The dog days of August haven’t been terribly hot, but I still sense a general desire to escape and loll about. Or am I projecting?
Either way, something light is in order. So let me share with you the “Tale of the Wrong Number.” Perhaps you can rescue a star-crossed couple.
Or you can laugh at my ineptitude and feel better about yourself. Either way, the reader wins!
Early one morning a couple of weeks ago, the landline rang. If it’s the landline, it’s either my mom, a sales pitch or a political robo-call.
If the voice is female and the accent Texan, it’s my mom. If the accent is generic American but the tone almost oratorical, I’m going to be hanging up on a political fundraising appeal.
If it’s unintelligible, it’s a sales pitch from some awful overseas call center.
This time, the accent said “call center,” but the speaker immediately identified himself as “Peter” and rushed headlong into some personal, friendly chit-chat.
When he asked a question and paused for an answer, I said, “I’m sorry — who did you say you are?”
“Peter! From the conference…?”
OK, I participate in a nonprofit group we all refer to as “The Conference,” and I figured it was my general grogginess at fault here, not enough caffeine absorbed yet, so I strung together some noncommittal but cheerful words and tried to fake it till I figured this out.
“It was so great to meet you,” he said.
“You, too,” I said, casting my mind back through the last few months’ meetings to try to retrieve a man named Peter. How had he gotten my number? Maybe the sign-in sheet?
“So what’s new with you?” he asked.
Since I thought we were talking about The Conference and thus community redevelopment, I gave him a light, brief update on what’s going on in my neighborhood — a big property successfully sold (almost) and grant applications just finished.
All the while I’m still thinking, Who the heck is this?
So I fished for information by politely asking, “And what’s new with you?”
“Well, I’ve moved to Brooklyn!”
“Really!” By this point the wracking of my brain was so loud it drowned out whatever explanation he gave for the move.
Then he must have thrown out some kind of invitation — I’m not sure because, again, the chaos in my synapses was overwhelming — but whatever kind of open-ended feeler it was, I failed to notice and respond.
Peter’s voice took on a muted tone — a little hurt and perplexed but still gamely trying. “Well, it was really great to meet you at the conference, Katie —”
“ — and (something something) —” He said goodbye and hung up while I was still registering that he thought I was someone else.
He hadn’t met me at The Conference, he’d met Katie at a conference, and he’s trying to reconnect, and I’m such an idiot that I’ve ended a budding romance!
Now the caffeine was kicking in. I’d call him back and explain — somehow without blaming his non-native accent — why it had taken me so long to realize he’d reached a wrong number.
I dialed *69 triumphantly, but alas! His phone blocks reverse calling.
How could I possibly fix this? How could I not have understood? Well, besides the accent, there was the general embarrassment — well-known to me — of forgetting people’s names almost as soon as I’ve met them.
Maybe he’d try again in a couple of weeks — he sounded like the plucky sort — and would dial the correct number and Katie would be thrilled to hear from him.
They’d meet for dinner, and he’d say he had been worried that she wasn’t interested because she was so stand-offish during their first call, and she’d say, “What first call?”
Then they’d get the whole wrong-number thing and laugh about a bewildered middle-aged lady somewhere still trying to figure out who Peter is.
Maybe he dialed just one wrong digit. I could try all the possibilities. 212-322-…, 312-322-… What is that — 90 possible numbers? A million?
I can no longer do such math.
In fact, maybe Katie gave him a wrong number on purpose, and I’ve accidentally done her a favor.
If you know a Katie in Pittsburgh who recently attended a conference, you might ask her or just laugh at my predicament. Anything to while away a few of summer’s waning minutes.
Ruth Ann Dailey: firstname.lastname@example.org