My friend Mike called on my cell phone last week. Although in today’s world, that would typically not be news. It’s just that he usually calls me on the house phone. When his name came up on my iPhone display screen, I was a little surprised.
“Do you know your voicemail is full?” he said.
“What voicemail?” I asked without thinking. I don’t usually save my cellphone voicemails, so it couldn’t be that.
“Your house phone,” he answered. “I just called and got a message that your voice mailbox was full.”
Full? How could that be? I barely use that landline. Other than Mike, the only other person that calls on that phone is my mother.
We have voicemail with Verizon, but it’s not like when you had an answering machine. In those days, a blinking light indicated someone had called and left a message. It was exciting when you saw that light blinking in the darkness. Someone called while you were out with important information that couldn’t wait for them to tell you in person.
We spent hours making the perfect outgoing message, even practicing until you got it exactly right. Some flirted with ridiculously long greeting accompanied by special effects or music. For the record, there was nothing worse than having to sit through an unbearably long greeting. By the time you got to the beep, you completely forgot what you had called for.
Answering machines were cool because they allowed us to “screen” calls and make snap decisions if you wanted to pick up or not. On the cellphone, you can “see” who’s calling (if they are in your address book), but you can’t listen to the message until after they recorded it. When you finally got around to hearing, it might be something like, “Hey, it’s Tony! I have ice-level tickets for the Islanders tonight! Ah, forget it. I’ll call Billy…”
While screening answering machine calls, you could pick it up as soon as you heard, “…tickets for the Islanders tonight…” and make-believe you were out of breath and just walking in the door. You NEVER admitted you were screening, but everybody did it.
Today, you get a unique “tone,” indicating you have a voicemail message. The flaw in the process is that you must pick up the receiver to hear the “special” tone. I don’t use our landline often, going a week or longer without picking up the receiver to make a call.
Turns out Mike was right. When I called the specific voicemail number and entered my PIN for access, I was told the mailbox had reached its limit of 20 messages.
Twenty messages? Who’s calling the house phone and leaving messages? I’ll tell you who, telemarketers.
I followed the instructions, pressing ‘1’ to access my messages, then ‘1’ again to listen to them. The robotic woman’s voice then instructed me to press ‘2’ if I wanted to save the message or ‘3’ to delete it. She then announced the date, time, telephone number and duration of the first message before playing it.
Apparently, I’ve been pre-approved for a new credit card. I immediately pressed ‘3’ to delete it. The voice confirmed the deletion, and to hear the next message, I should press ‘1’ again. The robotic woman went through all the particulars of the following message, then it began playing it. This process was repeated for each subsequent message.
Warranties for cars I didn’t own, appliances I didn’t have and politicians I wasn’t voting for.
Turns out, there were only two messages from people I knew. Mike left one a week ago informing me he was going to call me on the cell phone. Then my mother wanted to see if I had any onions. She was making sauce and wanted to invite us for dinner.
The message was more than two weeks old. No wonder I got yelled at me for not getting back to her…
Paul DiSclafani, a Massapequa resident, is a Press Club of Long Island award-winning columnist (2018, 2020) and an Anton Media Group contributor since 2016.