The Good Ol' Days: Obscene Phone Calls
Several day ago, a friend of mine told me about a grad student who was doing a study on personal bloggers for his thesis. She asked if I'd agree to talk to the guy on the phone. The deal was, he'd interview me, which would take about an hour, and in return I'd get a $50 gift card to Amazon. Everyone knows I could talk about blogging until the Great Door opens in the sky. And for me, being interviewed is like finding a twenty in my pocket, losing a pound, and Lo spending the night with my mother all rolled into one. I'd have done it for free.
My friend said she'd pass along my email address, and he'd contact me to set up a time. The next day, it occurred to me to wonder how this guy had found my friend and whether she felt for sure he was legit. So I emailed her, "How do you know this guy's not some kind of phone perv?" to which she responded that he had put a notice on Craig's List, asking for volunteers, and that she'd already received and used her gift card. Then she added, "You're going to end up dying from making up a million scenarios just like this one in your head."
I felt better, knowing that she'd answered an ad as opposed to him having found her or sought her out. If he'd called her, randomly, claiming to have come across her blog or to have been referred by someone else, I'd have been mighty skeptical. In fact, I'd have speculated that he'd contacted her for the express purpose of getting to me. I realize that would make about as much sense as asking your best friend's brother out because he used to go out with the sister of the guy you're really interested in, but still...I think you'll come to understand.
See, I don't have to "make up a million scenarios." I've already lived them, back in the days before caller ID, back when phones were anchored to the wall and if you were lucky, you had a cord that reached from the avocado kitchen to the corner of the orange velvelour sofa in the den.
Case in point #1: I was about 12, and it was the first week of summer break. It was probably noon, but I was still in my pajamas, because why get dressed to watch The Price is Right, nose through your parents' closet, and rake the shag carpet? The phone rang, and when I answered it, the guy on the other end said he was doing a survey and that if I answered his questions, I'd get a free subscription to the magazine of my choice. Then he asked if I thought any of my friends would be interested in participating and getting free magazines, which prompted me--imagining a sea of Seventeen, Tiger Beat, and Mad magazine--to offer up the names and numbers of every girl I knew. I even looked up the numbers of my third-tier friends in the phone book for him. Then the survey began:
PP: How old are you?
TR: I turned 12 in March.
PP: Do you play any sports?
TR: Softball. I'm a pitcher.
PP: What are you wearing right now?
TR: A yellow nylon shortie gown with little orange and green flowers on it.
PP: Are you wearing panties?
PP: Would you say your nipples are the size of a dime, a quarter, or a half dollar?
Exactly. I had to call everyone on the list I'd given him. Then I called my mother at work, who called the phone company, who called me and made me relive the trauma--meaning the hot shame of my own stupidity.
Another memorable phone incident happened when I was in my late twenties, already the mother of two, and much more worldly. The call came from a close friend of my then-husband, a guy named Mike, who looked like your average post-fratboy. You know, sort of Ted Bundy-ish. Mike had been hanging out with my husband for several months, had become a regular fixture at our house. When he called one afternoon, I assumed he was looking for my husband, but when I told him J wasn't home, he said he'd actually called to talk to me.
He hoped I'd keep the call confidential. See, he was upset, because it was the first anniversary of his fiance's death (fiance?), and he didn't know who else to talk to. He thought I'd be able to understand, since he knew I'd lost my sister recently.
Oh, I felt so sorry for him, Poor Mike. It was hard for a man to admit he was hurting--and he must have been in terrible pain, considering that in the countless times we'd all gone out to dinner, or hung out by the pool, or rented movies, he'd never once mentioned his true love's name, the fact that he'd been engaged, or the event of her death. And it would explain why he was often abrasive--nay, downright rude-- to his new girlfriend, his fear of getting close to a woman again.
Somewhere between my explaining to him that anniversaries were particularly difficult--how the whole season of spring had been especially tough for me--and my answering his questions about what my sister was like, I became aware of a strange slapping sound that got gradually louder until it became annoying. Simultaneously, I caught myself trying to talk over his breathing, which was getting heavier and heavier...Um, yeah.
There are other examples, of course. I've been tracked down at school a couple of times; for example, someone claiming to have read my poems online wanted to talk to me about my work for a college English assignment. It went bad quickly, after he asked me for a picture...
I even set up a student once, when a guy with a British accent called, claiming to be Madonna's personal assistant. He was all business, informing me that the material girl had come across our catalog and especially loved the work of one of our (beautiful) design students. Madonna, you understand, wanted her name and phone number...I FELL for it (He used Madonna's real name). I was excited for the student.
You have to feel sorry for the phone pervs these days. It must be quite the challenge, circumventing the new technology. But I have faith that they are adapting, evolving in this digital/cellular/security age, developing new ways to get to me. I have to be careful.