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August 25, 2010

If You Please, Jeeves

Margaret Maron

DownloadedFile“I have a great deal of work to do today, Jeeves,” her ladyship said, gesturing toward a desk awash in papers and books and various writing instruments.  “Please see that I am not disturbed.”

“Very good, m’lady.”

Moments later, the bell rang.  Jeeves imperturbably answered and, upon being asked if the visitor might speak to Lady Margaret, he bowed politely and said, “I’m sorry, madam, but her Ladyship is not at home.”

A disappointed Mrs. Smythe-Jones said, “Please tell her I called.”

“Certainly, madam.”

The bell continued to ring throughout the day.  Although several did not wait for him to cross the marbled hall and open the door, to each of those who did, he gave the same answer.  Some gave him lengthy messages to relay, others merely left their names with the request that her ladyship be told they had called.  Many of those were not personal friends but strangers who pleaded for charitable or political support.

At the end of her busy day, Lady Margaret reviewed the messages Jeeves had handed her, dropped most of them into her dainty wicker wastebasket, and made plans to respond to those that were of personal importance.

“Thank goodnes for Jeeves,” she thought.

* * *

Okay, so I’m not a Regency heroine with a title and a staff to do my bidding.  But as a writer, I do need to keep my concentration, so I do have a Jeeves. I don’t have to buy him white gloves though.  All I have to do is make sure he’s switched on and that my telephone bell is switched off. 

In short.  I adore my answering machine.  It is my Jeeves, my buffer when I want to work, eat dinner in peace, or don’t feel like explaining to earnest and sincere  100_1147  charitable workers that I have my own charities to which I’m giving every spare dollar I can.  And don’t get me started on political callers. (Although, if I’m in the mood, I occasionally have fun with right-wing callers who think this ol’ yellow dog is of their persuasion.)

When the phone rings faintly in another room, I glance at my office phone.  If I recognize the name or number that pops up on the screen, I may answer.  Unidentified or 800 numbers?  Jeeves answers while I keep working.

I’ve played with various outgoing messages over the years, from long and detailed, to short and snappy (though I’ve never matched Nancy Pickard’s four-word brevity—“Here comes the beep!”) My current message is “You have ALmost reached the Marons. Please leave us a message.”

The other day, the phone rang.  It was an unidentified number.  The caller listened to part of the message and hung up.  Almost instantly, it rang again and this time, whoever it was (and I’m fairly sure it was the same person) listened to the whole message.  Then I heard a muffled and very puzzled voice say to whoever was beside him, “Who the hell are the Marons?”

Thank you, Jeeves.

What message is on your own answering machine and what’s the funniest / weirdest message you were ever left?


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I got an obscene phone call on my answering machine once. My next outgoing message ended with "oh, and if you are the person who left that MESSAGE...you know which one I mean...I turned the tape over to the police".

Two days later I'm listening to messages and hear a familiar voice say "oh shit".

I used to have a phone number one digit different than a bank. My outgoing message was me yelling over loud rock music saying I can't answer the phone I didn't hear it ring.

Some fool left a detailed message with all his banking information . . .

I also got to talk to a phone operator from Japan once, a very convoluted, heavily accented call trying to make her understand that there was no one at my house that spoke Japanese.

I always liked Joe Pike's outgoing message: "Speak." When asked about it, his reply was, "Intelligence test."

Well, my story isn't about a message I left. It's a message my father-in-law left. In 1996, one of my wife's uncles, one of the (two) Franciscans, died. My father-in-law was tasked with making some phone calls. In one call, he called my wife's brother who lived in a city a couple of hundred miles away, and whose answering machine he got. He left a message to the effect that "this is your father. Your uncle [Harry] died and there is a funeral at [the Cathedral or some named church on the West Side or somewhere] on Wednesday at 10." No return phone number given--why would you?

In less than a day, we got a call from my brother-in-law about the funeral, as he had heard about it through the grapevine. He had never gotten the message. My f-i-l had called a wrong number and left the message with a stranger.

My brother had the teenage classic "Hello? Oh hi! Mmhmm Yeah I'm not here so leave a message" on his cell phone for a while. We won't talk about how many times I fell for that.

I have had numerous numbers over the years that belonged to businesses before they belonged to me including an old pizza place, carpet cleaners, and a tire place but I have to say that my favorite was having the number of a man who was wanted for something to the point that after leaving 2 messages, a bounty hunter and police officers showed up at our house looking to see if we were harboring said man... Dad had fun with that one...

I don't have any good answering machine stories, but did once have a great conversation with the mayor of a very small town in West Virginia. I'd called him by accident because his number was one digit different from my mother's, but hung up before leaving a message myself. He had Caller ID and called me back, and we had such a nice chat he ended up inviting me to the town for their annual Fourth of July party.

this number only exists in your magination. please hang up and don't call back.

My daughter worked for a famous New York lobbyist and answered/made many phone calls from celebrities wanting to support the cause. Her favorite answering machine messages: A comedian whose show is still in re-runs says; "Here it comes!" And an actress who was married to the actor who didn't want Sam to play anything says in her famous low, mellow voice: "If you want to leave a message . . . *do.*"

My elderly aunt's message says: "How does this thing work? Which button do I push?"

Yet another case of technology taking good jobs. Caller ID, in this case. ;-)

When my grandfather was alive he used to prank callers, answering "Fire house" when he thought someone particular was calling. The last time he did it the caller excitedly reported a real fire, and Grandpa had the dickens of a time explaining his prank.

We used to have an answering machine, and it kept losing calls whenever the electricity went out, which it used to do all the time (come to think of it, the utility company must have done something to fix that, since it hasn't happened in ages). So we went to a voice mail system with the phone company, which works way better. Our community used to have only two exchanges; now there are a lot more, but oldtimers here still get confused. The other one for our number, just one number off, belongs to an insurance agent who specializes in people who've had DUIs. We used to get a LOT of calls--many in the middle of the #@%&#@ night--from slurring drunks who apparently got one phone call.

Here's the best message left of all time, I think. My husband's cell phone is one number off from an electronics store. Never mind that his voice mail message has his name on it, people still leave messages for the store. This one was so funny that he left it on his voice mail for more than a year so we could listen to it again and again (until I accidentally erased it). It was a woman, we think, ranting and raving, IRATE that her TV had not yet been repaired, and she wanted it RIGHT NOW, because, as she screamed, "I NEED MY PORNO!!!" Imagine this said in a rasping smoker's voice, heavy with a country accent.

A friend of mine does a spot on voice of Christopher Walken. He recorded my outgoing message informing callers to leave a message after the cowbell. (Google Christopher Walken SNL Cowbell sketch if you need more info.) I get many messages saying "I just called to listen to your outgoing message." I also get a lot of messages with plain old laughter. It makes me giggle each time.

Karen and Nancy, you truly made me laugh out loud.
Cornelia, your story reminded me of the time my mother exchanged pound cake recipes with a wrong number.
Judith, you're too clever by half.
Love all these stories. Just yesterday, I got a wrong number from someone who said she was called away and could I pick up their child? Fortunately, like Cornelia's mayor, I was able to call back and tell her she might want to get someone else to pick up her child since I didn't know what school to go to.

Our home voicemail says:

"If you called this unlisted number, you know who we are."

There was someone who was sued by Papa John's because his message was something to the effect of "You have reached Papa Don's, we have been closed by the health department. Please try again later." Yes his number was one number off from a pizza store. He had asked them to pay him the fee to change his number so he was not bothered by the wrong calls. He wanted about $50.00. The judge threw out PJs case, and ordered them to pay to have his number changed plus damages.

I love my voice mail at home. One day I may even find out whose calls starts with a machine putting my machine on hold. I am trying to picture someone dumb enough to be called and put on hold by a machine.

If you called a St. Louis radio station and dialed wrong too early in the morning a lawyer friend would say "That's right, you won! Come on down and claim your prize." until his wife made him stop.

Being retired, my DH and I seldom leave the house alone and go on errands or daily jaunts
Once in a while out of sheer boredom or routine we race to the answering machine and I will sometimes go into my Ma Kettle routine and say "Well, Pa, it looks like there's no messages on the new fangled machine."
Pa: "Yep, Ma sure looks like it. Yep, Yep".
Ma: "Don't know why you ever got yerself talked into buying that dolgonnit nuisance."
Pa: "Ya, Ma. Just think though you would have to wait till Sunday church to find out about Liucy's new calf and Willard's new piglet. Yep, Yep."
Ma: "Pa, stop being such an old fool and help me get the supper on, ya hear?"
Pa: "Coming, Ma."

My husband and I are both from Alabama and have the accents to prove it. We opt for the generic, came with the machine, answering message. Once we received a message that began with lots of road noise--then a voice that sounded like one of my husband's relatives said, "It must not be them--he didn't have a southern accent."

Yes, I always call back the wrong numbers. Seems like such a good beginning for a mystery, too, doesn't it?

I block my number from caller ID--I still think that's creepy. But someitmes you have to undo it to let the call go through. And then people answer the phone, "Hi Hank." I really cannot get used to that.

Plus, if you have caller ID, and people KNOW you have caller ID, then it's more likely that they'll figure you're ignorning them, which you might be. SO I think the whole caller ID thing is fraught with problems.

It's easy for me to ignore the phone ringing anonymously. But I can't ignore it if I know who it is. Then the guilt sets in.

(I wish I could steal "You have almost reached the Marons." That is so perfect!)

I actually had a boyfriend ask me to change my message on my cell phone to the automated one. AND this was before Tiger Woods.
My land line message is one my son recorded when he was 8 years old. He's 20 now and at college and hardly ever calls. Makes me weep every time I hear it.
Am I the only one who calls and leaves a reminder message for myself?

Nope, Xena. I do that all the time.

Hank, I know what you mean about Caller ID. Twice recently I answered the phone and said "Hi, Doug" to someone, who was SO confused about that. Wha? He's a lot younger than we are, too.

Sorta on topic, I have a separate fax line in my house and its number is one off from a medical office. I get faxes with some of the most personal/private medical information on them. I always try to call the doctors' office and tell them so they can resend the information to the right number. Then I shred the fax. But, sheesh, how scary is that?

Steal away, Hank. I promise not to call you!
Alan, doncha love it when the big guys learn they're not to big to be outsmarted?
Kathy, you and Joan Hess could be soul mates. Hers used to give the number and then in a disinterested voice. "If you want to leave a message, you may." No promise that she'd return your call.
And yes, Xena, I do that too!

I don't have cool outgoing messages on any of my answering machines. But I do still smile when I think about the last one I left on my (former) office phone: "Hi. This is Kerry Kilburn . . . I am no longer Chief Departmental Advisor, so if you have advising questions, please call . . ."

Yep, smiling as I type that :)

I receive bizarre messages from my doctor's office instructing me that if I am indeed,Marie "Press One."
"If you are able to take a message, press two."
And then they hang up because I am not there to take a message.
Go figure.

These are such funny stories!

Once, during a period when my life was woeful, I put up a message that said, "If you're calling with good news please leave a message; if you're calling with bad news, hang up now." But I decided that was too rude (as opposed to merely rude), and took it off.

I LOVE Caller ID.

When my parents finally broke down and got an answering machine, back in the late 90's, their message, composed and spoken by my youngest brother was :
"Carl's in the garden. Florence is driving bus. Leave them a message, and they'll get back to us."

Our outgoing message: "You've reached ... Leave your name and number ... If the dog answers, Bark!

My husband is constantly getting calls from a collection agency on his cell phone. We don't know if it's someone giving out a false number or his number is close to that of "Tony".

We didn't get caller ID until this past winter. I would have a hard time going without it now. I figure if those "unknown numbers" really want to speak with us they will leave a voice mail message.

I love caller ID. I don't have to get up to answer calls from people I don't know, and when my "you're-sure-to-be-on-the-phone-for-two-hours" sister calls, I can ignore it and call her back when I have that much time to talk. And at work, I can answer the phone when the boss is calling, but ignore everyone else so they leave a voicemail. :) We have our home phone service from the cable company now, so when the phone rings while we're watching TV, the caller name/number pops up on the TV screen.

I can't think of any great messages I've gotten. Dang. Most of ours are a recorded message from our local senator letting us know how much he's doing for us, or appointment reminders (which are sorely needed). I don't leave myself reminder voicemails, but I do email myself. ;)

What a fun subject today!

My sister Mary's says, "Hello. If you have good news, leave it after the beep. If you don't, leave it and . . . we might call you back."

This always makes me stop and think and leave whatever kind of news I have in an upbeat voice, with a good spin on it.

Remember the olden days, when all outgoing messages took up 60 seconds or some ungodly amount of tape, and you had to fill that silence with bad jokes, rock music, barking dogs, whatever . . . ? And people didn't know to wait for the beep, and you'd pick up their messages mid-sentence? "--but can you believe she's DEAD? So anyway, see you at the funeral. Bye."

Lol, Harley!

Back inside from the garden for a minute, putting on more insect spray. The mosquitoes are taking over!

Anyway, if you have not yet signed up to be removed from telemarketers lists, I strongly recommend that you do so. Our phone hardly ever rings anymore at dinnertime. It's bliss. Except for one thing: Politicians (sorry, Sarah). I DETEST robocalls, and wish they could be banned forever, and whoever dreamed up that stupid idea be sent to Hell, forced to answer the phone, over and over again for all eternity.

No surprise that Congress made a law that exempted themselves from it.

Hank, I try to remember not to answer by saying "Hi, Hank." Especially if it's not you. No, seriously, I do try not to unnerve people that way. If I do answer that way, it's because I think they're prepared for it.

One more thing--there's a bit of phone message etiquette I discovered that was reeeely awkward. My parents had my dad's voice on their message. He died. My mom didn't change the message. So for years people calling heard Clint's voice. This continued after I moved in with her, and I didn't know what to do about it! I knew it unnerved people, because they told me so. Either they were taken aback to hear a dead man talking, or they were taken aback to hear a man at all.

I know how stupid this sounds,but I just couldn't bring myself to suggest to her that we take him off. Finally, the old phone gave out, giving me the excuse to get new ones and change the message.

If this happens to any of you, I suggest that you be braver than I was!

Remember in A Thousand Clowns? JAson Robards answers the phone: "Is it someone with good news or money? No?" And then he hangs up.

I always thought that was terrific.

And yes, xena, I call myself and leave messages. ALL THE TIME. And I'm always annoyed to wait through my out-going message.

(Well, Margaret, then I won't do it. Because I WANT you to call me.)

A teacher in another district has the 477---- to match my 447---- and I get her calls frequently. I usually tell people how to correct their error and to "tell Cheryln hi from me." (We've never met). I did get tired of the early-morning snow day calls, escpecially after they switched to robo-calls. Director of personnel fixed that one for me.
Many years back my number was one off from a Discovery Zone children's play place. I fielded their calls so well that they gave me passes to take my niece on a playdate.
Cosmic Coincidence: My ex-MIL called me by accident, meaning to call my ex-BIL with a computer question. His wife is also named Mary.
Yes. . .
Mary ------?
No. Irene?
It turned out that I knew exactly what she should do for her computer. All those students of mine had managed to encounter almost every problem that can befall an Apple, so she had called the right number after all.

For a while, I was getting repeated calls from a collection agency. I could get no information, and they claimed there was "nothing we can do to stop these calls from our automated system." Then I contacted the NO Call number and was informed that debt collection is a different branch of the Attorney General's office and they would send me forms. The next call I told them that I had already contacted the A.G. about them and would add any future calls to my report . . . the calls stopped.

Back when we had a landline phone (we're all cellular now) I had an awesome answering machine from Radio Shack which would allow me to program individual outgoing messages for up to 10 different incoming phone numbers (from the Caller ID function) in addition to the standard OGM. The first one I programmed was for "unidentified caller" and went something like, "If you're a telemarketer, please hang up and put our number on your do-not-call list. If this is a legitimate call you're welcome to leave a message."

I also discovered that for some automated incoming calls (which I agree should be totally outlawed) that if I recorded 30 seconds of silence for the outgoing message it would confuse their machine and drop my number from their calling list. It worked almost as well as the phone company's "call block" feature which I would have had to pay for every month.

As a pizza guy, I literally bet my life on caller ID. I used to work in a less safe part of town. When caller ID was installed the manager sent a driver out with a fist full of quarters to every payphone (it was awhile ago) he could find. The driver called the store and the caller ID system logged the customer name with things like "payphone at Phillips 66 on Page."

One day I came in and looked at the customer name on my next delivery. We had a new manager by then. I asked the manager what the customer's name was. Then I asked why we took the order. The customer's name; "Robbery we don't go here."

Alan, thanks for the Sean Connery link.

Our cable channels show an endless supply of James Bond Movies.
Saturday evening we watched GOLDFINGER and my DH immediately renamed it COLDFINGER.
I accused him of being a pervert..either for desecrating a fine movie or his need to needle me.
He sang in his Shirey Bassey falsetto and I rolled over laughing and crying at tht same time.
Oh, Sean, we do love you and will always be able to watch your movies on cable. Happy Birthday!

I was just going through my CD's looking for some graphic files and guess what I found? A CD of answering machine outgoing messages!


This isn't an answering machine story, but when we were in college a friend of mine answered the phone and a guy started saying obscene things to her. Not being shy, she said something back like, "Yes? And then what else?" The guy stopped and said, "Mary?" My friend answered, "No." The guy, obviously very embarrassed, said, "Oh My God! I'm sorry. I have the wrong number!" Evidently he was calling a girlfriend and dialed my friend's number instead.

This isn't an answering machine story, but when we were in college a friend of mine answered the phone and a guy started saying obscene things to her. Not being shy, she said something back like, "Yes? And then what else?" The guy stopped and said, "Mary?" My friend answered, "No." The guy, obviously very embarrassed, said, "Oh My God! I'm sorry. I have the wrong number!" Evidently he was calling a girlfriend and dialed my friend's number instead.

That's weird. Sorry for the extra post.

That's exactly how I feel, Peach.
Oh, Nancy, you do have a hard time being rude, don't you?

HIJACK -- I just received a special offer from United Airlines. Only today, I can get $10 off the cost of free bag checking. Instead of paying $249 for "free" bag checks (for up to two bags, mind you), I only have to pay $239...and this lasts the whole year! Really? Free bag checks for only $239?


Now back to your regularly scheduled blog...

Becky, omg. That might force me to be rude. Why, why, why do trains have to be so expensive? (Rhetorical questions ftw.)

Our answering machine died a couple of years ago and we decided that since 99% of what we heard on it were either robocalls or bill collectors, we wouldn't replace it.

However, when we did have it, we got a few interesting calls. On day, we had 4 increasinly pissed off messages for some guy named Bill who was supposedly "seeing that slut Terri". The lady leaving the messages was sounding rather homocidal by the end of the last one.

Another time, we got a message telling us the price of various types of weed and giving us the number to call...assuming we had been the homeboy that the caller thought he had dialed.

As for outgoing messages, my wife tended to leave pretty ordinary ones, while I would leave things like "I'm sorry we're not here, but we were abducted by aliens" or "Dude! Call back later. We're fucking!" or "Call back later. We're trying to take over the world! NARF!"

Becky's story reminds me of a call I once got about 10 in the morning. I answered the phone, and this incredibly sexy, seductive male asked me, "So how are you this morning?" I said, "I'm afraid you have the wrong number." His voice changed, and he said,"This isn't Susan?" And for once I was quick enough to say,"No, but I wish it were." He laughed, apologized, and we hung up. Made my day.

20 years or so ago my hubby made his ususal holiday phone call to his Aunt & Uncle in Brooklyn NY and was greeted with a somewhat generic message that sounded like his Uncle. He left a Merry Christmas message. This continued for a year, never getting a live person and always leaving birthday, anniversary and holiday messages. The next Christmas he made another call and again no live person. This time he was confused since there was a major snow storm in NY and it was unlikely they had left the house. He called his mother in a panic of worry to she if she know where they were. Long story short the area code had changed the year before and he had been leaving messages on a strangers phone. He did make one more call to what he knew now was the wrong number to explain, apologize, promise to never call again, and wish them a Merry Christmas.

In college I had the usual outgoing message of "This is .... Leave your name, number and all your clothes. I'll get back to you." When I got roommates, one night we were bored and decided to record this ougoing message in sexy voices along the lines of "Playful Patty, Naughty Nikki and Generous Jenn can't come to the phone right now..." When we got back from our errand we had a one message waiting. From the Catholic church, for my roommate, wanting to confirm she'd be helping out at Sunday school that weekend.

I just recently dropped my caller id to save a few bucks, and so we have been using the answering machine to screen out the sales calls that slip by the 'no call' list. A few weeks ago, my daughter answered the phone before the machine picked up. I initally was upset, but then relieved. It was the fraud detection dept with my bank. They had stopped charges to my account from out of state and were verifying it. Thank goodness we answered the phone! We heard from several others who were also hit with fraudulent charges that the banks don't leave a message, and itf we hadn't picked up the phone, we wouldn't have received the information. Keep that in mind when screening calls - or you might want to check with your bank to see how they will contact you should the unfortunate occur!

Happy birthday TODAY, Margaret Maron!!

Oh, HO!! Burying the lede!
Let's all call Margaret and SING!!!


JodiL, that is really scary about the medical faxes. I used to work as an advisor at a medical school and would often get very strange messages left on my phone-- usually from students: "There's a mouse in my closet! Help!"-- "Please tell that first-year downstairs that third-years have to work!"-- "I hung my coat to dry on that little round hanger over my bed, and now the fire alarm is going off, and water is coming out of that hanger, and..."-- "Hey, if I become a plastic surgeon instead of doing emergency medicine, I can set my own schedule! Whaddya think?" And my favorite-- "Can I leave my skateboard in your office while I go on neuro rounds?"

But the weirdest message I ever got was from a funeral home wanting to know when they could deliver the body. At first I thought it was one of the students calling, but they followed up with a fax. The dean didn't think I should change my message to "This is not the fucking gross anatomy lab!" I rather liked it, but the dean did not.

I'm with Hank---let's make that happy birthday phone call!

(If you're not listening, Margaret---Many happy returns of the day!)

Happy Birthday, Margaret!!!

Last year, after the Penguins won the Stanley Cup, my dad got a new cell phone, and wanted a new voicemail message. So myself, and two others recorded this:

Voice One - "Crosby, Malkin, Staal, Peach. All part of the winning cup team!"

Voice Two - "Elvis has just left the building!"

Voice Three - "Put a puck in the net, or leave a message!"

Happy Birthday, Margaret!

That dean had NO sense of humor, Marie-Reine. None.

Happy Birthday, Margaret!

Yeah, Karen-- you tell him! Want his number?

My son is a bit sadistic--I don't know where he inherited THAT from. His outgoing message simply said, "Hello?" The messages he got when the beep hit were classic, and mostly unrepeatable in polite company.

Sorry to have been absent the last few hours. Blame it on the champagne and the Creme de Mure (Kir Royales, people!) as I helped Sean Connery celebrate our birthday. (It's also Carolyn Hart's birthday. She was going out for Brazilian food. I stayed in for a wonderful charred steak.) Am slightly. . . okay, more than slightly buzzed at the moment, but thank you all for sharing your delightful stories. I've made notes and who knows, there may be a short story here!


Hoppy birdie two ewe!! . . . and many more!

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