Okay, here’s how old I am: I can still remember when the first answering machines came out. Everyone thought that they were so cool, especially those first few lucky families that could actually afford one. I remember one family in particular that spent hours arguing over the outgoing message—the kids thought that it should start with a Who song (“Who are you? Who-who-who-who?”), while the parents preferred the theme from The Twilight Zone. Absolutely no one spoke in favor of brevity—back then answering machines were still so new that we hadn’t yet figured out how really, really annoying long outgoing messages were.
Of course, some people still haven’t figured this out: I have a friend who as recently as last year still had a recording of his then two and four year-old daughters—both of whom are now in high school—singing “Jingle Bells” in its entirety as his outgoing message. And, to a toddler, “Jingle Bells in its entirety” means “just the chorus, over and over again.” Although, now that I think about it, his message is so long, and so annoying, that most people (myself included), end up doing just about anything to avoid calling him, even going so far as solving our own problems. My god—the man is a genius.
Anyway, the point is, I can still remember when the only one way to leave a message for someone was to hang a note on their door. And I can also still remember when everything changed, and there were suddenly dozens of ways to leave messages: pagers (a rather bizarre idea, in retrospect: somebody calls and leaves you their number, making it your responsibility to hunt down a phone and call them back), car phones, cell phones, Blackberries, Bluetooths, etc., etc. I’m sure the chip implanted directly into the brain can’t be far away. But until that day comes, the modern reality is that there are now scores of ways to leave a message for someone. Which means that there are now scores of ways for that message to get lost in translation through your local teenager.
No matter what technology you are using to get a message to me, if it has to pass through the filter of my teenage daughter, Clementine, it is doomed. I’m not saying I won’t get the message—I will (eventually)—I’m just saying that by the time I get it, it might be unrecognizable.
There are several different ways for her to destroy my messages, and since I never know which method she will be using, I can’t know what, exactly, I need to do figure the message out. Was it a “sin of omission” message, where I’m only getting every fourth or fifth word? (“Kim called. Concert. Maybe. She said ‘sorry.’”) Was it a message mangle, where the entire message was turned around? (“Regina said not to come over for dinner tonight at six. Yes, I’m sure she said don’t come.” Or was it an abbreviated message. (“Bob called. He said to tell you to bring some ham tonight.” Actual request: bring hamburger buns.)
The thing is: we have voice mail. All she really has to do is nothing (and, as a teenager, she already excels at that), and I’ll get the message. But no, she has to answer it, take a message (or pretend to), and then give me some bastardized version of it.
It’s almost as if destroying the message is her goal.
Maybe it is—after all, everyone knows that all of the best parts of Shakespeare’s comedies arise from miscommunications. Maybe she’s just trying to bring a little Shakespearean excitement into our lives. Or maybe, just like with my friend and his annoying lisping toddler message, she’s just trying to get people so frustrated with me that they’ll never call again.
My god—the girl is a genius.