I’m calling it:
No more calling me out of the blue.
About seven years ago I used this space to ask you to stop leaving me voice mails, and I changed my outgoing message to: “Hi, this is David Murray. I can’t talk right now and I don’t check voice mail because voice mail is used these days only to deliver messages of doom, or to manipulate people. I hope you’ll email or text me the reason for your call and I’ll call you back as soon as I can.”
I am now making the same rule about calls out of the blue, by anyone who isn’t an immediate co-worker, family member or close friend.
Basically, anybody I don’t talk to at least once a week.
I do this for our mutual benefit. Because here’s what happens when you call me and we talk for the first time in many months or even years:
I don’t recognize the number, which is from New Hampshire, or Alaska, or Skokie, Illinois. So I assume it’s my payroll company, which always calls from a strange number that I can’t call back. Or it’s Alaska Airlines, which is affiliated with American Airlines, which I’m flying out to San Francisco next month. Or it’s my kid, who has run the car out of gas in Skoke, and is calling from the last pay phone there.
I’m a man who lives with the notion that a piano is coming loose from the mover’s ropes, four stories above my head, at all times! (And you’re not?)
So I answer, because I need to do my payroll soon, or because what if you’re canceling my flight, or because she’s my only child, and my leading reason for living.
And do you know who it is? It’s Stan, who I haven’t talked to since that conference in Atlanta back in 2017. Or it’s Barbara the doily maker from Doylestown, Ohio, who I once profiled for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Who could forget her? Or it’s just Sam the Speechwriter, who I do talk to maybe once a quarter.
And you know what happens? I spent the first five minutes of the phone call feeling exactly how I would feel if our loud doorbell rang and Stan or Babs or Sam was standing at the front door. Or if one of the fuckers hadn’t bothered with the bell, and just let themselves in.
Hello?! Anybody home??
And I don’t want to feel this heart-pounding animosity toward these people. I like them. And eventually, I usually get past their rude entrance, and finally ease into the conversation we would have had if they’d only emailed me or texted to say: “Hey, do you have 10 minutes today, I’ve got something I’d like to run by you.” (Much preferably, they would have told me something about the nature of the matter, so I could ascertain the urgency of the request, and suggest tomorrow might be better.)
Why is the out-of-the-blue call such an affront, aside from the fact that I am crazy? Because we are all crazy: crazy with calendar invites, double-bookings, offline chats, late starts and hard stops—and dozens and dozens of out-of-the-blue emails and texts.
Sure, back when we sat at our desks with a deadline in the morning and a meeting in the afternoon and not much in between—basically, before the Internet, when as a friend recently pointed out, you packed that assignment away in that FedEx box and you were done for awhile—back then, having your phone light up and saying, “This is David Murray” and being up for anything … that felt like you were saying, “Bob Woodward,” or “Detective Furillo.”
And when it was actually someone you knew, you put your feet up on the desk and you lit yourself a cigarette and you chuckled, “Why, old Percy, I haven’t heard from you in a month a Sundays. How in tarnation have you been?”
That time is gone, in white collar work. Long gone. You wanna call me out of the blue? Go for it. And unless my daughter is seriously in the doghouse, I’ll probably pick up. And I’ll sound super nice. Overly nice. Maybe almost maniacally nice.
But you better have a reason for not sending me a little note first. Or at the very least, maybe apologize a little sheepishly, just as you would if you “just happened to be in the neighborhood” and decided to stop in, on a Sunday morning.
The other day, after one of these shocking telephonic daylight break-ins, I screechingly told all this to a normal person I know.
She said, “Why don’t you just let it go to voice mail?”