When it comes to telephone technology, I've made two decisions I have lived to regret. The first was signing up for call waiting (better named call interrupt); the second was getting a toll-free number.
The rationale for call waiting was that the kids would be able to get through in an emergency. In fact, the only calls that it seems interrupt my conversations are from people trying to sell me insurance, extended warranties, extermination services, and the occasional dance lesson - none of which warrant being rude to the patient soul on hold.
My 800 number is another matter. It appears on all my printed matter, my website, and my promotional materials, all very important since I am self-employed. I can't even begin to think of changing it - as it seemed might become necessary because of a nightmare we endured recently at 19 cents a minute.
It started when we began receiving calls at all hours of the day and night from Spanish-speaking strangers who thought they had reached customer service for their malfunctioning calling card. The typical conversation went something like this:
"Hola! Customer Serveeece?"
"No. What number are you calling?"
"Ocho, zero, zero ... nuevo, ocho, quatro ... uno, tres, seis, siete."
"Sorry, wrong number."
"Pero, mi carta say...."
"This is my personal business line. You need to call your company and tell them it's the wrong number!"
"Aye! OK, gracias!"
We soon began asking where the caller was located, and a clear pattern emerged: Except for a few calls from Ecuador and points south, our telephone intruders were all phoning from Florida. We then called our service provider, and that's when the real nightmare began. It seems that it had sold the number our Latino friends were calling to another company, which in turn had sold it to a third company, which had somehow managed to have their 800 number jump a few circuits to link into ours.
After several conversations between the three companies (where we were temporarily accused of lying until we produced our phone bill with 56 calls from Florida on it), we were told, happily, that there was a solution. All calls from Florida could be blocked on our 800 line.
"Great!" we cried, facing the prospect of a phone-free, feliz weekend.
Pretty soon, the only calls we received were from Florida, and not coincidentally, from people whose English skills were marginal.
"Hola, Customer Serveeece?"
The scary thing is that a few of these intruders, when asked what number they wanted, actually gave our own precious 10 digits. This suggested that in addition to the problems we were having with official phonedom, we had also had our number scammed!
We realized that a terrible reversal had occurred when our kids tried to reach us from Connecticut and Massachusetts. All calls had been blocked coming into our number except those coming from Florida!
This error was confirmed after the weekend when my irate husband contacted our own Customer Serveeece. The situation, he was told, would be fixed immediately.
Not 10 minutes later, the phone rang again. It was a man with an accent. "Where are you calling from?" my husband asked, the color draining from his face.
"Houston!" my husband gasped. I looked at him in horror.
"Are you Spanish?"
"No. I'm Hungarian."
"Hungarian!" My husband heaved an enormous, fatalistic sigh. "What number did you call?"
"Oh, dear! I dialed 800 instead of the proper area code," the man said.
A huge grin broke out across my husband's waxen face as he explained our predicament to the stranger on the other end of the line.
It's been a while now since we've been mistakenly contacted - if you discount the call I got a few days ago from a charmingly accented gentleman who turned out to be my husband playing a prank (which it took me a lengthy conversation in Esperanto to figure out.) We grow ever optimistic, although an insider glance passes between us whenever the phone rings. Even the scammers have stopped interrupting our dinner or waking us up at night.
Nevertheless, to be on the safe side, if you want to reach us and you live anywhere south of Georgia, why not drop a note, and I'll have my people get back to your people - at least for the time being. It seems the best thing to do for now and surely you understand. OK?
Gracias, mis amigos!