Fun On The Phone
Dear Gil: I have lived here in Vallarta for almost a year and I am puzzled by something that keeps happening. At least once a week when I answer the phone the person at the other end, instead of saying hello, says, “A donde hablo?” (Where am I calling?) What is this about? How come people dial my number and then want to know where they are calling?
Annoyed in Nayarit
Last October we received a puzzling phone call as well. It was from Connie, my mother-in-law, who just turned eighty-five. Connie lives in California and calls my wife regularly. In the middle of the conversation, Connie interrupted Lucy to say, “Hang on, honey-- someone’s at the door.”
It was the police, answering what is called in official law-enforcement parlance, “an interrupted 911”. Connie asked the two policemen what they wanted.
“Someone called 911 from this address,” the fatter of the two men said in his “just the facts ma’am” monotone.
“No they didn’t,” Connie replied.
“Yes, they did, ma’am,” the aloof official, who could have played himself in either version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, insisted. “Can we come in? We’d like to take a quick look around.”
“SOP—that’s standard operating procedure, ma’am. Part of our responsibility when we get a 911 is entering the residence in order to make sure everything is all right.”
“All right?” Connie asked frantically. “Is something wrong?”
\ “Not necessarily, ma’am. Could you tell us, please, to whom you are speaking on the phone?”
“My daughter. In Mexico.”
“In Mexico?” the more rotund of the two peacekeepers asked irritably. He hadn’t consumed a doughnut in more than fifteen minutes, and was growing a little edgy.
Finally Connie let them inside, where they came face-to-face with her adopted nephew, Jeffrey, who had come over to help her repair the kitchen sink. Jeffrey is an intensely shy thirty year old man with bugged-out eyes and a speech impediment. On his good days, he bears an eerie resemblance to Ted Bundy, the serial killer.
The cops looked at Jeffrey, who was holding a large monkey-wrench in his hand, and Jeffrey stared, as was his custom, down at the floor.
“Who are you, sir?” the less pulchritudinous of the two patrolmen asked him.
Jeffrey mumbled his name and continued to stare at the ground.
“I’m calling for backup,” the other cop announced.
Meanwhile, back in Mexico, my wife was still holding on to the phone. “Mom?” she said into the receiver for the seventh time. “Mom? Are you there?”
“Something wrong, honey?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” Lucy said. “First she was talking to me. Then she had to go get the door. And now I can hear voices in the background, but she doesn’t answer me.”
“Maybe she forgot you were on the phone. You know, at her age…”
“She’s got a better memory than you do,” Lucy pointed out correctly.
“Here, give me the phone, honey. Maybe I can understand what they’re saying.”
Listening to the faint voices, all I could make out were the words “backup” and what sounded improbably like “doughnut”. After a while I began to whistle into the mouthpiece, hoping to attract my mother-in-law’s attention. Finally someone came on the line, but it wasn’t Connie. It wasn’t even a woman.
“Is this the daughter,” the man’s voice asked, “of the woman who resides at 2341 Lewelling Boulevard in San Leandro, California?”
“No,” I replied, “I am no one’s daughter. Who are you? And what are you doing in my mother-in-law’s house?”
“This is patrolman Kawasaki of the San Leandro police department and we are here answering a 911 call.”
“There’s police at your mom’s house,” I told Lucy. “And they say they’re answering a 911 call. Is she all right?” I asked the policeman.
“She seems to be, but there is a suspicious male individual here, who cannot or will not account for his presence.”
“She seems to be all right,” I told my wife, “but there’s a suspicious man in the house. What makes him suspicious?” I asked the policeman.
“That’s what we’re trying to determine right now, sir. Excuse me one moment.”
Turning to Jeffrey, the slightly less chubby of the two policemen said, “Sir, what is your name?”
“Je-Je-Jeffrey,” the nervous nephew stuttered.
“He says his name is J. J. Jeffrey,” the policeman informed me.
“Oh,” I said, “that’s probably my mother-in-law’s adopted nephew. Does he look like Ted Bundy?”
“You know, officer, the serial killer. The resemblance is a little unsettling, and poor Jeffrey—he hasn’t had a date in, well, ever.”
“Now that you mention it, sir, he does look like Ted Bundy. Hey,” he asked his partner, “was Ted Bundy released from prison lately?”
“Are you kidding?” the other replied. “He got something like twenty-five life terms--to be served consecutively!”
“Maybe he escaped?”
“Nah, it would’ve been on Fox News.”
Frustrated by my exclusion from the conversation I began to whistle into the mouthpiece again.
“Yes?” a voice said finally.
“So my mother-in-law is okay?” I asked.
“Yes, she seems to be fine.”
“Why do you keep saying, ‘seems to be’? Is she all right or not?”
“Well, she says she’s fine, but we haven’t determined yet if she is acting under duress.”
“Duress? What are you talking about?”
“She did call 911,” the policeman reminded me.
“And then she called her daughter in Mexico?” I said doubtfully.
“One cry for help,” the policeman explained, “is often followed by another—if the victim,” he added somberly, “is lucky enough to get a second chance.”
“But you just said she’s okay. Now she’s a victim?”
“She is a potential victim,” the man corrected himself.
Then Lucy began to laugh. “Oh, I know what happened,” she said
“She was trying to dial 011, the area code for foreign calls, and she must have hit the nine button by accident. Then she hung up and called me.”
When I communicated this lucid deduction to the policeman, he said, “That is possible, sir, but until we’ve thoroughly searched the house, we will have to assume that there is a problem here.”
“They say,” I informed my wife, “that until they search the place, they have to assume there’s a problem.”
Grabbing the phone, Lucy said, “Yeah, officer, there’s a problem, all right. This call is costing us a fortune!”
Finally, after a thorough search of the entire house, the garage and the backyard; after talking to Lucy on the phone for an additional fifteen minutes; and after running a 10-WFT (Who the fuck is This?) on Jeffrey, they thanked my mother-in-law for her cooperation and rushed off to answer an 10-NDN (Need Doughnuts Now).