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.
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?
ANOTHER SCENE: TODAY, MASSACHUSETTS
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.)
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.