"I'm sorry. You have the wrong number." If you are like me, you don't find yourself saying that as often as you used to. Have you noticed?
We still get plenty of solicitors at my house, and robo-calls, particularly during the election season, and a plethora of folks wanting me to take part in this or that survey. But I get very few wrong numbers. I think the reason is because we don't actually dial numbers as much as we used to. Now we have numbers programmed into our phones. If your phone is programmed correctly and hit the right name, the phone will dial the right number.
My friends and I arrived at this thesis over Valentine's dinner Tuesday night when the conversation turned to wrong numbers. Each of us had had a number that was one digit off from a place of business and each of us had a story about how we handled the almost daily misdials we received. Allow me to give you a for-instance or three.
One couple had a number that was one digit away from a urologist and constantly came home to answering messages describing burning sensations and worse. What's up with that? Don't people even listen to answering machine messages?
Wait. Don't answer that question. The urologist in question was actually my own and I have had his office on speed dial lately. I found myself praying that none of the errant messages had been mine. The worst part of that revelation was that the man of the couple admitted that he simply deleted the messages, although if he actually answered one of the calls he would give the correct number to the caller. His wife, bless her heart, said she would actually call the parties back. She happens to be a nurse but insisted that she only dispenses phone numbers, not medical advice.
Someone else had a number that was almost the same as a local taxi dispatch. She got call after call after call, often late at night, from inebriated bar-hoppers looking for a safe ride home. This party pleaded with the cab company to change their number, to no avail, of course. That is, to no avail until she started telling everyone that called that she would have someone pick them up in 10 minutes. After a few weeks of complaints from irate would-be customers the hack company got a new number and my friend got a lot more sleep.
Another guy knew of someone whose marriage almost broke up because of a wrong number. This was obviously in the pre-caller ID era. Every night he would get half-a-dozen calls from people who would hang up when he answered. Apparently the jealous sort -- not to mention suspicious -- this person convinced himself that his wife had a boyfriend who was hanging up when he answered. It turns out that his number was one off from one the local bank used to offer time and temperature.
Naturally I had a story of my own. Don't I always?
Our home phone number used to be almost identical to that of the cable TV company. Every time it rained, folks started calling to complain that their television service had been disrupted. I finally got tired of explaining and started telling everyone that their spouse had neglected to pay the cable bill and their service had been discontinued. There is no telling how many quarrels started because of that bit of erroneous news.
Once, during the buildup that preceded Desert Storm, I got a call from a frantic lady whose television had suddenly gone out. I have no defense for my response except "the devil made me do it." Hey, it worked for Flip Wilson.
I told the lady that I couldn't comment but that if she turned her radio dial to WSB radio she would get all the details she needed. The poor lady was convinced we were under nuclear attack and I felt bad for a few minutes after she hung up -- but got over it after the next four or five calls reporting the same outage.
My favorite wrong number story, however, was one my daddy used to tell. He was working third shift in the mill and tried to sleep during the day. Unfortunately, for him, his phone number was almost the same as that of the drug store in town. One day, after being awakened one too many times, he found himself on the line with a lady wanting to know how to take the pills the drug store had sent over that morning.
My father allegedly told her to "take them all at once."
"Is this Standard Pharmacy?" was the startled reply.
"Hang, no," he told her. "This is Homer Huckaby!"
Well, I have found a sure fire way to avoid the few wrong numbers I might still get. I just don't answer the phone. Please leave a message after the beep.
Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at email@example.com. For past columns, visit www.rockdalecitizen.com or www.newtoncitizen.com.