Fifteen years ago, I had a phone number that was one digit off from Bob’s Furniture. Dial a zero as the last digit and you would be connected to the office in which deliveries of furniture were scheduled and complaints about delivery delays were received.
But dial an 8 and you would instead be connected to me. Because of the proximity of the 8 and the zero on a standard phone, this was an easy mistake to make.
As you might imagine, it was not uncommon for me to arrive home and find two or three messages from irate customers looking for their sofas and coffee tables. Bob may sell furniture at low prices, but based upon my admittedly small sample size, he has difficulty delivering this furniture on-time.
Almost all of these messages were left by elderly people, which also wasn’t surprising. Dialing the wrong number required that a person miss the 8 and striking the zero, and then for that same person to listen to my outgoing message:
Hi, this Matt. I can’t get to the phone…
…and think that he or she has contacted Bob’s Furniture. Both errors seemed to indicate a loss in both motor and auditory functioning.
Conditions common in old people.
Sometimes I would receive these calls when I was home, and more often than not, I was forced to spend a minute or more trying to explain to these sofa-less people that I was not the person to whom they needed to speak, and that they had dialed the wrong number. Cutting into their rants long enough to get them to listen to even a single word was often impossible.
One weekday morning, I was home from work, recovering from the flu and feeling awful and generally annoyed with life. I was lying in bed, attempting to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer (one of the finest television shows ever made) when the first call came in from an angry, older woman wondering why her new bed had not been delivered the day before.
Angry and annoyed as well, I was suddenly inspired to respond in the following manner:
“I’m sorry, but I regret to inform you that as of yesterday, Bob’s Furniture has entered receivership. The business is in the process of declaring bankruptcy and hopes to reorganize at some point in the future. What I need from you in your name and telephone number so I can have someone contact you about the likelihood that your bed will be delivered.”
“I’m not getting my bed?” the woman asked.
“That’s still not decided. Some of the orders may eventually be filled, but it depends on how solvent the company is after this process. It could be a while.”
The woman began to yell at me, and I explained to her that I did not work for Bob’s Furniture but instead for a company responsible for gathering customer information. She ranted and raved for a while, demanding answers that I did not have and finally declaring that she going down to the store to talk to someone about getting her “goddamn bed!”
Though I spent more time on the phone with that woman than I had with any previous Bob’s Furniture customer, it was the most fun that I have ever had during one of these calls.
I repeated the process two more times over the course of the next two days as I continued to languish in bed, improving my legal-speak each time.
It was a grand way to spend two days in bed.
Once I was feeling better, my angry streak dissipated to the point that I couldn’t bring myself to reverse crank-call these people again. But for a while, as a virus ravaged my body, making me miserable, I was able to spend a few minutes on the phone making other people miserable as well.
It wasn’t a nice thing to do, and I wouldn’t do it again without some serious viral persuasion, but it was a delightful way to pass the time, and I have to say that I was surprisingly adept at it.
Spontaneous cruelty has always been a strength of mind, as a few of my friends can readily attest.