Having pedaled through hot sun for twelve hours from Los Angeles, I now swaggered to a phone booth a hundred miles away on the outskirts of San Diego.
This was a boutique street. Shoppers strolled between galleries and restaurants. I needed a rest and hoped my relatives would be home. The steep roads had been toilsome, but not as much as the phone call I was about to make at the payphone on this sidewalk.
It did not sound like Aunt Fran or Grace. Maybe it was one of their friends from the Nazareen church. I told her my name and said I wanted to speak to Fran Watkin.
"You have the wrong number."
"Oh," I said. "Could you please tell me if this is 273-8225?"
"You have the wrong number," she said again. not nicely.
"Yes but since I am spending sixty cents for this call and am not sure what kind of wrong number I have, could you please tell me whether this is 273-8225 in the 619 area code?"
A short pause ensued. The strange woman at the other end of the line was apparently thinking. Was she trying to decide what in fact her number was? Was she trying to decide whether to trust me? Was I a threat with my foot powered machine at a payphone some sixty cents worth of distance from her?
"I am sorry, but you have the wrong number." She did not sound the least bit sorry. She sounded downright mean. She was one of those fraidy cats in the phone world, the type who desperately tell their daughters to never give out their phone number to boys, the type who believes in stalkers and tabloid TV shows, and the type who assumes that if I know her number I am just inches from knocking at her front door.
It was likely at this point that the situation was hopeless. The phone company gives three minutes for this kind of toll call, however, so I might as well try my best to get on the woman's good side. In my cheerfullest, humblest pleading voice, almost begging but trying not to sound too desperate, I began again.
"Please forgive me for bothering you in this way," I said, perhaps too beseechingly. "I am at a payphone in Solana Beach after a long day of bicycling. You understand there are more than one kind of wrong number, don't you? There is the kind where a familiar number gets accidentally misdialed, and the kind where you dial exactly what you intended which was misinformation in the first place. I don't call my Aunt Fran very often so I never was sure of her number. Could you please save me sixty cents and save yourself the inconvenience of me calling you again if it's the second kind of wrong number by just telling me if this is or is not 619 273-8225?"
There was no pause this time.
"Do you understand me?" she insisted. "You have the wrong number."
I was supremely frustrated now and sure it was hopeless. I would have been happy at this point to spend another lousy sixty cents just to irritate this scared little bitch.
"Listen lady," I said, "Do you think I think you are my Aunt Fran in disguise? Huh? Do you think I am bothering you because I think you have kidnapped my relatives, wrapped them in duct tape and stashed them in the broom closet? Is that what you are afraid I will do to you if I know your number? Well it's not, lady. I will stay as far away from you as I possibly can. You are nowhere near as smart as my Aunt Fran. In fact you are the most repulsive, inconsiderate person I ever talked to. The reason I keep asking you to verify this number, is so I can avoid calling you. I have absolutely no interest in ever talking to you again, especially after the way you've treated me. Since you will not answer my question, I am assuming 273-8225 is your number and I am writing it on the wall of the phone booth for anybody who wants a good time. But why do I bother? You probably change your number every three weeks as it is, thinking that will actually protect your pristine, polyester, super tidy, over dusted and friendless little life. You probably know how to repel real crank callers, long distance sales people and subscription hawkers without even hanging up. You are such a neurotic, retentive, tight ass little schoolmarm that I'll wager your kids are promiscuous drug abusers and your husband, if you have one, picks his nose in public on purpose just to embarrass you."
There was a pause. The woman who had said so little was about to sound defeated. "You better not call here again," was all she said, almost whimpering. Then there was dial tone.
I hung up the receiver gently, put my feet in the toe clips and pedaled up the sidewalk. I decided not to make any more calls that night. I had my sleeping bag. Nobody was expecting me. I decided to rest in the woods. I was too satisfied now to need to go indoors.
by Ben Swets 1997
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About Ben Swets in Networkcomposed by B.A.S Last updated 5 Nov 2007