April 7, 2011

Voicemail, an Obituary

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What is the issue?

Do not leave me a voicemail. I will not listen to it. I’m going to press the corresponding number to delete your message as soon as the automated voice recording concludes. I’m going to press it with conviction, like a little boy who just won a raffle to implode an old baseball stadium. Other times I’m going to press it and keep pressing it, even though this serves no functional purpose and now there is just a trail of 7s on the screen. I’m going to press it like it was the “door close” button on an elevator and I’d just been chased down a corridor by a Velociraptor or an unshaven man carrying an axe.

I am unnecessarily fastidious about deleting your voicemail. I like my screen tidy and uncluttered. You are now an obligation. The next minute will be dedicated to getting rid of you.

Eventually I will call you back and tell you smugly that I didn’t even bother to listen to it. You’re going to have to repeat everything that you just told the polite robot lady. You used to be all right, actually. You sent me that cool video of that girl doing that thing with a butternut squash. I still can’t believe she ate it after all that. But you just called, and I felt the distinct voicemail vibration in my pocket, and then I saw the icon staring out at me proudly from the bottom of the screen as if it possessed some essential information. So now we have a bit of a problem. I don’t want to hear your voice. I am the lovechild of Bo Jackson and the Hadron Collider of not listening to your voicemail.

There is nothing that you intend to tell me or ask me that requires a voicemail. Nothing is that important. I am not an important person. My family tolerates me out of polite obligation. Girls contact me primarily when their self-esteem has cratered or if they’re asking for my insurance information after I’ve slammed into their car attempting to parallel park (this has happened before, because I am a shockingly bad driver). I have maybe four friends; my relationship with one of whom consists almost entirely of exchanging free pornography links and images from Flickr of artisanal cheese plates. Do you have a nice voice? You probably don’t have a nice voice. Is it an emergency? Have you gone into labor? It probably isn’t. And I doubt it’s mine. And why are you wasting time leaving me a voicemail during an emergency anyway? Leaving a voicemail despite the existence of text messaging is like having an e-mail account but instead folding a handwritten letter into a paper airplane and trying to sail it to the post office because it’s a windy day and you think it looks cute.

If you wake up to terrified screams, with an oxygen mask in your lap, and the pilot is in the microwave alcove making out with a flight attendant, and that plane is going down, man, it is going down, then yes, I’d listen to a voicemail you left in that scenario. But you’re leaving me one because you have a strange obsession with talking and not even about anything in particular. Most of what you say in person is a tangled ball of quotes from Todd Phillips movies, failed double-entendres, weather-related banalities, anecdotes about your insignificant “problems” (I know, I don’t understand why they didn’t even have soy milk in the back either) and, occasionally, The Wild and Fantastic Tales of Internet Promo Code Discovery.

In voicemail, you mumble and engage in a sort of restless banter that is as uncomfortable as any conversation you’ve ever had while waiting on line to put money in a jukebox. And then a minute later you frantically apologize for rambling and tell me to call you back, which is my default response to seeing “1 Missed Call” anyway. Basic human communication relies on verbal and nonverbal cues, none of which are afforded by voicemail. The structure of it is not conducive to coherence or brevity. There are none of the nods and phatic interjections inherent in face-to-face interactions to guide the storyteller. There is no immediate acknowledgement but there is also the pressure of knowing that eventually someone will listen to this disjointed, inane collection of tangents that will likely never address, at any point, your actual reason for calling. In this way it lacks the grace, eloquence, and dramatic inflection of praying; talking to loved ones while they’re sleeping; and a jockey whispering to his crippled horse moments before it’s euthanized in front of thousands of people.

And so, then, here lies voicemail: Thanks for that time I was at work and an ex-girlfriend got bored and left me a recording of her masturbating with a back massager.

Are you drunk? Are you bored? Are you on a long drive and will settle for the companionship of your own voice? Are you waiting for your little brother in the waiting room of the orthodontist’s office? Are you calling to say hi? Were you just thinking about me? Were you hoping you’d catch me? I’m kind of glad now that you didn’t.

So please, do not leave me a voicemail. Unless it’s to remind me when Taco Bell is having another one of those Free Taco Day promotions. I never know when those are. TC mark

image – iStockPhoto.com
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