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When my home phone rings, or my cell phone, the caller I.D. forewarns me who’s on the other end. I admit: Sometimes I don’t answer! (Oh, relax: I always answer if it’s you calling … especially if it’s on my cell phone; after all, only a select few have that number [read: anyone who’s ever asked for it].)

At work, though, there’s no screening of calls, so pretty much anyone who feels the need to call me, can. And does. Sometimes it’s over something I’ve written — like the time the old woman called me to complain about a column in which I’d used the term “old fart.” She wasn’t upset about me referring to senior citizens as “old farts,” however: She was pissed that I’d dared to use the word “fart” in the newspaper!

She ranted for a while, so I offered the closest thing I could think of to an actual apology: “Well, I’m sorry this upset you so much.”

“Huh!” she scoffed. “You don’t sound like you’re all that sorry about what you wrote!”

“Oh, I’m not sorry about that,” I admitted, “but I do wish I hadn’t upset you by writing it.”

(And that I wouldn’t have had to listen to you complain about it for the last 10 minutes!)

I had a similar phone call from a guy who owns a liquor store across town and the car wash on an adjacent lot. A few days earlier, when I’d walked over to the drive-up window to get change for the car wash (because the change machine was broken, and I was trying to wash my car! [said in Pee-Wee Herman, “I’m trying to use the phone!” tone o’ voice!] ), the girl working in the liquor store refused to give me any change … so I wrote a column about it. The owner, too, was unimpressed by my quasi-apology, but I couldn’t exactly say I was sorry I’d written something when I wasn’t. And: I wasn’t! The girl should’ve given me change!

Then there was the guy who called simply to gripe about my sports coverage — or lack thereof, as he saw it. Nevermind that the coach of the team had not once bothered to provide any statistics from the games; I suppose he assumed I could invent the results, utilizing my mad, magical skills?

“Your sports coverage is horrible!” the man yelled. “In a word: It sucks!”

Complete silence on my end; after all, “It sucks!” was, in fact, two words.

“That was two words, wasn’t it?” the man asked.

“Yeah, it really was.”

Conversation over. No way in h-e-double-toothpick was I going to apologize to him!

Yesterday, an elderly woman called regarding some kind of mix-up regarding payment for an obituary. For once, this wasn’t about something I’d written; matter of fact, it basically had nothing to do with me, aside from me being the person who had taken the obit information in the first place. Nevertheless, I got to listen to her gripe for about 10 minutes.

I had her laughing by the end of our chat, though, by which time the conversation had turned toward her own funeral plans. She said she’d considered cremation, then had decided against it, then thought she might go ahead and do it; either way, she’d have to let Bruce the Funeral Director know what her plans were because she’d already pre-paid for her funeral.

“Ah, it’s OK, you’ll never know what he does one way or the other. You’ll be long gone by then!” I told her.

“Oh, yes, I will,” she assured me.

She went on to tell me how she plans to stick around for such matters — and also how she’d planned to take matters into her own hands (literally) had she been the one to die before her husband did.

“I told him to make sure if I died and he remarried, he bought a new bed,” she told me, “because if he didn’t, every time he got an erection, I was going to put my cold hands around his penis!”

How do you respond to a statement like that?! (I think I told her I had a call on Line 2 [which I didn’t] or that I had to go take a picture [which I did, but not for another 15 minutes or so] or something.)

March 2007
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