Don’t Blame the Robo Man

Every few weeks I get a call for Robin.

No one named Robin lives here or uses my phone. I don’t even know anyone named Robin. Well, I did: a professor at a college and a colleague at a job in Pennsylvania—her name was, no kidding, Robin Masters (that’s for Magnum PI fans). But she doesn’t live here.

This has been going on for many years. At the start it was frustrating because I’d say, “I’m sorry you have the wrong number,” and hang up. I see no need for conversation, none. You have the wrong number; what else is there to say? If you dial it again and I answer, you know that it is wrong. If you dial it again and get Robin, ouila.

But the mystery of Robin has been solved. It is the Police Benevolent Society looking for money. Once I said there is no Robin here and he said, “Oh well I’ll talk to you then,” and he read his sheet of paper looking for a donation and I told him to mail me information, knowing the money is not entirely going to the police but instead to this organization that donates a small portion to them. Whatever, I hung up.

But they are persistent, to say the least, so thinking of how my Uncle Howard used to keep a blow horn near the phone for when he received these calls and would blow it right into the receiver, and how Seinfeld answers his phone by saying, “I’m busy right now, but let me have your number and I’ll call you tonight while you’re eating dinner,” I have formulated a variety of ways to answer the phone.

Sometimes, I answer in Russian or French, and they hang up. I answered in Spanish but once there was a click and some recording in Spanish tried to get me to extend my car warranty. I once wanted to actually do that because one of my cars has 400,000 miles on it, but the recording just kept playing.

Then the dude called for Robin again, and I said, “Yeah, this is Robin, what can I do for you?”

Other times:

“Holy Cow Batman! It’s the Police again!”

“Robin?? Yeah, hang on, I’ll get her…” and left the phone on the table for a while.

“Robin? Robin??!! Why would you bring up Robin!?!?! WHY WOULD YOU FUCKING CALL AND ASK FOR HER!! I JUST GOT OVER HER!!!”

“Robin’s Dead.”

It’s not their fault, really, these poor phone people; they’re just trying to do a job. I feel guilty, sometimes. Not with the ones who are trying to scam people into giving money to who people actually think is some police organization but isn’t, but some, like pollsters, who really don’t mean any harm, and can actually be beneficial to us all.

Plus, I did this once, I was a caller. I was fifteen and couldn’t legally drive yet, but I got a job in an office park across from our neighborhood in Virginia Beach making appointments for encyclopedia salesmen. It was a small, fancy office, and the front room had one desk with some well-dressed, middle-aged man and next to him a door lead to a large room with about eight desks where us callers sat and cold-called from cards we were given at the beginning of each shift. If we made an appointment we made some money, I forget how much. I was there only a few weeks and never made a single appointment.

I do remember two instances though. On one, an older gentleman answered and screamed at me for “trying to steal his dignity.” No kidding. I said, “I’m just trying to see if you want a set of encyclopedias, sir,” but he wanted to talk to my boss. I got my boss and after he hung up he said, “Don’t steal anyone’s dignity anymore,” and went back to his desk laughing.

The other was when someone called him at his desk in the outer room and I happened to be out there when I heard something like this after he said his name, which I’ve long forgotten, even when I still worked there: “Yes, that’s me. Wow, you have quite a memory, Sir. You really know your baseball. No, just five years, in Minnesota, then St. Louis.” He told me who he was but he wasn’t a New York Met so I didn’t really pay any mind. This was a time when professional athletes had jobs in the off-season because tickets to see them play were still affordable.

I believe that was my first non-raking, non-mowing, non-shoveling job, though I did my share of shoveling, I suppose.

And now we get Robo calls, Facebook ads, spam texts. I miss the real voice of someone asking if I have a few minutes, I really do. I thought about that, about how lonely these callers must be, the only job they could find, perhaps? Or extra money to pay off bills or make enough to buy food for the week. I don’t know, but I remember I took the job because we had just moved to Virginia Beach and I didn’t know a soul, and it was nice to talk to people.

So when the phone rang the other day, I answered it calmly, thinking, this time I’m going to talk to this guy, find out where he’s from. Who knows what we might have in common and we might even become friends. Hell, we might even have mutual friends—he must be calling from the area.

So I answered, ready:

“Hello, is Robin there?”

“No I’m sorry, can I help you?”

“Yes, maybe you can. I’m Dan from the Police Benevolent Society and we are trying to raise money for…”


I tried to hang in there, I really did.

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