CAN YOU HEAR ME? HELLO? – Marilyn Armstrong

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 was it, and what was it about? It’s a mystery to me.

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 don’t know what it was.”

My favorite: “Someone called. Maybe it was important. They left a number but I can’t understand it.  Guess it wasn’t important enough.” If it really is important and we don’t call you back? Pick up the phone and call again. 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 recognize your voice because, you know, the phone isn’t very clear.

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: 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.
Me: We couldn’t have done it better if it was scripted.
Cherrie: I’ll call you when I get back. I think I’m  losing … (Silence.)

Progress and technology. Which way are we going? 

Author: Marilyn Armstrong

Writer, photography, blogger. Previously, technical writer. I am retired and delighted to be so. May I live long and write frequently.

38 thoughts on “CAN YOU HEAR ME? HELLO? – Marilyn Armstrong”

  1. Who uses the phone to talk anymore? I use mine to text. And to check my newsfeed. And to WordPress. And to check the sports scores and the weather. And to play solitaire, and to read ebooks. But to actually talk with someone? Fuhgedaboudit.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I don’t own a “telephone” anymore. No landline. Just an iPhone, which is less a phone than a microcomputer. I used to spend a large percentage of my workdays before I retired on the phone — conference calls, web calls, and even 1:1 calls. Now, I rarely use the “phone” feature of my iPhone. Neither, apparently, do most of the people I communicate with.


        1. Garry hates the phone. Too many calls from work. But for things like arranging appointments and stuff like that, a short phone call can fix stuff that 20 emails will leave hanging. They look at the calendar. I look at mine. We pin down a date, set up a time — and I’m not searching for more emails forever. I know a lot of people hate the phone because work and all that, but sometimes — especially for setting up appointments — a few minutes of actual conversation can eliminate a week or emails or texts. Just saying.

          Garry solves the problem simply. He has ME make all the calls.

          Liked by 1 person

    1. I like emails better than most people, but I also know that if you want to make an appointment, you can do it in 3 minutes on a call — and it can take a month by email. Sometimes, talking actually serves a purpose!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Ditto on email preference. 1- Easier for me with my hearing problems.
        2- You can stay within parameters of intended chat.
        3- You can sign off without the awkwardness of a non-ending phone chat.


  2. When I was teaching business communication, this was a topic, choosing the right level of “communication richness” to accomplish the goals of a message. It requires some thought — understanding the urgency of the message and the needs of the audience both at the same time! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Apparently so. But also, a shocking number of people don’t speak well, no matter how hard they try. A lot of people have speech impediments. I actually got a degree in speech before I changed to communications. And strangely, they mostly don’t realize they have a problem.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I remember as a kid playing dentist with my friend. She had, what was called a party line, so we were using the phone as a drill. I can just imagine what people were thinking as I held the phone up to do some drilling and my friend chirps up “there’s someone talking in the drill”…

    Liked by 1 person

      1. We must have been 6 or 7 years old when we did that. The person at the other end would be listening to a lot of heavy breathing on our end….chuckle.


  4. Made me laugh. Reminded me of the rare calls we made when living in Toronto and calling parents. Maybe twice per year. A terribly long space between saying something and hearing a reply. Losing each other – knowing that every second cost us something like 10cents….
    Then the ‘answerphone’ we now use. We get so many nuisance calls that we left a message on our phone saying: Since we get far too many annoying cold calls, we don’t reply the phone any more. If we have you on our address list we call you back – if YOU have something important to say to us please do so with all the necessary details so that we can call you back if we wish to do so. The problem is that although our cold calls have gone down by 80%, most of our friends don’t speak French and are totally lost when they hear my voice but have no idea why I wouldn’t talk to them….
    Cell phones; a huge bother – End.


    1. I guess you don’t have “” which cuts off those cold calls. I love it. Anyone who actually gets through at least has a real phone number. I had stopped answering the phone, too. Not getting those calls is a huge help.


      1. No Leslie I’m not…. I lived in my younger life in Toronto for nearly 2 years that’s all. I was so homesick that we had to return. I’m Swiss, but live (still for the time being) in France. Hope to go back sometime, my family and home country are calling me more and more urgently…. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  5. My landline phone helpfully intones “overseas, overseas” when certain calls come in. I don’t know anyone overseas who would call me so it is easy to avoid picking up. If I see a caller ID and the area code is a state where I don’t know anyone I don’t pick up either. I am on the “Do Not Call” register so I don’t get a lot of sales calls except from spammers who don’t care about the rules , those I generally hang up on, and charities which are harder because I don’t like saying no but I can’t give to everything. I really do loathe making phone calls and usually have to psyche myself up to make an appointment or an enquiry so it’s lucky I don’t have to do it often.


    1. I like talking to people I like talking to. Friends, basically. The rest of the calls are appointments, cancellations of the aforementioned appointment, remaking the cancelled appointments. Trying to get the appraiser to show up and look at the car so we can get it fixed.

      One of the problems of our age is that we are tired of casual conversation. I don’t like conversation if I have nothing to say which is actually more often than it used to be, especially with people I hardly ever see. Garry keeps in touch with his brothers, but dodges the rest of the family. I talk to my friends, the few I’ve still got and the rest of the calls are tech support, customer support, the doctor, the doctor’s nurse . We have which means we don’t get any calls without real numbers, but a few slip through anyway — and they are always automated, so there’s no problem hanging up. There’s no one there anyway.

      Mostly, though I really like talking to real, live humans. It’s rare enough.

      Liked by 3 people

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