Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Answering Machine Blues

“Earth to Sage, Earth to Sage, you got a call down here on line four, over.”

“Earth, this is Sage, I can’t take it right now, how about have them leave a name and number and I’ll call them back when I swing in on a lower orbit, over.”

Roger Sage, we’ll take care of it.

“Will the party calling Sage please leave your name and number after the beep and he’ll get back to you, thank you.”

This dialogue was on my answering machine back in late 1985 and early 1986. Playing in the background was a recording of Richard Strauss’ “Thus Spake Zarathustra”(that’s also the theme for “2001: A Space Odyssey”). I recorded my parts of the dialogue through a paper towel roll to give it a distant sound. It was great.

Of course, my boss at the time didn’t think it was too great. The messages didn’t sound professional enough for him, and since my office was in my house, he thought they were inappropriate. Since I was paying for the phone line and the answering machine, and my messages weren’t vulgar, I didn’t think he had the right to complain. But he did. I was working for the Boy Scouts at this time. One of the richest men in the region, who was also running one of my fundraising campaigns, called my house one day. He laughed so hard I could hardly make out his name. Then he called back several times, so that his secretary and others could listen. When we were discussing the message on my machine later, I quietly suggested he tell my boss how funny he thought they were. I don’t think my boss appreciated his humor nor did he care to be set up by me.

When the Space Shuttle Challenger blew up, all a sudden I found my answering machine sounding disrespectful. I erased it and tried another tack.

“This is Sage. I can’t talk to you at the moment because I have laryngitis,” I mumbled weakly. “If you leave your name and number, I’ll call you back when I can talk.” About a week later, I came down with the worst case of laryngitis in my life. I’d call people back and they’d say, “I thought you were kidding, you really do have it.”

It should have bothered me that I was getting a strong track record as a prophet, but I didn’t let it get to me. Instead, after I got my voice back, I got even bolder and recorded another message. “This is Sage. I am sorry that I am not able to come to the phone. At this moment, I am incarcerated. If you leave your name and number and a brief message, I’ll call you back as soon as I make bail or bust out. If you would like to contribute to the Sage Legal Defense Fund, you may send your checks to PO Box XYZ.”

I knew this one was pushing the envelope a bit. Shortly afterwards, someone called the council office to complain. The next time I was in town (the council office was in Gastonia), my boss called me into his office and gave me an ultimatum. I had to remove the silly recordings because someone had complained to him. I argued back, but to no avail and went home and changed the message to “I’m not here: you can leave a message if you like.” The good Lord must have been on my side, for a day or two later a thunderstorm came through and a lightning bolt struck a neighbor’s tree and fried my answering machine. As I knew I was going to be resigning soon to go to grad school, I kept making excuses for not getting an answering machine until after I’d given my notice. By then, no one cared.

Before I left, my boss’ secretary pulled me aside to tell me that that lady who complained about my answering machine probably had every bit of a fifth grade education. She called yelling, “I know what incarcerated means, why do you have someone working for the scouts in jail?” I suppose she assumed that I set up my answering machine with the one call they let me make before slamming the cell door.

After I left the ranks of Professional Scouts in the late summer of ’86, I never bothered to get creative with my answering machine. Today, if you call my house, you’ll get the computer telling you to leave a message. That’s appropriate, since most messages left are from other computers telling me about some kind of great deal they have to offer. I’d say, let the computers talk, but then wasn’t taking computers where humans got in trouble in “2001: A Space Odyssey”?

The only other option for my answering machine would be Karl Kastle’s voice (I’m not sure of the spelling, it may be Carl Castle or some variation thereof, but it doesn’t matter because he’s on radio and no one can read the credits). If you win one of the silly games on the NPR show “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me,” one of the prizes is to get his voice recording on your home answering machine. Karl reads the morning NPR news. Having his voice on my machine would be cool, or would that be kool?


  1. My answering machine message when I was single went something like this:

    "Hello, you have reached Ed's refrigerator because the answering machine is not here. If you want to leave a message for Ed, I will write it on a sticky note and stick it to myself."

  2. It's really, truly very amazing that either of you two (two meaning Sage and Ed) have ever touched a woman. You have given all male dorks around the world great hope. :-)

  3. Murf, since we are obviously so clueless in the ways of the world, maybe you'd like to enlighten us with some possible lines to use on our answering machines.

  4. Personally, I enjoy it when someone's outgoing message just says..."Hello?....Hellloooo?"

  5. i never use my answer-machine. i miss it actually. hmm where's the manual? i'm off to dig.

    excellent. i like. :)

  6. Great post! You gave a number of laughs! :)

  7. Sage: What a funny post. You reminded me of a character I once worked with whom people would literally pay to have him impersonate the late President Kennedy on their voice mail announcements! I like your imaginative use of sound effects!!!:-)

  8. Very funny post...I have never been creative with the messages. Though I have had to change mine at work because they sounded too, well lets just say escortish. Not the message just the way I delivered it. I changed mine at home for that once too since my mom even said I sounded too sensual. Guess that is better than sounding like a bear or something!
    So what do you have now?

  9. Some people cannot take jokes. Is it really necessary that every aspect of our lives be dictated by some social standard?


    Excuse me. I just grammatically farted on your page. I hope you don't mind. Hold your nose...or fingers I suppose. It'll pass shortly.

    P.S. I thought your messages were classic. :)

  10. pretty kewl

    omg, I just read the comment from Zeus. I'm so glad I blog hopped tonight, great laughs.

    I really HATE the voice mail messages that start out "Hello?" or "Hi! How ya doin'" only to go on to say leave a message. Just annoying.

  11. I received a message one time saying, "Hi, I have the wrong number, but I just wanted to say you have the funniest message I've ever heard."

    So I guess that's something.

    Anything beats the usual, "Hi, we're not here right now, leave a message at the beep."

    I think it's safe to say that in this day and age the majority of us know how answering machines work. "Oh, you leave the message after the beep!

  12. one of my friends' has this on her answering machine:

    Men who are in or around forty, please leave their cell phone numbers after the beep. Others can leave a message if they so desire.

  13. I set up a new phone for my home office today - I'm embarassed to admit how boring and ummm "professional" it sounds

  14. Murf, we should get you and Kontan together. Like her, I hate those who lure you into talking only to get another hello. Such recordings help me understand the "Hell" in hello

    Keda, answering machines are being outdated--I never use m home one, just tell people to leave a voice mail on my cell phone

    Tim, it's always good to know I brought a little cheer into the world

    Michael, having Kennedy's voice on the machine (or any other dead person's voice) creates the possibilities of having sounds of heaven or hell in the background.

    Deana, want to leave your number here? Lots of us guys would like to call and listen to it..

    Zeus, you're funny!

    Kontan, see my comment to Murf! I agree with you, btw.

    Bone, your post today is a hoot!

    Gautami, how about those of us who feel we should be younger than 40 but are no longer 40?

    Diane, with all the talent represented here, I'm sure we could come up with a classic message for your machine!

  15. I use my answering machine to call screen. 9 out of 10 times it's a computer or a tlemarketer trying to sell me something.

    I think your messages were cool. Life should be fun!

    Here from Michele's.

  16. Hilarious post Sage! And Ed, that's a very funny message to have. I might steal it. Hah.

    Anyway, I like your insightful point on how many calls are simply computers talking to computers. The future is now, I guess. Though not as exciting as in the movies.