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January 30, 2006

Me & Captain Steve

Me & Captain Steve
By Harley

Last week, I came out of my martial arts class, hopped in my car, and listened to a message on my cell phone from a voice I didn’t recognize.

“Steve,” the man said, “I need you to call me. I’m having a hard time getting hold of you.”

Well, no wonder. Didn’t the caller find it odd that Steve would have an outgoing message that said, “Hi, this is Harley”?

Whatever. Being the goodie two shoes that I am, I called the man to tell him that he had not in fact
reached Steve.

“This isn’t Steve’s number?” he asked.


“Captain Steve Lord?”


“This isn’t 310 blah blah blah, blah blah blah blah?”

“Yeah,” I said, “That’s this number, but there’s no Steve here.”

“Well, darn it, that’s the number he gave me.”

“Sorry. Hope you find him.”

He thanked me for going to the trouble of calling, and hung up. And that was that.

Until three nights later. Again, I came out of Krav Maga, again came the call. This time I, not my voice mail, answered.

“Captain Steve Lord, please,” said my caller.

“Hi, this is me again,” I said. “The person who’s not Steve.”

“Captain Steve’s not there?”


“Are you sure?”

I looked around my car. “Yes,” I said, “I don’t know any Captains.” Besides Captain Kangaroo, Cap’n Crunch, and the Captain and Tenille.

“You don’t know Steve Lord?”

“I don’t even know a Steve,” I said. “At least, not well enough to share a phone with.”

“But I reached him at this number yesterday.”

A vision entered my mind, of some guy in a sailor suit breaking into my car as I walked my twins into preschool. Just to use my phone.

“And you don’t have a boat in the Marina?” my caller asked.

“No. No captains, no boats, I live inland, I’m a writer, and—”

And here’s where it turns into an ONLY IN L.A. moment.

“You’re a writer!” he cried. “What do you write?”


“Perfect! I’ve got three—no, four novels I need written, and I don’t have time to write them. But they’re great. One’s a period piece, a historical thing—I’m also doing a western that I can see as a mini-series, maybe a feature. And then I have a screenplay that’s action/adventure, but I want to write it out as a book—”

“You’ve certainly got the genres covered,” I said. Except sci fi and romance, which is maybe where
Captain Steve comes in.

“Yeah, I’ve got a lot on my plate. You interested in writing any of them? You’ve gotta write fast, though.”

“No, I’ve got a two-book deal and three small children,” I said. “But thanks.”

Now, at this point—okay, maybe long before this point—a normal person would’ve hung up. But suddenly I had this thought that if this guy was on the level, Bob in my Writers Group might be interested. Bob can write fast. Bob can write screenplays, novels, you-name-it, any genre. Yes. I actually entertained that thought. It’s the same genetic quirk that’s had me participate in pyramid schemes, chain letters, séances, romances with Unlikely Men, and 40-mile trips to see the Portrait of the Weeping Blessed Virgin Mary Whose Eyes Follow You Around the Room.

I did come to my senses, but not before jotting down the home and cell phone number of J.T. Magee. So if any of you out there have been waiting for someone to ask you to write a book, this is your lucky day.

And Captain Steve, if you’re reading this? Get your own cell phone.

Happy Monday!


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"I have books I need you to write?" As in, "I have the idea, all you have to do is write it, we'll split the money 50/50?"

Did this guy have any realisitic expectation that someone was going to take him up on it?

Or I am off base? Was this spec work?

Just curious...

Harley, you crack me up. I'll do that whole helpful thing, too, and then wonder just when it was my brain leaked out and no one mentioned it.

Although, a few weeks ago, I got a wrong number, but when the guy asked for the other guy, I repeated the name back to him because it was an acquaintance of mine. Not a close friend, but I did know where he could be reached. Which was a first.

The wrong numbers I hate are this old woman who's calling for a friend of hers named Betty. Apparently, Betty is constantly late and forgetting things and it's this woman's job to call and remind her. She gets real annoyed with Betty when Betty forgets things because, as she said in her message, "I've called you and called you each time and you still forget, so don't forget this time." In spite of the fact that I call her back each time and tell her she didn't reach Betty. Again. I'm thinking of leaving some sort of 'house of porn' message on there just to make her quit calling.

Harley, that was a funny story.

Toni, "house of porn" message is sure to cause the children's teachers or the parish priest to call--for the first time ever--the way that carrying an umbrella keeps it from raining.

Harley, this may be the best "Have I got a story for you to write!"

Our phone # is one digit different from the old AAA number. It's those elderly folks who call at 3am needing a tow during a snowstorm that tug at my heart. I can't hang up either.

What a great story, Harley. At our old house, we used to get calls late at night for "The Cornfield." We assumed it was some sort of dive bar, but we never did find out. It may have been connected to the other Meryl Neiman in Pittsburgh, the guy, who has some friends in bad places. I had to reject the collect call for him from prison.

But my best wrong number story is when I inadvertnetly dialed the wrong number for a friend of mine. The woman who answered became very suspicious when I asked for Julia. I explained I had dialled the wrong number and hung up. Then she called me back using caller ID. She was very belligerant and wanted to make sure I told Julia to stay away from her man. I said Julia didn't know her man; Julia was happily married. She asked if Julia was a white girl. I told her Julia was from Brazil.

Okay, I'm pretty sure The Cornfield is from that old Twilight Zone episode where the little boy has the power to send "bad" people (i.e., anyone who doesn't do things his way) to The Cornfield. Which is probably why I waited years and years to have kids. And Mike, I have no idea what JT had in mind in terms of money. After 5 minutes on the phone with him, whatever he was offering wasn't going to be enough.

I once got a very distressing wrong number. I came home to a message from a very sincere sounding young man, apologizing for having behaved so horribly, agreeing that she was right and asking her to fly to Florida with him for the weekend. Of course, he left no name or number.

My roommate was fairly upset by the whole thing, never knowing whether he tried calling her again, or if she went on the rest of her life thinking he was an ass. He sounded very nice on the phone.

My first phone number in Albuquerque was 1 digit off the number you could call to find out the time. I remember my ex stumbling to the phone in the middle of the night and mumbling "Um, it's about 3 in the morning. . ."

I am the persistently wrong number for a woman trying to reach her daughter. The woman somehow consistently misses punching in a piece of the area code, which gets her to my phone. I, too, call back to explain that she missed her daughter.

Harley, just a point of curiosity -- don't they talk about the broader aspects of self-defense in your Krav Maga class? As in, don't share personal information with strangers? Especially guys looking for Captain Steve . . . :)

Mary, THAT is material for a book. The sci-fi romance, maybe, that Captain Steve was supposed to write.

Back several years ago, I was working nights and had two very small children. I was trying to sleep and the phone rang.
"Uh, Mrs. Easley, this is Dave from Budwiser. Do you need any beer?"

Wow, what an offer.

Seems my number was printed in the phone book for the Easley store, a tiny little general store in a town of about 12 people. I wish I'd been awake enough to tell Dave, to just bring the truck on in and unload it. :)

I used to be a nicer person. I would talk to people who had the wrong number. That was before the Prayer Line.

Beginning in about 1999, a TV Prayer show got the same telephone number as our office - just a different area code. The first time we got the calls, we were patient. Then the prayer line people got belligerent. "Hey, I AM singing with y'all and now I want my prayer on TV!" Good grief. Those people got one verse of "Please double check the area code on the TV number" then they got the hang up. If they called back and kept yelling - and many of them did - they got me. Depending on my mood, I either gave them a bunch of things to pray about, or a lecture on manners. "I don't think Jesus liked rude people, do you?"

One of our secretary's threatened to start giving out the address of our local animal shelter and just telling them to send checks...

We're also one digit off from the Penn Hills Police. That's a story for another day.

We have the phone number that used to belong to the guy who was responsible for turning off the burglar alarm at Andronico's, a local schmancy grocery store. Androni's people always call at 3 a.m., with a really really loud bell going off in the background, making it difficult for them to hear us saying "HE DOESN'T LIVE HERE... WE'VE HAD THIS NUMBER SINCE 2001..."

Back in the mid 80's, when I was living outside of Boston, our phone # was one digit off from a local pizza joint. It became pretty routine to get calls from hungry enebriates for 'two extra large with onions and pepperoni' - especially on weekends. We finally just gave up, took the orders, and said, "okay...numbah twenny-two, fifteena twenny minute".
Now, I have a business # that is, apparently, very close to the number for Beer World, or something like that. I run a balloon delivery service out of my house (other than politics - I can think of no sillier way to earn a living). So, now - when someone calls for a delivery, I make sure they want balloons - not Bud Lite.

I've gotten several wrong numbers asking if I'd take collect calls from prisoners in the pen. (At least, I think they're wrong numbers.) I've had ladies call to leave rambling messages for people in their bridge group, and one called last month to make a doctor's appointment. My grandfather used to answer their phone, "Imo's Pizza"--a St. Louis institution--because their number was a digit off. He, too, took pretend orders before he hung up. I know he got a charge out of it, but it freaked out my college boyfriend when he called there over Christmas one time. Harley, does Captain Steve do day tours? I'm thinking the Book Tarts might need a relaxing deep sea fishing trip one of these days.

Are we talking about fan mail from prisons yet? Because I have some good ones from my days as a romance writer.

Hey Harley- I'd like to have champion show dogs. Would you train them for me, and clean up their messes, and take them to the competitions and give me the trophies? I mean, it's only fair, seeing how it was my idea.

(One of the dorms at my college had a phone number that was one digit off the Altadena police station. I leave it to you to imagine how that turned out.)

Susan, what makes you think those prisoners had the wrong number?
Daisy, of COURSE. Send those puppies over. When it comes to dogs and small children who are not, uh, paper trained yet, the more the merrier, I always say.
Yes, we can certainly move on to the fan mail from prison stories at any time.

Pyramid schemes and chain letters? Oh man do we have to schedule an intervention. or at lesat not let you out by yourself sweets. Those "I have a book that needs to be written, could you write it, I already have the ideas" is the oldest tiredest rudest one around. It's a book signing standard I've heard for YEARS - these people who think "coming up with ideas" is the hard part and "writing" is the easy one. But since one of these days I'm going to ask you a favor, it's so GREAT to know how easy you are!
wrong phone numbers - the friend whose home number was one off from the local tiny movie house; well before automated stuff, people would call to find out what 3d level flim was showing. Since the theater was actually up the street from rosemary's house, when she was feeling nice (which was usually, wonderful person) she'd go check and after saying "you have the wrong number but here...." would give the info.
The one that I never figured out - was she a hooker or a dealer - was the one I'd get calls for for YEARS after getting a phone number in Berkeley where polite, relatively-young sounding men would call and ask for let us say, "Roberta". I'd tell them Roberta doesn't have this number any more (you learn to try that after you gert a bunch of these) and they'd always be so polite, apologize for bothering me and "have a good evening, ma'am." Well, nowadays I might sound ma'amish, but Ididn't back then; the only time I was ever "ma'amed" previously was when I'd call my boyfriend at the Coast Guard Academy (my college was across thes trett, it was a weird time) and the poor freshman schhuck who had to anser the phone would rattle off whatever "United States Coast Guard Academy, somethingsomethingsomething, may I help you sir?" And I'd say "well, you could stop calling me sir..."
Anyway, I decided without really ever provingit that Roberta's number was passed around among sailors because the calls would come all at once then stop for months. At the time,I was living in Berkeley, not far, mind you, from Alameda and I decided the boys would get to port and call this number they had been given "for a good time".
i met one good friend thanks to a wrong number; After getting 2 calls on the voice mail for Left Coast back in '97 (just a voice mail, not a real phone or nuttin' but a separate number from our personal phone) that sounded important (but of course no one left numbers to call back) and listening closely, I determined his name, which was not of the John Smith" variety and looked him up. And there it was - his number was LCC's with the last 2 digits reversed. So I called him and he said "oh, I'e been meaning to call you!" "Did you get some messages that we should have gotten?" "No, I'm the mystery reviewer for the Seattle Times." And that's how I met the interesting, very nice and charming Adam Woog who lives not far from me. Cute, huh?
Hey Harley, did you hear they've found an image of the Virgin Mary in an onion bagel in a small Texas town?

I keep getting calls for the people who had my phone number before me. Mind you, I've had this number for two and a half years now. But that doesn't stop the collection agencies from calling.

They call and leave message after message on my machine. I erase them. Eventually, they happen to catch me at home. I tell them John and Rebecca don't have this number and haven't for years. They tell me they'll remove me from their list.

Then it all starts again a couple months later.

They always claim they have never called me before, but it sure sounds like the same woman every single message every single time.

And the best part? My answering machine message is, "Hi, this is Mark...."

Of course my favorite "wrong number" call was from years ago. A cold call from a realtor asking if I wanted to sell my residence. I just started laughing because I was in college living in a dorm at the time.


I used to get wrong numbers on my cell phone because I originally got my phone from a co-worker who transferred his corporate cell phone account to me. His friends and relatives seemed to have refused to update their address books, so I got more calls for him than for me. Then there was someone who tried for weeks to fax something to my cell phone. I resorted to writing "this is a cell phone, not a fax number" on a piece of paper and faxing it to the number that was on my caller ID.

But my parents had a really bad wrong number situation. They live in a very small town where there had always been just one phone exchange (the first three numbers after the area code). When the town got big enough to add a new exchange, it was only different by one digit. Then a Mexican restaurant opened, and its phone number was my parents' phone number, but on the new exchange. It was the only 24-hour restaurant in town, and they did take-out and catering. So my parents started getting phone calls at every hour of the day and night for that restaurant. At first, my parents thought it was just people assuming that all phone numbers in the town still started the same way, so all they had to do was remember the last four numbers, but then they looked up the restaurant in the local phone book, and the number printed in their ad was my parents' phone number.

So my parents called the directory and told them the number was wrong. The directory people said the restaurant had proofed the ad and approved it. Meanwhile, my parents tried to tell everyone who called to correct the number in the directory and gave them the right number. Then my parents called the restaurant to let them know what was going on. The restaurant didn't seem to care and was pretty obnoxious about it, and didn't so much as offer my parents a discount on a meal there to thank them for giving people the right number. So my parents started giving a curt, "Sorry, wrong number" to people who called, especially when they started recognizing voices of people who'd called that number multiple times. There were people who argued with my parents about the number and even some who thought my parents should have given their number to the restaurant -- although my parents had that number for twenty years before the restaurant opened. The next directory came out, and the number was still wrong. I learned that ordering enchiladas when I called my parents was not considered funny.

Fortunately, the restaurant went out of business after a few years, possibly because catering customers couldn't find it due to the number always being wrong in the local phone directory.

Shanna, your parents missed a fabulous opportunity for a lawsuit!
As for the Blessed Virgin in an onion bagel, I used up my Religious Icon in Bread quota when they found Mary in the Grilled Cheese Sandwich. Now that's one I would've paid to see.

Well, I don't know if you can see it, but you can read its blog:


A friend of mine, a longtime writer, actually wrote a book for someone. Just some guy he met. Guy said, "Hey, I've always wanted to write a novel based on my life -- can you write it for me?"

So my friend did. For a price. Don't know what the price was, but the guy was rich, so...

I can't believe I'm now competing on some level with a Grilled Cheese Sandwich. Even a sacred one.

Harley, my parents did make lawsuit threatening noises, but soon after that, the restaurant and the directory company went out of business, so it probably would have been more trouble than it was worth.

I like to think karma was at work with both unresponsive businesses going under that way. Or maybe they knew they were sunk if there was a lawsuit, so they ran away in fear. Now the only wrong number calls my parents get are people who haven't yet figured out that the restaurant is no longer in business.

You'd think the phone company would have realized the possible problems inherent in making the second phone exchange in town be 881 when for decades the only one had been 882. If the new one had been something like 373 there would have been much less confusion.

My sister actually won a bunch of money in a Sorry, Wrong Number lawsuit, but that's her story to tell, not mine. (Annie? Are you lurking?)

Harley, I was beginning to think this kind of thing only happened to gorgeous 6' blondes (ever heard some of Twist Phelan's stories?) - but then I read the other comments.


The worst wrong number I used to get was when I lived by the Medical Center in San Antonio. My phone number was similar to that of one of the area psychiatrists, who had patients in a local psychiatric facility. They were always calling and leaving messages, asking if patient X or Y could have weekend leave. After several calls from me trying to rectify, I just started deleting them.

And yes, the Evil!Me did consider calling them back to okay the leave...or not. ::g::

Do I sense a theme for a novel here?

Sarah, if so, you have to split the proceeds with J.T. Magee

Mark? We had that same problem - a phone number that had belonged to a deadbeat who kept using checks with our phone number on it. What was nasty was that he bounced little checks on little local businesses in the University District. What's awful was when the creep hit someone's car with his; someone got his license plate and gave it to her. She contacted the cops; they gave her the information they had - with our phone number. It was SO hard trying to convince this poor upset woman that the COPS had made a mistkae. NO REALLY! And it doesn't matter if you say your name - people ignore them. But it has led me from time to time to leave answering machine messages that say "if you are calling for Joe Slobovnick, he does not live here and we will not return your call" (most recently that was for "Jeffrey Shechter" - no, not every Shechter knows ever other one. Nor are we all related. SIGH.)
The sad one , a rdally and truly sad one was the man with serious Alzheimer's who kept calling us for a while because like 30 years ago, his son's phone number was ours. Yrying to deal with him rationally was so painful and impossible. Stu once spent like 20 minutes talking to him, and he called the next day asking for his son. We did a *69 as i recall and got where he was calling from. Then I sat down and tracked the prefix to a town nearby and called the police and explained NOT that we were being harrassed but we were seriously worried that this man was in harm's way - alone, clearly non compos mentis. And lemme tell ya, was I ever grateful when they called me back a couple days later to tell me they'd tracked the phone number and the man - and he was in a care facility. We spoke with someone there - yes, he had a son and he was well looked-after. Later we had to arrange to get our phone number blocked from their phones because he continued to find a free phone every so often and call and I simply could not cope.
So Sarah - what the heck can you do with THAT story?

There used to be a pizza chain in San Francisco called The Front Room. I worked swings at UCSF, and we had plans to go out for pizza after work. So, I dialed what I thought was TFR's number. After about six rings, a sleepy voice answered.
"Is this The Front Room," I asked. Long pause.

"No, this is the bedroom." LOL! The poor man.

Why didn't he hang up? Why didn't he get mad? He just seemed very, very confused. Naturally, I apologized.

For that matter, why did I even ask when it was pretty clear I had a wrong number?

I got a call like that ..twice.. once from someone looking for someone with the same exact name as mine, which is not smith or jones, and there really shouldn't be another one of outside of my family.. the only difference is that the last 3 letters are flipped around.. a guy that she had once dated was going to be on a layover at the atlanta airport and wanted to meet for drinks.. I had this vision of long lost lover sitting at the bar waiting for the girl that never showed.. so I called him and let him know he had the wrong gal..
a few years later, she was listed in the phone book so I gave her a call and let her know I had some really old messages for her.. we are somehow connected though.. through new england.. and to this day weird things will come up.. we used the same closing attorney to buy a house in different parts of the city.. used the same termite inspector.. just bizarre things like that..
so who knows.. maybe someday you will run into the Captain.. and you can tell him he owes you for some incoming calls on your cell.
peace ..biscuit

All I can say is that there is a very interesting parallel universe out there, with our phone numbers issued to an eclectic bunch. Who knew?

Andi - I don't know what you do with that story, but I'll borrow it - thanks.
Is it any wonder that Alzheimer's is the most freaking painful disease?

While this one's deliberate, rather than accidental, it was triggered by Harley's comment about our parallel universe. Knew someone years ago who had a phone but didn't list it in her own name - it was, I no longer know why, a separate phone from her regular one. No one called her on it or was supposed to (before we needed second computer lines or whatever) but it was listed, as I recall, in the name of Miles Archer. So when it rang inevitably a wrong number or sales cold call, she would pick up the phone and rather frantically say "Sam? Sam is that you? Hurry, I think Miles knows about us!" and then slam down the receiver.
Those who don't get it havent read enough Dashiell Hammett. Of to the library with you. The book's called the Maltese Falcon. Then go see the Bogart version.

BTW, yesterday I got another Captain Steve phone call, this one coming in at 11:34 pm, from a tearful woman. Hmm.

Did the J.T. Magee calling you want you to answer to 'bright eyes' and tell him you loved him as you listen to him .... er...

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