Sunday, October 24, 2010

Hello There in Tucson: Part IV

(continued from previous post)

Oops, my error. Hanging up on Ms. Hello Hello was a really dumb move. Why, oh why, did I do that? I guess it was the shock of recognition. I don’t know what I expected, but I never expected her to answer the phone.

Ms. Hello Hello always called during the day, when no one was around. Well, OHM suspected there was a party in progress. Maybe Ms. Hello Hello chugged down a couple margaritas and got up the courage to call us from a friend’s phone. Maybe she figured that she could finally speak to a real person. On the other hand, maybe she figured that 9:30 p.m. was a good time to play phone games and annoy the heck out of us.

By Sunday morning, I figured that I didn’t have anything to lose, so I called Bina. On the first try, I got a busy signal. On the second try, I got Bina. I expected her to deny any knowledge of the calls or to hang up on me. However, she seemed willing to hear me out.

I explained that someone apparently had called my house several times from her phone on Saturday night. She hesitated and then asked if I was in Arizona. When I told her I was, she said she had been trying to call her boyfriend in Arizona and guessed that she had dialed a wrong number.

“Three times?” I asked. She hesitated again, so I took the direct approach and said, “When I called your number last night, the woman who has been leaving hello, hello messages on my phone for the last few months answered your phone.”

“Well, I don’t know anything about that,” she said. I asked if she had been at a party. “I was at a nightclub.” Okay, so Bina had a cell phone. Some people are a little careless about leaving their cell phones lying around. Maybe Ms. Hello Hello had grabbed the phone and made the calls when Bina was occupied elsewhere.

However, Bina knew that the calls had been made to Arizona. So I was sure she had at least a nodding acquaintance with Ms. Hello Hello. “If you think you might know this person,” I said, “please give her a message from me. Tell her to tell us what she wants or stop calling.”

For a while, there were no more messages from Ms. Hello Hello. However, several months later, there was another, barely audible, “Hello” message from someone who sounded a lot like her. Over the next four or five months, that woman left two or three also barely audible messages. At those times, I did not access *69 in an attempt to trace her phone number. I would have succeeded only in adding more extra charges to my phone bills. I also decided that, if she didn’t have the courtesy to talk to us, I couldn’t be bothered with her. If Ms. Hello Hello wanted something from us, she couldn’t have wanted it that badly.

Over ten years later, her identity and the purpose of those calls remain an unsolved mini-mystery. I never got to talk to Ms. Hello Hello, nor, to my knowledge, did anyone else in the household. Did she want a favor from us, or was she only trying to annoy us—and why? If she wanted something from us, if she had a valid request for help with something, I would have tried to help her.

And would I recognize her voice if I heard it today? You betcha!

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Hello There in Tucson: Part III

(continued from previous post)

We’ve always asked friends and family members not to call us after 9 p.m. unless it’s an emergency. So we were a bit apprehensive when the phone rang shortly after 9:30 p.m. one Saturday in May.

OHM picked up, barked “Hello,” and slammed down the phone. “Sounds like someone is having a party,” he growled. A few minutes later, the phone rang again. He picked up again. No one on the line again, same background noise. The third time the phone rang, I bounced off the couch, picked up the phone, hung up, and punched *69.

I guess miracles do happen—I got a phone number. I did a quick area code search and discovered that the phone number was located in Los Angeles. That was another surprise. We didn’t know anyone in Los Angeles.

I called the number and a woman answered the phone. I should have demanded “Okay, Ms. Hello Hello, who are you, and what do you want from us?” But I was so stunned that I hung up. A few minutes later, after I stopped freaking out, I called the number again. This time, the call went to a voice mail message from a woman with an accent who identified herself as Bina. Bina wasn’t the woman I had just hung up on.

Ms. Hello Hello didn’t have an accent.

(to be concluded)

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Hello There in Tucson: Part II

(continued from previous post)

In 2000, Tucson was probably the call center capital of the United States, if not the world. Many of those companies had set up shop in the airport area. During the week, I rode the bus surrounded by legions of call center employees. Out of curiosity, I asked a few of them if telemarketers ever left messages on answering machines. No, they did not. “Telemarketers can’t sell anything to answering machines,” one woman explained.

Our second caller, the woman with the giggles, called once for sure—possibly twice. I know she didn’t dial a wrong number because she asked for OHM by name. Well, maybe she was a volunteer calling from her home on behalf of a local charity. That could explain the children chattering in the background.

The first caller was more persistent. Every couple of weeks, for over two months, she left the same repeated one-word message on the answering machine during the day. I nicknamed her Ms. Hello Hello.

If she wasn’t a shy or nervous newbie telemarketer, then who was this person with the soft, almost musical voice and very limited vocabulary? More important, how did she get my unlisted phone number? Every time I found a message from her, I punched *69, hoping to get her phone number. All I got were extra charges on my phone bills and a recorded message that announced: “The last number called cannot be reached.”

One friend suggested that I change my phone number. A coworker thought I should complain to the phone company. Complain about what? The phone company’s CSR would have laughed at me. The greeting “Hello, hello” wasn’t threatening by any stretch of the imagination. However, by the end of April, I was sure that this woman thought she was playing games with someone. I just didn’t know if it was with us.

I couldn’t think of anyone we’d offended recently. Maybe someone purposely gave Ms. Hello Hello a wrong number. Maybe she wrote the right number down wrong. Or maybe she thought she was calling the person who had phone number before I did.

The calls were annoying, but they didn’t freak me out. I didn’t want to change my phone number, but I wasn’t looking forward to listening to her messages forever. I figured if I kept punching *69 after I heard her voice, I would eventually get a phone number.

And I did.