was given a phone number that was apparently just one button off from that of some high-ranking German politico. I never figured out who, as I don’t speak a word or German. However, I did have many a conversation that year using my best Colonel Clink accent. And I think I did OK. Remember the whole Berlin Wall thing? Well, I hate to take ALL the credit, but …
Alas, this was just the beginning, and I seem to be forever cursed with wrong numbers no matter how often I have my home number changed. It’s been a difficult cross to bear, fielding calls for the IRS, the Dalai Lama, the FBI, Manuel Noriega, Sylvester Stallone, Pee Wee Herman … the list goes on.
In fact, I just had my number changed again about a month ago, and it is not going well.
So please understand if you call me and I answer the phone yelling, “For the last time, Mr. President, there’s no Osama here!”
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