Won Over By Reality
by Tim Bayer
Recently, I was visiting a good friend of mine, whom I will call “Sue Smith.” Of late, Sue’s been receiving countless phone calls from the same 800-number, 800-829-7204, and since Sue never answers calls from 800-numbers, all these calls have gone to her voice mail. The 800-number caller never leaves a message, of course, but, still, the calls keep coming in, like clockwork in Switzerland, three or four times of an evening.
It is annoying, to say the least.
For my friend’s sake, I was determined to put a stop to this. So, when the next 800-number popped up on Sue’s Caller ID, I answered.
“Hello,” I said, predictably.
“May I speak to Sue Smith?” said the woman on the other end.
“Who’s calling, please?” I responded, evenly, in my baritone.
“I’m Rachel, from the Regional Adjustment Bureau,” came her reply.
“Hi, Rachel,” I said, pleasantly enough.
“May I speak to Sue Smith?” came back “Rachel.”
“Why do you want to talk to her?” I asked.
“Are you her husband?” asked “Rachel” (if we assume that’s actually her real name).
“You called me; I didn’t call you,” I reminded her. “I don’t know who you are or why you are calling, and I am certainly not going to provide personal information to an unknown caller.”
“I’m Rachel, from The Regional Adjustment Bureau,” “Rachel” assured me. Again.
“Yeah. I got that. Let’s try this again, Rachel: why are you calling?”
“I want to speak to Sue Smith.”
“Yeah. I got that previously, too,” I said.
Rachel’s apparent lack of recall gave me the impression that I was not interacting with a human but had unwittingly become a participant in a Turing Test. I had no interest in determining whether or not I was conversing with an experiment in artificial intelligence, but I was interested in putting an end to the incessant phone calls. Sue and I had movies to watch, Monopoly games to play, dishes to wash.
Rachel continued, undaunted: “I’m looking for Sue Smith, who was born in 1985 and attended Alfred University.”
“You have the wrong number,” I said.
Completely unfazed, Rachel continued: “According to our information, I have dialed the phone number of Sue Smith.”
“Yes, this is the number of a Sue Smith, but not the number of the Sue Smith born in 1985 who attended Alfred University. Could you please update your records so you do not call here again?”
Undeterred, Rachel pressed on, “I would like to speak to Sue Smith about her college loan.”
Bingo! Now I got it! The name “Regional Adjustment Bureau” was a cover for a collection agency.
That explained a lot – leading me to the conclusion that Rachel had no intention of updating her records simply because I’d asked. While scrambling for a clever way to stop Rachel’s inevitable future calls, I said something that just popped into my head.
“This is not the droid you’re looking for.”
“Droid? No,” Rachel said, her pitch rising slightly. “The name is not ‘Droid.’ It’s ‘Smith.’ Sue . . . Smith.”
I was laughing so hard, I had to cover the receiver with a hand. The sudden silence made Rachel uneasy.
“Hello? . . . Hello?” she said.
“Yes,” I managed. It took a few moments for me to regain any composure. I struggled to speak. “Yes . . . <snicker> . . . I’m still here . . .”
Here is what I surmised:
1) “Rachel” is clearly not a fan of Star Wars.
2) Rachel works for a collection agency and has the wrong phone number for Sue Smith.
3) Collection agencies will NOT give up. Rachel, or one of her co-workers, was going to keep calling until they were paid in full or I could prove that the Sue Smith at THIS phone number was not the Sue Smith born in 1985 who attended Alfred University and who is delinquent on college loan payments.
My focus returned to the call when Rachel spoke again. With robotic determination, she said, “I would like to speak to Sue Smith.”
I have no doubt that the people whom Rachel typically calls for collection notifications often lie to her. Though I was speaking the truth, my telling Rachel “You have the wrong number” was like farting in a thunderstorm: I’d get a warm feeling, but nobody else would notice. The phone calls would continue to pour in from the Regional Adjustment Bureau.
Here was my problem: How could I prove to Rachel that she was, for once, barking up the wrong tree?
Suddenly, the solution became clear.
“Rachel,” I said, “I can prove to you that this is not the phone number for the Sue Smith you want to contact. Do you have access to the web?”
“No,” came her reply.
Was I surprised, Gentle Reader? Yes. But perhaps Rachel didn’t have access to her cerebellum, either.
I continued. “OK. Please write this down, then: Spokeo dot com.” I even spelled it out: “S-P-O-K-E-O . . . dot . . . com. ( Spokeo.com is a website that collects information from the public domain—phone books, county tax records, and social networks. If you have a public persona, Spokeo probably has information about you).
After I gave Rachel a moment to write down the web site address, I continued.
“Go to Spokeo.com. Use the name Sue Smith and the phone number you have and you can verify that the Sue Smith at this phone number was NOT born in the 1980s. Then, please update your records so that there will be no more phone calls to this number.”
My effort was successful. There have been no more phone calls from the Regional Adjustment Bureau.
Indeed, “Rachel,” this was not the droid you’re looking for. May the Force be with you . . . anyway.