Answering machines a forgotten accessory

If the phone don’t ring, it’s me.


– Country western lyric


I didn’t live in a house with an answering machine until I got married.

In fact, one of my first duties in joint house-keeping was to change the message on my wife’s machine.

“OK,” I said, figuring this was an opportunity to provide a tone menacing enough to frighten her ex-boyfriends, but acceptable enough to keep her mother happy.

After a few attempts, I thought I had it just right.

I was later corrected. (A pattern that has continued over the years.)

“You forgot to tell people to leave their name and number,” my wife pointed out.

“But why?” I asked. “I think most people understand the concept. Besides, if they want us, they’ll call back.”

But times have changed.

You see, more and more the house phone and its recording – the old “land line” – has become a forgotten accessory. The reason is probably the same at your house – everyone has a cell phone. These are the phones whose numbers are programmed into similar cell phones among friends and family and co-workers.

These are the phones used for communication by those we care about.

The house phone has become, I guess, a sort of quaint tradition.

Those who call it are mostly sharing sales pitches, which clearly violate all the Do-Not-Call lists we’ve signed up for over the years, or those preposterously self-serving robo-calls from a congressman who will never get a re-election vote.

In fact, the home phone’s ring is set on its lowest sound setting and is often buried under so much counter clutter, no one even checks to see if the little light is flashing to indicate a message. But we try to remember and sometimes we find surprises. That’s what happened a few months ago.

There on the machine was a call from an older woman who suspected I worked for the newspaper. She called on a Sunday morning while we were at church and apparently got confused with the answering machine message and thought she was actually talking to me.

She began to talk, offering some unique political insights that she thought would interest a wider audience. This went on for some time.

Then she asked what I thought about her point. When the answering machine did not respond, she got mad. She said some “bad” words.

Then she got madder. And said some more “bad” words. And when there was still no response, she hung up.

My wife found the message later that day. She played it. Saved it. And asked me to listen to it. She was a bit alarmed and wondered if the police or a mental health agency should be consulted.

But I just smiled.

“Doesn’t sound like she plans on calling back,” I said.

And so far, she hasn’t.

Technology has its benefits, if you know how to use it.