Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Just give me a buzz

I answered the phone the other night and thought the caller was being attacked by a swarm of killer bees.

“Can you BUZZZZZ hear me? BUZZZZ,” was all I could make out.

“There’s something wrong with your phone!” I shouted into the receiver. “Call me back!”

As it turned out, every call I received that night sounded the same. I had to face the fact that either there had been a huge sale on cheap phones and all of my friends had rushed out to buy one…or there was something wrong with my phone.

Although I tried to deny the inevitable, I finally was forced to do something that I knew would end up making me pop half a bottle of Tylenol for a tension headache: I called my telephone repair service.

The recorded voice that answered wasn’t the robot-like automated one I’d expected. In fact, the woman sounded as if she had spent a few years on one of those 1-900 hotlines that teenaged boys like to call when their parents aren’t home.

“Do I understand correctly that you need a repair?” the recorded voice asked me. “Please answer yes or no.”

The buzzing on my line suddenly became so loud, I could make out only every third or fourth word she said. I decided to answer yes to everything, just to be safe.

“I’m sorry,” the voice kept saying. “I didn’t quite understand you.”

Finally, after five frustrating minutes, the voice was so confused, it transferred me to an actual human. “I hear a buzz on your line,” the woman, intuitive person that she was, said. “Is it on all of your phones?” When I said yes, she added, “Have you tested everything inside?”

“Yes, all of my phones are buzzing,” I repeated.

“No, I mean have you unplugged everything? Answering machines, computers, adaptors, all of your phones? If you do that, then plug them back in one at a time, you can find out which one might be causing the buzzing.”

“No,” I muttered. “I haven’t done that.”

“And after that,” she said, “take a working phone outside to the phone box and plug it in there to see if you can hear the buzzing outside, too.”

“Do I really have to?” I asked.

“No, but if we send out a repairman and the problem isn’t ours, it will cost you close to $100 just for the service charge.”

“I’ll go check everything right now!” I said.

I headed into the bedroom where we have two phones and an answering machine. My husband, who was home sick with a bad chest cold, was peacefully taking a nap. “You have to get up,” I said. “This is an emergency. I have to crawl behind the bed right now!”

He sat up and squinted at me. I could tell by his expression that he was trying to figure out what type of emergency possibly could be lurking behind our bed. “Mice?” he asked.

I unplugged everything associated with the phones and even a few things that weren’t, like my husband’s digital alarm-clock and the bedroom TV. By the time I was through, only one phone still was hooked up. I picked up the receiver. The killer bees had transformed into the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I unplugged that phone and plugged in another. It was worse. I sighed in defeat.

“Where is the phone box outside?” I asked my husband.

He shrugged. “Probably up on the telephone pole somewhere.”

Visions of myself dangling by the seat of my pants from a telephone pole made me think that it might be worth my while just to fork over the $100 for the repairman. Still, I grabbed a phone and headed outside.

The phone box turned out to be sticking up out of the ground. It had a little door on it that was screwed shut. I ran back into the house, grabbed a screwdriver, then knelt down in what I was certain was a big nest of starving ticks and began to work on the screw, which, by the looks of it, probably hadn’t been unscrewed since Bell invented the telephone.

As I struggled, it started to rain…really hard. Finally, I opened the door on the box and plugged in the phone. I heard nothing. No buzz, no dial tone. Nothing. By the time I re-screwed the screw, my underwear had absorbed two pounds of water.

I called back the telephone company. The woman told me that I couldn’t possibly have no dial tone outside but still have one inside.

By then, the buzzing was driving me crazy. “Send a repairman!” I shouted over the noise. “I don’t care if I have to pay!”

“Will someone be home between the hours of 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. tomorrow in case they have to come inside?” she asked.

“That’s 10 hours! I can’t guarantee that someone will be here for 10 hours! Just check everything outside, okay?”

The next morning, the phone rang and woke me. It was the repairman. “Your phone’s all set!” he said. “The problem was in the line from the street.”

His voice was crisp, loud and very clear. I heaved a sigh of relief.

Five minutes later, the phone rang again. “Hello!” the voice said. “How would you like to reduce your mortgage payment by up to 15 percent?”

Where are the killer bees when you need them?