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A Surprising Ring-a-Ling For Those Foolish Machines

If the world were to give a thought to the telephone answering device, there shortly wouldn't be one, and we who are concerned might again make a phone call without being told to leave our names and numbers and somebody would shortly be in touch. My contention is good, and to support it I need only to speak to you about Amos Obadiah Jonas of the town of Futurity, Maine, who makes a living changing money.

I call Amos on the telephone every now and then, not from any urgency whatsoever, but to hear his melodious voice and have him chuckle in my ear with glee as he responds to some whimsicality I offer.

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A little over 50 years ago, Amos was entering his 30s and had accumulated considerable money, which he carried in his pockets or kept in old sap pails. He lived then, and does now, well beyond the reach of any financial institution, and thus saved himself a tedious trip to have his money on deposit in a vault, as people do. It was already well known throughout Penobscot and Piscataquis Counties that Amos was a walking Brinks and that he could finance anything, were he so inclined, from any pocket.

Tourists from away were told to hunt up Amos and ask him to change a $100 bill. In this way, they got to see the vast fortune that Amos carried about casually, tempting thieves and other adversities. Amos would take the $100 bill, examine it for blemishes and authenticity, and begin removing wallets and purses from his clothing until he had displayed his peripatetic plunder and also found the place to deposit the $100. Then, from another source, he would count out the "change" and hand it to the tourist, who would at once discover that Amos had handed back only $98. Seeing the tourist had discovered this, Amos would chuckle and explain, "I don't do business for nothin'."

So I would give Amos a tootle on the Bell-Tell, perfectly willing to pay the toll charge to have him bring me up to date on the facts and fancies of his affairs. Our badinage was never important, but it was chummy, and it kept Amos and me conversant with a great deal of foolishment we might otherwise have missed. Best of all was to hang up after a chat and have the philosophies of Amos in my ears for information and amusement. Many's the time I might have felt downcast, but was cheered to optimism by something Amos said. Then I called Amos one afternoon to ask him what he was doing about tater-bugs, and I learned he had acquired an answering machine.

"Good afternoon," said the taped voice of Amos. "I bid you fond welcome and am devastated to inform you that because of the high price of hay I am at a distance for the moment, but expect to return shortly. If you will leave your name and telephone number at the sound of the tone, I will return your call at the earliest opportunity. Yours in faith, hope, and charity, Amos Obadiah Jonas."

I did not wait for the tone and I did not leave my name and number. Numb with astonishment that a man like Amos would become victim of the world's follies, I bumbled around all day and really wasn't worth a hoot. I don't pay a toll charge to talk to a machine. I call Amos to hear his voice and be happied. The answering machine is a hoax and a swindle.

I wrote to Amos and told him he ought to pay $2 to every name that he insulted with his gimmick.

My next move came about curiously. I was at my desk trying to remember how to spell Chimlich, and a new neighbor down the shore road came running in to use my telephone, shouting, "A pipe's busted. Who do I call?" I found the number of a plumber and handed over the phone. The call was answered by an answering machine. "Hello," it said. "There is nobody to take your call, but we'll call you back as soon as possible if you leave your name and number."

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I found another plumber, and an emergency was eased. Then I fell to wondering, so I got down my little tape player and made it ready, and then dialed that answering machine again. It came on loud and clear and told me not to fret if I needed a plumber, because in just a short time somebody would return my call. I now knew I didn't need to call Amos Obadiah Jonas to hear jokes on a telephone. So I laid my phone by the tape player, turned on the switch, and played 30 minutes of "The Stars And Stripes Forever" by Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops. Happy as when I speak to Amos, I then put my tape player in a permanent ready position, and for the next six months or so gave a gratuitous 30 minutes of "The Stars and Stripes Forever" to all who gave me a machine instead of an answer.

One day, however, I was surprised during a punitive concert by a transient who saw my tape being played into the telephone, and I told him I hoped the Public Utilities Commission was on the line. Not wishing to tangle with the telephone people, I have not given another music lesson since, but it is my hope that I can resume my anonymous needling soon, after the muddy water has settled.

I'm going to embellish the basic idea so I can get these machines that tell you to push one if you want bicycle tires, two if you are buying rugs, three if you're in need of soap, and four if you have any questions for Miss Tarnsley. The world and I have a great deal to do. And Amos called me to say he dialed the town office and got an answering machine. It made him so mad he got an ax and busted his own device to flinders. "Somebody ought to do something!" he said.

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