Getting the Call for Just About Anything

Those who follow Mr. Boston may now know that the old soul has achieved an e-mail address for readers to respond to and pass on comments.

For the record, that is [email protected]

Getting that going made me think of the old days when the landline would ring at the various newspapers where I took stock. Few people know it, but people will call the local newspaper for just about anything, and very little of it has anything to do with news. It could be some nuisance in the neighborhood, an abutter dispute, a burst pipe, conjecture, well wishes or even finely chosen strings of expletives without any explanation.

I used to think this was common everywhere, but now I think that calling the local paper is purely a Boston thing. At the Globe, they don’t have to deal with those sorts of things. The people writing and taking pictures are screened like politicians, so they never have to take a crazy call or listen to some old-time crank with a beef over decisions made in the 1930s.

Likewise, my colleagues in other cities used to laugh so hard at the stories of phone calls I would get. Most of them said they didn’t tend to get any calls aside from the regular newsmakers.

This week, I took a call from a 70-year-old man who called the paper about some difficulty he was having with the ownership title to his Dodge Durango. Why call the paper? Who knows. What did it have to do with news? Nothing.

“What’s your function over there?” he screamed into the phone.

He had been doing a lot of thinking about it, a whole lot of thinking. The title was actually in the name of his son, but he told me he was going to get to the bottom of it. We must have talked a good 20 minutes about state government, and how it had turned on him – including his local representatives. Over the course of time in dealing with the title to the Durango, he had come to believe his state representative was ultimately at fault.

What was the issue with the title? Well, after 30 minutes of polite, though animated conversation, we never got to crux of the problem. He hung up abruptly when the UPS man knocked on his front door.

Many years ago I got a call from an older man in East Boston who was slightly confused.

He was convinced there were people all along Bennington Street over there who were out to get him. He must have left me 45 messages one weekend, and then called several times the following week.

“Capone here…again. They’re out to get me all the way from Byron Street and clear down to Day Square. The whole of Bennington Street. That’s right. Can’t even go to the Li’l Peach. The clerk there is part of it. If you want to help, call me. Capone, out,” was one of the more understandable messages.

Others just feature mumbling. I came home and told my family about the calls, as it was somewhat humorous. We all had a good chuckle.

Ten minutes later a stray cat was found scratching frantically at our front door.

We named it Capone.

Of course, there’s the panicked calls that have no explanation.

“Help me!” would be one call I used to get from an elderly woman over and over.

There was also a man from California who would make a yearly call to the papers to see if they were still in business. He had no reason for it other than he said he just wanted to check the status of newspapers all across America and wish them all the best. Apparently, every January, he set out to call every newspaper in America to find out their operational status.

“I just want to simply wish you well and I hope you’re still in business,” he would say. That was all there was to it, but it happened every year for decades.

Back when there were fax machines, someone from a restaurant in the Back Bay had my phone extension on auto dial. I would get 15 calls a day with that horrendous fax machine beeping – trying to send over a menu to a line that no longer had a fax hooked to it. It took almost a year to find out who it was and put a stop to the calls and messages.

“Beep, Beep, Beep,” it would go, like a dump truck backing up. The establishment shall remain nameless, but they know who they are!

Then there was the neighbor dispute.

The elderly female neighbor was the first to call, left about five messages and then got me on the line. It seemed her backyard neighbor had painted a curse word in giant black letters on the back of his garage – in full view of her kitchen window. It was meant for her, she said. I went down to see, and sure enough, there it was in big, bold letters – aimed right at the bay window in her kitchen, breaking up the view of her bird feeder. A term otherwise used to describe a female dog. You get it.

She said she had no idea why such a thing would have happened. She was the nicest old lady, serving up tea and cookies while we discussed her terrible fate. I wondered how someone could be so callous and horrible to a gentle, kind old woman who simply wanted to live out her life looking at the birds from her kitchen.

I was shaking my head in disgust as I left, but just as I rounded the corner, I caught a glimpse of the old lady’s garage. The garage happened to face her male neighbor’s front room, and in big, red spray painted letters was an expletive describing one’s rear end — complete with a crude illustration!

When the phone rings, at the local paper one never knows what could be on the back end…

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