Here’s one of those puzzles of life I wish I could solve before I die. Someone calls, I answer, and they ask for Betty. I tell them they have the wrong number, that there’s no one named Betty here. They apologize and hang up. Forty-five seconds later, the phone rings again. (We usually get about three calls a week, so I’m pretty sure this is the same person.) “Yes, is Betty there?” Wrong number again, I respond with measured pleasantness. “I’m sorry,” they say, and this time they really seem to mean it. In fact, they sound as though they’re going to make some kind of effort to determine what Betty’s actual phone number is. Minutes pass and the telephone remains silent. I forget about it. Two hours later, the phone rings. Now it’s a different person asking for Betty. “Listen,” I say optimistically. “You can call back as many times as you want, but no matter how many times you ask, Betty still won’t be here.”
The mystery for me is this: We’ve had the same phone number for ten years. In all of that time, no Betty has ever lived here. That means one of two things. Either Betty used to have our number and this person who now urgently needs to speak to her has been out of touch for more than a decade. Or, Betty gave the caller a fake number to get rid of him. Or (I just thought of a third possibility), the caller keeps pressing Redial, under the assumption that I’m mistaken and have simply forgotten that there’s a person named Betty living in our house.
In any case, I know exactly how to deal with this situation. I take the phone off the hook and leave it there. We’re not due for another call for three or four days anyway.