And Another Thing

Decide to solve a solvable problem

-A +A

Over the years, I have been urged more than once to stop complaining. Some people tell me if I can’t say anything polite or pleasing or agreeable, I should shut up. Some people insist that there’s more than enough carping and grousing already without my adding to the mix.

That may be so. But if I see a way to solve a problem, I’m convinced I should say something. It’s crazy not to carp about it. You hear me? Crazy.

What am I so wound up about? A relatively small thing, when you consider fires and homeless people, crime and climate change and shingles.

No, it’s this: People who make the mystifying decision to speed through their phone number when they leave me a message.

What? You want me to phone you back? Here’s a thought: Why not make it easy for me? Leave me a decipherable phone number.

It may be that on smartphones (I don’t have one, as I’ve mentioned before) every phone number of anyone who calls you appears whenever anyone calls and the number sticks around on the screen until you call that person back. But not everybody has a smartphone (ahem).

And, yes, on some landline phones the caller’s number, or name, or both, appear when the phone is ringing. Very handy, yes, I agree.

That’s not what I’m carping about. It’s the messages some people choose to leave: they garble their phone number, and they only garble it once. Yet clearly they want me to call them back. Yeah? How do I do that, if they choose to garble their number?

You should hear me after I listen to a message like this. No, maybe you shouldn’t.

Please, people to whom I am carping because you don’t seem to care whether I call back: Why not (WHY NOT?) make it as easy as possible for me to decipher your number?

Maybe you don’t really want to talk to someone my age. Then why call?

Maybe you don’t really want to talk to me. Then why call?

I can’t believe it’s because the age I am that I can’t decipher gibberish. No matter what age a person is, gibberish is gibberish. A 23-year-old couldn’t decipher these messages. These same messages would have been indecipherable when I was 37. Age has nothing to do with this.

I do remember my own difficulty with leaving messages when answering machines first appeared. I remember hoping the person I was calling would be home so I wouldn’t have to sound intelligent on a tape recorder.

These days, I confess, I sometimes find myself hoping I won’t talk to a real person. All I want to do is leave a message.

But if I want them to call back, here’s what I do: I say my name. I say my phone number, slowly. I say my phone number, slowly, again. I leave a short (most of the time) message. And sometimes I say my phone number, slowly, again.

Why go through this rigmarole? I want to make it easy for the person I’m calling to call back. I want that person to want to call back, and I want that person to call back.

Please (See? I’m writing this calmly) do me the same favor. Make it easy for me to call you back.

I don’t care if you have 71 calls to make. I don’t care if you hate making phone calls. I don’t care if you hate leaving messages. I don’t care if you’re in a hurry. I don’t care if you’re convinced I’ve memorized your phone number. I don’t care if you’re so familiar with your own number that you’re convinced everybody else knows it, too. I don’t care if you’d rather walk barefoot over shards of glass than talk to me. I don’t care if you’re tired or unhappy or drunk.

I hope I make myself clear: I don’t care.

When it comes to your leaving me a message, all I care about is a clearly spoken phone number.

Give me your phone number slowly, please, at least twice, please. No slurring, no racing, no whispering.

To choose to do otherwise is to raise my ire. I understand that this is amusing and entertaining to imagine. How exciting: a red-faced Susan, spitting uncontrollably in her outrage. But I hate growling at my phone. I hate gesticulating and snarling unprintable words at my phone.

In the scheme of things, I agree, this is minor. We’re surrounded by calamities so appalling (insert appalling calamity here) that sometimes we feel powerless to do anything about them. But this problem, at least, is fixable, and easy communication is the result of fixing it.

Easy communication is a good thing. And I have provided you a blueprint to ensure easy communication. You can solve the problem of slurred phone numbers.

If the shoe fits, choose to do something about it.


Susan Rushton’s opinion column appears regularly in the Auburn Journal. Her email is