I was standing in the grocery line listening in on the conversation of the two women ahead of me. I could say that I “overheard” their conversation but that would be complete bullshit. I was totally listening in. One woman was explaining a dilemma she was having with her son. Her son used to call his mother once a week, always at the same time. She was convinced that he had her in his agenda because she can’t imagine him functioning without reminders. Last year, suddenly the calls stopped. The first time he didn’t call, she just figured he’d gotten busy with something else and that he’d catch her the next day. But the week went by and no call. Then the next week, no call. This continued until several months had now passed and she hadn’t heard from him. She went on to explain that she’d be racking her brain trying to figure out what she might have said or done because it wasn’t like him. I was standing there just itching to ask her why she didn’t turn around and call him herself to find out what was going on but for once I didn’t butt in to this conversation. Much to my relief, finally the other woman asks her this very question. Turns out she didn’t want to be the nagging mother so she refrained.
One day, eight months later, when he needed to speak to his mother, he tried calling but couldn’t get through. So he sent her an email asking her to call him. She did and he successfully received the call. After a brief conversation on the actual reason for his call, his mother had to ask what was going on. He replied saying that he was wondering the same thing and was surprised that she’d actually called him. He explained to her that he’d taken a chance with the email because he was convinced she was upset at him for something. As they tried to figure this one out, he mentioned to her that he’d been calling over and over again but kept receiving the same message telling him that she was unavailable to take his call. There was no option to leave a message, he couldn’t get to her voice mail. He would simply get the message and then the line would disconnect. She was confused about that at first because the message on her voice mail is entirely different than what he was claiming to be getting when he dialed her number.
As it turns out she had subscribed to a feature on her phone line that blocks any calls coming from unidentified callers. She was tired of receiving calls from “unknown caller” and “private caller” and was explaining that they are generally telemarketing calls. So she had taken the matter into her own hands, called up the phone company and has been paying a monthly fee to have those calls blocked. She thought it was brilliant, but there was a problem that she didn’t know about. Her son, who had decided that he didn’t want to be identified when he makes calls and wants to avoid the telemarketers as well, had chosen to subscribe to a different service from the phone company. The feature he pays for is to have his number unlisted which means that when he places calls from his home phone, his number shows up as “private caller”. His calls are therefore automatically blocked by his mother’s phone. It took them close to two weeks to figure out what was going on because he had forgotten about the feature he had added to his phone line. He would call his mother and on her end her phone didn’t even ring. On his end he would get a message saying that the caller he was trying to reach was unavailable. He had started to wonder if he’d said or done something. Was his mother either so incredibly busy now that she needed some service to tell people that she was unavailable rather than an answering machine, or she was pissed at him and blocking his calls.
Since then, when this woman’s son wants to reach her by phone, he sends her an email asking her to call and they have an arrangement for the weekly calls where she initiates the call so they can chat. Thankfully the woman ahead of these two women in the lineup had such a huge grocery that I got to hear the entire story.
As I was listening, it got me to thinking because I too never answer calls that come from unidentified callers pretty much for the same reason as this woman was explaining. They are mostly telemarketing calls with the exception of a very few people that I know who have unlisted numbers. Once I’d heard the punch line of the story, I did pipe in to let the woman know that I thought it was a funny story. It was a good reminder about how often things happen that are completely innocent and yet we react to the stories we fabricate in our heads about what’s going on. For over eight months this woman was angry at her son for something he didn’t intentionally do to her and he spent the same amount of time trying to figure out what he’d done when all it was in the end was a misunderstanding of the ramifications of the technological features they thought they’d purchased to make their lives easier.