Bad Signal — Someone’s left you a voicemail message, but all you can make out are the last words: “I’m sorry. I should’ve told you months ago. Bye.” Who is it from, and what is this about?

We used to leave messages on our answering machines telling folks to speak slowly and clearly, but too many people thought we were being funny, that leaving a coherent message was a joke. So we get lots of incoherent messages. Usually, with caller ID, we know who called and can retrieve the number, but the contents of the message is gobbledy-gook.

“Garry, your brother called. No idea what he said. Call him, okay?”

“Hey, Jim called about something. Call him when you have a moment.”

“One of your cousins called. They left a message but I can’t dope it out.”

My favorite: “Someone called. Maybe it was important. They left a number but I can’t understand it.  Guess it wasn’t important enough.” Note: If it really is important and we don’t call back? Pick up the phone and call again. Seriously. If it’s that important, make sure we got the message.

If you choose to leave a message, speak up. Clearly. Repeat the phone number at least twice. Don’t forget to include your name — in case we don’t actually know you as well as you think we do.

Don’t mumble.

While we’re on the subject, how about those cell phones, eh? On which you can’t hear anything? From either end? I miss telephones on which you knew you had a connection that wouldn’t drop and on which you could hear what someone said to you — and know they could hear you.

“Can you hear me? Hello? Are you still there?”

It’s 1904 all over again. Without wires or operators.

The other night, my husband and I watched — for the umpteenth time — Meet Me In St. Louis. It’s the old Judy Garland musical. Vincent Minnelli directed it. Great movie, one of our favorites. Terrific songs, Margaret O’Brien about as cute as a kid can be. Nostalgia on the hoof.

The story is set in 1904 when the World’s Fair was coming to St. Louis. Telephones in private homes were the hot new technology. A call from a distant city was a big deal. Early in the story, the oldest sister, Rose, receives a long-distance call from New York.


FROM “Meet Me In St. Louis” — SCENE: The phone rings.

Rose Smith: Hello? Hello? Can you hear me?

Warren Sheffield: Yes, I can hear you. (Pause)

Rose Smith: What did you say, Warren?

Warren Sheffield: Nothing. I was waiting for you to talk

Rose Smith: Oh. Well, did you want to discuss anything in particular?

Warren Sheffield: What?

Rose Smith: I said, was there anything special you wanted to ask me

Warren Sheffield: I can’t hear you, Rose

Rose Smith: That’s funny. I can hear you plainly

Warren Sheffield: Isn’t this great? Here I am in New York and there you are in St. Louis and it’s just like you’re in the next room.

Rose Smith: What was that?


Me: Hello? Hello? Cherrie?

Cherrie: (Faintly) Hello? I’m in New York … (something I can’t understand) … signal.

Me: Bad signal?

Cherrie: No signal.

Me: How are you?

Cherrie: Tired. Running around.

Me: Miss you.

Cherrie: Miss you too. Having trouble getting a signal here.

Me: We watched “Meet Me In St. Louis” last night. Remember the phone call from New York? We’ve gone back there. Worse. THEY had a better connection.

Cherrie: (Laughter.) You’re right.” (More laughter.)

Me: I don’t think this is progress. (Long pause.) Cherrie? Hello? Are you there? (Long pause.) No, you aren’t there.

(Click. Sigh. Pause. Ring. Ring.)

Me: Cherrie?

Cherrie: Can you hear me?

Me: I can hear you, can you hear ME?

Cherrie: Hello? Hello? (Pause, faint sounds.) Is this better?

Me: Yes. A bit.

Cherrie: I turned my head and lost the signal. Boy, was that perfect timing or what?

Me: We couldn’t have done it better if we’d scripted it.

Cherrie: I’ll call you when I get back. I think I’m  losing … (Silence.)

I love progress. Especially how advanced technology has made everything so much better and easier.

33 thoughts on “COULD YOU REPEAT THAT?

  1. I love cell phones, what are you talking about? If I want to talk to someone I go outside. If I don’t I stay inside until the call is dropped and when they call back I just say it didn’t ring through. Sadly, this has happened many times so you can never be sure. And texts. One day I got three texts one after another before I got a phone call. Someone had been trying to get ahold of me for hours and had finally given up and called. Technology is wonderful!


  2. I’m glad to find I’m not the only person who hates phones. I do have a mobile phone, not a smart phone, the ordinary kind. Does that make it a stupid phone? I carry it when I go out in case I need to call home for some reason “Can you pick me up from the bus station please?” “I’m coming home early/later” or my husband needs to call me “I set the kitchen stove on fire.” “The bed frame broke.” “I can’t find the cat/dog”. Who wants to get calls like that! If I’m home the phone is usually off. I frequently forget where I put it if I don’t go out for a week. My hearing is OK but I do find it hard to have a phone conversation when I have to contend with traffic noise or other people talking in the background.
    At one time going on holidays meant escaping from people who annoy you on the phone but with mobiles there is no escape unless, like me, you only give your number to a handful of people that you actually want to talk to.


    • The intrusiveness is one of my top objections to the whole concept of cell phones. It’s like wearing an electronic leash. You are NEVER free. The phone is useful so you can call to tell someone you are lost and can’t find them, when you are going to be early/late and/or we’re almost there.

      As we get older background noise is more and more of a problem, which is a problem with mobile phones and also with restaurants who play “muzak” in the background so nobody can have a conversation, you can’t hear your server and if it’s loud enough, everyone runs screaming from the premises. It’s not even GOOD music.

      Who gets these ideas and why does everyone buy into it? Does anyone actually want this dreary music with their pizza?


      • There is one electronics store in Hobart that played music so loudly that I could not stay in the store for long. I think that others may have complained because it was a lot quieter the last couple of times I was there.


  3. I sometimes get the button muddled on my mobile. Mr. Swiss calls and I look at his photo on the phone and have to study what to do. By the time I press the right button he has gone, but he sympathises. I did not grow up with a phone, it belonged to the neighbour. I call my dad and he does not hear me – so forget Skype, it is even worse. I never get people leaving messages, probably because they know there is an illiterate telephone user at the other end. It use to be so much easier when we wrote letters. But we do everything for progress. I sympathise with your problems. My pet peeve is speaking with machines. If someone has a telephone answering device, I do not answer, but hang up the telephone – ignorant I know, but it works for me.


    • I have never been fond of cell phones. Oddly, Garry who is not technological at all, loved them from day one and is much better at using them than I am. Go figure, right? Telephones in general are not my thing. Not printers or copy machines either. Computers, yes. The rest? Just not me. And I loathe answering machines, even though I’ve been using them since they were invented.

      I still can’t change the cartridge on my printer and I’ve owned it for almost a decade. Sad but true.


  4. I’m one of those people who just doesn’t pick up the phone every time it rings. I’m also rude and say, “Sorry, I can’t hear you, I’ll call you back in a minute.” and hang up because I hate conversations that consist of “What? Repeat that! I can’t hear you!”

    Half the time, I don’t even have my phone with me so most of my calls go to voicemail. I think the only reason I have a cell phone is so I can ignore people mobily. Nah, it’s so I can call people when I’m out and about if I really have to. And for playing games of course.


    • Ditto. Garry and I have ONE phone. We are either both home (phone is off). Both out (one phone is all we need). One of us is out, one is home (mobile goes with the traveler).

      Garry likes the cell phone, but can’t hear anything on it. I hate it — AND I can’t hear anything on it. They don’t make them for actually telephoning. They are for people who like toys, portable mini computers.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. You left one out… The people who race through the phone number. Everything else is clear but “call me back at 8>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>” zipping through it faster than the speed of sound. They may even repeat it, but it is that fast. I used to have to return phone calls left on a business machine and I can’t tell you the number of times I had to listen to a message 10 times or more. Was that 8759? 8549?

    It is like these answering machines are some new invention that no one has had the experience to figure out how they work.


    • Oh yes. The speed number people are right up there with folks who don’t mention who they are, assuming you will recognize their voice (even if you haven’t heard it for years).

      Some of my favorites have been long, precise messages (without phone number, if you please) for … are you ready? … someone else. It’s a wrong number and apparently they don’t listen to the message, They robotically wait for a beep. I guess they will forever wonder why they never got a call back!


  6. In India we have cross connections on our phones.
    The scene
    The caller: ” Is Praveen there?” I m his friend speaking.
    Me: ” I am sorry there is no Praveen available at this number, you may check your num…”
    Before I completed, there was another voice heard on the same line.
    Praveen: ” Yes Praveen speaking.”

    Liked by 2 people

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