Telecommunication Breakdown

A little over a year ago, I abandoned my plebeian ways and went to the dark side. I got Caller ID. For the first few weeks, I took great pleasure in stymieing callers with my magical ability to address them by name before they even said hello. But, as with most modern gizmos, the novelty soon wore off. Even though an incoming call registered "out of area," it was hard to resist picking it up. What if it was a long lost friend or a loved one calling from a seedy roadside pay phone? Furthermore, in what some would call poetic justice, the LCD display on my phone wore out, making caller identification nothing more than a haphazard guess.

"Do you know anyone in the 451 area code?" I would ask my husband, "er maybe it's 687."

As a result, Caller ID in our household fell into disuse. Which was fine by me. I always felt there was something sinisterly Big Brother about the whole thing - being able to track every incoming call, down to the exact minute it came in. Talk about breeding paranoia.

Sure, there are pragmatic reasons for such a service, such as avoiding chatty relations or enjoying Monday Night Football in peace. Who wants to let their Lazy Boy go cold and their Bud go warm while they field a call from, say, the American Society to Stop Excessive Surveying (you do the anagram)?

But I sincerely believe that in the wrong hands, Caller ID can be dangerous. Maybe even deadly.

In fact, I feel lucky to be alive today to warn you of this bizarre yet very real threat. See, just last week I was the unwitting victim of a Caller ID call back love triangle. Sure, all of you who have actually seen me are guffawing uncontrollably. But apparently, my digits are quite attractive all lit up in their LCD splendor, enough to raise the suspicions of at least one untrusting woman.

But before you go calling me a homewrecker, let me explain. I didn't set out to become the subject of the next Jerry Springer Show. In fact, my motives were purely innocent. It all started with one, little blinking light. I was visiting my parents out of state for a few days and happened to notice the message light flashing on their phone. Worried that it may be an SOS call from work, I played the message. To my relief, it was not a distress call but someone by the name of Terrance Walker* (name changed to protect the victims) looking to buy a refrigerator my parents had listed in the want ads but had since sold. Feeling a surge of small-town common decency in the big city, I decided to call Mr. Walker back to let him know the fridge was no longer. Who knows? He could have been pining away refrigeratorless for weeks, subsisting on nothing but MREs and warm Schlitz.

So, in a conversation lasting all of 10 seconds, I broke the news to Mr. Walker, who took it quite well and thanked me. And that was that. In fact, the whole thing was such a non-issue that I had all but forgotten about it 24 hours later when the phone rang again. Although it registered as "out of area," I picked it up - once again fearing a work debacle. Unfortunately, I was only flattering myself to think it was someone looking for my help. Instead, I was greeted by a snarling wretch of a woman wanting to know who, from this number, had dared call her house.

I sized up the company I was currently with: my sisters, brother, parents, 90-year-old grandfather, and seven rambunctious children under the age of 7.

"I think you have the wrong number," I told her, thinking she would hear the three-ring kiddie circus in the background, realize she had made a mistake, and hang up peacefully.

No such luck. Rather, the fact that a woman picked up the phone only fueled her fire.

"This number was on my Caller ID," she seethed, as if she had just sleuthed together a great mystery. "Someone from this number called my house, and I want to know why."

Baffled, all I could imagine was that in some unlucky twist of fate, one of the kids had managed to string together seven digits on the phone before an adult walked in, thwarting the mission. I repeated what she had said to make sure I understood her correctly. "Someone from here called you?" I asked.

And that's when it got ugly.

"Do you speak English?" she snapped.

And that's when it got really ugly.

See, it's one thing to invite insult by doing someone wrong. It's something entirely different to be insulted, in the comfort of your home, when you don't even know what it is you are being insulted for. Which is why, in so many words, I told the angry woman what she could do with her Caller ID.

Unfortunately, I was so busy doing so, that I missed the wild arm waving of my sister, who had just realized the caller's identity and was desperately trying to get my attention.

"The refrigerator," she mouthed in slow, exaggerated movements.

And that's when it dawned on me. But by now, it was too late - Mrs. Terrance Walker was fully apoplectic. And worst of all, she had my phone number and, with a simple flip through the phone book, could find out where I lived.

While seven small children played a rousing game of "scream at the top of your lungs" around me, I calmly tried to salvage what was left of the conversation. I explained that I had called her house only after someone from her house had called me, about a refrigerator, of all things, and wasn't that funny?

But she was not amused. Although I think she no longer thought her marriage was in jeopardy, she was still clinging to the belief that I was a rogue refrigerator saleswoman/day care provider preying on upstanding citizens.

I tried again to straighten her out, explaining that I wasn't involved in either of those businesses, at least not officially. But she wasn't having it. At least that's what I gathered from her mostly indecipherable tirade, which was punctuated by a slam in my ear. I'm not sure, but I think I'm being reported to the Better Business Bureau.

Needless to say, I didn't get much sleep that night. Partially because I was fearing for my life, but also because I was having trouble comprehending what sort of person habitually scrolls through her list of calls, verbally accosting any unfamiliar listings. What did she do for fun? Stalk the mailman?

Apparently the whole darn, Caller ID-happy world gone mad. I found it strange that something created to impart a sense of security had the exact opposite effect, turning regular people into pseudo telephone vigilantes - and all for the low price of an extra $30 a month. And despite all the slick technology, call-back options and screening capability, people were still getting their wires crossed.

- Missy Votel



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