Press 9 to save

A voice-mail in-box fills up with an audio scrapbook of memories.

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"I tried to leave you a message, but your mailbox is full," a friend will say every now and then.

Shoot! I knew I had been getting close, but the reason I have 23 saved voice mails isn't because of all those important business calls or even the messages my mother will sometimes leave that are the equivalent of great works of literature read out loud in their entirety.

No, most of them are from Kate.

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My cellphone's voice mail has slowly become a kind of virtual scrapbook. Often it's unintentional. The time comes to press delete and certain messages just don't let you. They're too funny or special. So you roll them over, saving them for the future, even if it means having an absurdly cluttered in-box.

There's the time she called to congratulate me on some big news. Of course I'd save that. And there's the time she called to tell me how much she appreciated my taking an overnight bus to New York just to see her for an hour during a layover.

And the call I missed in the middle of the night saying, "Namaskara from India," in which she's whispering and she really does sound very far away. I've pressed 9 to save that one a hundred times.

But there's also the time she called me and left an entire message with a fake, vaguely Italian accent for no reason other than the fact that she was going through a phase where she enjoyed speaking in a fake, vaguely Italian accent.

And the time she called, at first seemingly complaining: "Man, I'm just sitting here on the couch and it's soooo inconvenient. Like I can't stay warm and read a book or even change the channel on the TV," she says. "I need a blanket with sleeves!!" Yes, a voice mail singing the praises of the Snuggie. What kind of person deletes that?

I've deleted hundreds of "Call me" messages. And dozens of "Can you get milk on your way over?" Yet I can't bring myself to get rid of even her better angry ones: "Hey, so I can see you but you're not answering your phone!!"

Come on, my hands were full. Laugh. Save.

I have no idea of the formula used to decide how long messages are saved for, but I swear I detect in the automated voice-mail lady's tone that she is becoming increasingly frustrated. "This message will be saved for 21 days" "This message will be saved for 51 days."

"Why don't you buy a tape recorder in the next 51 days?" Because I don't want to. Because my cellphone is portable and always with me and this is maybe the way technology should be used. So as the voice- mail box gets full, I perform a kind of triage. Sorry voice-mail message where Kate lists 14 ways I didn't pick up after myself at her apartment, something about you just doesn't strike me as timeless. It's the interesting, good ones I save. Voice mails are like any memories, you pick the good ones and keep 'em.

It's also a good way to look at my priorities. There's a 2-1/2-minute message in which my friend Toph recites an entire "Family Guy" quote until he is out of breath. Save. Unimportant work messages? Erase. This way I can spare a little room on there for Kate's messages. Because sometimes I like having to listen to a fake Italian accent before I find out what time that dentist appointment is.

If Kate reads this, I know she'll call. And I just might let it go to voice mail.

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