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Phone Police Lacking Some Horse Sense

As a depraved youth, I once admired the telephone for its prankish possibilities.

DOUG: “Hi, this is Bip Biperson with radio station KRUD. We’ll give you a big prize if you can answer the following question.”

VICTIM: “Wow, great!”

DOUG: “What’s the name of the Lone Ranger’s horse?”

VICTIM: “Er, Silver?”

DOUG: “Congratulations. You’ve just won 10 tons of horse poooooop!”

Fred Hoefer remembers pulling a few practical telephone jokes, too, but it’s been awhile.

“When I was a kid, telephone numbers didn’t have prefixes,” says Fred, who is 82 and longs for those simpler, lower-tech days of yore.

Fred is as solid as a Spokane citizen could be. He’s been married 53 years to the love of his life, Helen, who is 79. They are kindly church-goers and have never been in any kind of trouble.

Until the other day, that is, when some faceless telephone company goon reached out and touched them.

“Your telephone number has been identified as the originating source” of harassing calls, states the letter mailed to Fred from US West security.

“The use of the telephone or permitting another individual to use the telephone for harassing, obscene or threatening calls violates the law.”

So what was the Hoefers’ big sin against humanity?

Hanging up on an answering machine.

You heard me. Civilization has achieved a state of technological meddling where you can unleash the telephone company hounds on any cad who won’t leave a message at the beep.

“You can’t imagine how much stress it caused,” says Helen.

Helen admits being Public Enemy No. 1 in this caper.

It happened earlier this month. Helen tried to telephone a friend a couple of times. He wasn’t home and she hung up when his message recorder switched on.

Helen is a sweet soul who views these impersonal machines as more bane than boon to society. She’d rather talk to a real voice and I couldn’t agree more.

Call me a dinosaur, but I hate having to endure cutesy preambles people leave on their answering machines. Especially the syrupy ones demented parents make their little brats record.

A family of simpletons I know once sang the following introduction to the tune “Jesus Loves Me.” Thanks for cal-ling, we’re not home. Leave a mes-sage on the phone.”

These people should be caned.

Just because telephone company alchemists can create their infernal contraptions doesn’t mean they should. As Victor Frankenstein’s loved ones tried to warn him, “Some things are better left alone.”

Concerned about the hangups, Helen’s so-called friend paid US West a nominal fee to trace the calls. The company did just that and then mailed the poor Hoefers the nasty letter without bothering to check the facts.

A US West worker told me this kind of unfortunate thing happens all the time.

Fred dialed US West to proclaim his innocence. He says he got connected with a sweetheart who warned him that any more hangups would bring the cops to his door.

“I hope the police have more to do than run security for the phone company,” grouses Fred.

It’s easy to hate answering machines. I got suckered by a machine this week while trying to return a telephone call to a guy named George. Get a load of the introduction this wiseacre recorded:

“If you want to speak to me in person, press one now.

“If you want to leave a message, press two now.

“If you don’t want to leave a message, press three now.

“If you’ve been pressing buttons all this time, you’ve wasted a great deal of time.”

I wonder what George would think if he came home and discovered a 10-ton mound of horse poop in his driveway?

Tags: column