Over the weekend, for reasons too silly to get into, I decided to change my phone number. It was a surprisingly emotional process. I have had this, my first phone number, for some twelve years, and there was something bittersweet about abandoning the area code of my parents’ suburban home. A great deal of the difficulty, however, arose from my own incompetence, a faulty Internet connection, and a confusing and ancient family plan. Long story short, I accidentally changed my dad’s number instead. The result was a small transcontinental panic, a volley of hysterical phone calls, and several confusing texts from my friends, each of which my dad apparently greeted with a suspicious “whoisthis?”
I was sure some enterprising suburbanite would snap up my dad’s abandoned 914 number before I could reclaim it, and my anxiety only grew as the automated voice on the customer-service line cheerily informed me that there was an unusually high call volume and the estimated wait time was eighteen minutes. I bit my nails and refreshed my browser every few minutes to find out if anything new had happened in the news, if, for example, we had sent troops into Ukraine. On speaker, the voice droned on about various mobile plans.
In the meantime, I took a call from my dad. “We’re very concerned,” he said. “Do you have a stalker? Is that why you’re changing numbers?”
“No. I don’t want to get into it. It’s complicated,” I said. “I just need a new number. And you have to stop watching the murder channel.”
“We can’t. The murder channel figures very prominently in our rotation. And every time a young woman is killed, we discuss the odds of the same thing happening to you.”
“No one’s going to murder me.”
“They all think that.”
At eighteen minutes and thirty-eight seconds, I was taken off hold. And the woman who answered, whom I will call BobbySue, was remarkable. “This is a pickle,” she said, with a heavy southern accent. “But we’re going to fix it.” The fix proved challenging. Several things didn’t work. The number was in some kind of limbo. It belonged to a different carrier. We couldn’t reverse the process. Various departments were contacted, in vain. Minutes turned into an hour. I was beginning to despair. “Don’t give up!” she said. “I’m going to try something we’ve never done before.” And she disappeared for fifteen minutes. “Don’t think I was just cooling my heels,” she said when she came back on. “I’ve been manually searching through every 914 number available … and I found it!”
“Oh, bless you, BobbySue!” I said. “I hope this call was monitored for customer-service purposes! Is there someone I can call, to compliment your work?”
“Hush, it’s my job!” she said. “Now I’m just going to call your dad and make sure it works.”
Fifteen minutes later, she called back. “Your dad is just as sweet as sugar,” she said. “We had a nice talk.”
I thanked her again, profusely, and went to make my bed. A few minutes later, my phone rang—curious only because no one yet had the new number.
“This is BobbySue,” she said. “I was just looking through your dad’s records, and I’m very concerned—there’s no password on his voicemail.”
“Oh,” I said. “Well, I’ll … encourage him to add one. Thank you for letting me know.”
“People think it’s not important,” she said. “But I’m here to tell you the truth. Teenagers can get into your mailbox and leave ugly outgoing messages. And you don’t even know they’ve done it. And they say very ugly things. Very ugly.”
“Well, I’ll certainly tell him,” I said. “Thanks—”
“That’s not all.” she said. “They can also erase important messages from your mailbox. Frankly, it happened to me.”
“Well, that’s awful,” I said. “Thank—”
“It almost cost me my life,” she continued. “You see, there was a threat against my life. A murder attempt. I’ll call your dad and tell him how to do it.”
“That’s so kind, but it’s really above and beyond the call of duty,” I told her hastily. “I’ll be sure to tell him, and I’ll emphasize the … the risks.”
“Be sure you do,” she said darkly.
I called my dad and related the conversation. “Put the password on,” I said. “Or you might get murdered. Or, I guess, miss the call warning you of the murder. Not sure.”
“Yeah, I don’t need that,” said my dad. “No point in descending to paranoia.”
The call was interrupted by the beep of a text message. “This is BobbySue,” it read. “I don’t want this experience to frighten you out of using self-service options. There is almost nothing we can’t figure out together.”