Cancer of the phone

It’s 8:45 in the morning. The phone rings. I don’t answer, knowing the odds are excellent that the caller is someone I’ve never seen in my life. After two and a half rings, the phone switches to answering machine mode. I wait to hear if there’s a message from a person who actually knows me. There isn’t. Only silence. Just as I suspected. Once again, my screening program has paid off. I am spared from chatting with a phone mill zombie who is out to wrangle a Visa card number out of me so as to support mentally unstable reggae drummers.

On those rare occasions when an actual friend or relative is on the line (and yes, I’m one of those rapidly disappearing troglodytes who still has a land line. OMG!), I will pick up and greet them as I’ve done for seemingly geologic eons. Often, the caller will say, “Aha! You’re screeening your calls!” To which I’ll reply, “Well, duh! You mean you don’t?”

Of course they do. Of course we all do. I mean, how can you not be a total phone screener in these times? Especially during the hours of 4 to 7 p.m. weekdays? I’d guess off the top of my head that about 90 percent of the phone calls made to my house during the 4-7 zone are from script-reading phone droids calling to gently tap ye olde billfolde.

This modern reality, which has totally benumbed me into its complete acceptance, will at times make me think back on the old days, before phone machines and all these phone mill devils who constantly trigger them. Hey, all you young-ass whippersnappers out there in the Neon Babylon, dig this—years ago, in the dark, humid times before phone answering machines were invented, whenever the phone rang, the person on the other end actually knew you! And I mean 100 percent of the time! And we would actually run to the phone to pick it up before the caller hung up! This caller would not only know you, but talk to you about something, and you would actually know what he or she was talking about! No kidding! It all seems so … unreal. So utterly dream-like.

There’s an upside to being phonically assaulted on a daily basis. You can, should you choose, get some jollies by goofing on these desperate phone humps. “Mr. Dyke?” is a classic opener, one that makes me instantly suspicious that even a mildly interesting dinner invitation is not forthcoming. “How are you this evening?” “Not all that great,” I’d say, combing my brain for something snarky yet quasi-entertaining. “I can’t find my glass eye.” Or, “Not very well, I have to report to prison in the morning.” That usually freezes them on the spot, Mountain Dew can stuck to their thin, cracked, herpes-encrusted lips.

Now that I’ve written this column, I can’t remember: Why do I still have a land line?