People of a certain age will recall the title from a popular radio drama that became a film noir classic with Barbara Stanwyck as the damsel/wife in distress and Burt Lancaster as the spouse with mayhem on his mind. You can also dial “M For Murder” with the same theme: the telephone as a nefarious device and weapon.
A friend just wrote a piece, extolling the virtues of the telephone as a personal link in the impersonal age of social media. Good point. You need to be able to talk, hold an intelligent and coherent conversation on the phone. Social media doesn’t require those basic skills. Courtesy is also another trait required on a phone conversation even when you’re dealing with unpleasant matters.
My wife, Marilyn, rises to heroic stature dealing with insufferable customer service, health care reps, local business people who lose the check and fail to show up. Credit card hackers who’d love a little personal information and the idiots who’ve dialed the wrong number but keep redialing anyway.
I hate the telephone! It stems from all the years of unwanted calls from the TV station that employed me for 31 years. Three o’clock in the morning calls demanding I grab my gear and immediately report to the scene of a grisly crime, awful weather, deadly fires, criminals running amok, traffic accidents with myriad, mangled bodies and the latest gangland or drive-by shooting with multiple victims. All breathlessly awaiting my presence to round up the usual suspects for eye-witness accounts and/or to go banging on doors asking parents “how they feel” about the recent death of a loved one.
Hey, how do you feel, Pilgrim? All of this hurled at me in fleeting minutes once I picked up the phone and heard a familiar voice with the phony excuse of waking me up out of my warm bed. I usually cursed myself if I answered the phone.
Marilyn normally took the calls because of my hearing problems. I couldn’t blame her. Nor could I hurl expletives at the person calling. You can’t shoot the messenger in the TV news biz. Being called into work goes with the territory.
Instead, I blamed the inanimate object. The telephone. Outraged, I yelled obscenities at it. Meanwhile, the telephone sat there quietly, probably mocking me. After all, the phone was just doing its job. Nothing personal.
During my bachelor years when I had to take these calls, I frequently hurled the phone across the room during my tirades against the telephone company, its employees, executives, and Alexander Graham Bell who I imagined as Don Ameche from the old biofilm.
Why did they seemingly always call me? Why was someone always picking on me? Frequently, I’d envision conspiracies to target me. Racism? Envy because I was on the tube every day, outshining other folks? Political target? I had an ‘attitude’ with some local pols. It was me against the giant telephone conglomerate. I was riffing Dwight Eisenhower’s warning.
Truth time. Early on in my Boston TV news career, I let it be known I was ‘always available’ for major, breaking news stories. I envisioned the scoop on that major story that would shoot me to stardom and a mega-contract. I put myself on the spot that assignment editors love. An eager-beaver young reporter with stars in his eyes and experience not yet absorbed.
Veteran reporters scoffed at my enthusiasm even as I sauntered around the newsroom full of myself at landing big stories that had me prominently featured on every newscast of the day from sunrise to midnight.
In my glee over the big stories I always forgot how it began. Always the damn phone call. During my saner moments, I knew I was my own worst enemy. That logic didn’t sit well with me.
During long lunches as everyone congratulated me with my face and story on all the monitors, I realized I was in a catch 22 scenario. Hero of the hour absorbing lots of congratulations while my brain kept reminding me that it was that early phone call that made all of this possible. I continued blaming the phone for interrupting my sleep. I would go on shooting the messenger for years.
One time I lived up to my vow to avert the phone call-to-arms. I answered the call. Heard the voice and slowly said, “Sorry, wrong number.” I grinned to myself, returning for a good night’s sleep.
I was still smiling as I awoke and turned on the radio in the morning. The all-news station was frantically blaring out details about a massive fire, building collapse and the loss of many lives. It was such a big story that the networks were in on coverage.
My smile turned to a scowl. The potential ‘story of a lifetime’ had been lost to my erstwhile, “Sorry, Wrong Number.”