A true tale that I first posted on Reddit, in a forum asking “In the spirit of Halloween – Paranormal or not, what is the scariest, creepiest or most unsettling experience of your life?“)
Scariest experience (or at least one of my scariest) is going on right now. For the last two days when I come home, there are a bunch of messages on my answering machine from the same person, a collect call request from county jail. (BTW, this is a land line, I do not own a cell.) It goes something like this:
“Hello, this is a collect call from county jail, from…[then his voice, kinda raspy and deep: ‘Marco Espinosa’]…if you want to accept this call, press 1, if you don’t want to accept this call, hang up or press 2.”
The recording continues to explain various rules about collect calls from country jail, it just goes on for an insufferable amount of time, says something about if you’re a lawyer and do not want to have your call recorded, call this number [gives a 10 digit #], then rattles on about other stuff, including the option to press number 7 to block any more calls from county jail.
Of course, since these are messages already on my answering machine, picking up the phone to press 7 will get me nowhere. I don’t recognize the name, nor would I ever accept a collect call from county jail. I only have gotten such a call twice before, around eight and twelve years ago, and do not appreciate this new one at all. (One from a homeless person who did have my phone number, but I never told him to call me from jail, another was a wrong number, probably.) Very unnerving, especially since he’s been calling two times per day, and once late at night: 7:30 AM, 6:30 PM and 1:30 AM, respectively (and those are just rough estimates, he didn’t or doesn’t call right on the half hour).
The answering machine uses a chip to record, and is klutzy, in that you have to listen through the first 10 seconds of each message before you can skip to the next one (rather than hear it all the way through), or you’ll have to listen to them all over again–if even one of those messages was not played for at least 10 seconds–before you can press the “erase all messages” button. I have decided that, next time (though I hope there are no more next times), just to unplug the answering machine and plug it back in again which will delete all messages by default. Though since it doesn’t even come with a battery socket, I’ll have to reset the day, hour and minute each and every time. But I just won’t bother.
I hardly ever receive any phone calls (I have Lifeline service BTW, living on social security and no other income), but my brother from Long Island has been calling me now and then. Which mean’s I’ll have to listen to each message, in case one is his. But I decide not to do that, it would be just too nerve-wracking. It’s times like these I wish my brother would use email to reach me…which I’ve suggested in the past, but he’s averse to Internet stuff. 70 years old, retired cop, a great man but set in his ways. His wife is very ill these days, and I feel for him. My own low income may force me to finally depart from my crummy SRO, due to gentrification or eviction ’cause the landlord’s getting out of the business, or (God forbid) fire. And I don’t even know if I can return to our family home–a humble ranch house built up a bit by my brother–after all these decades. For I am the black sheep, the weirdo, the one that everyone scapegoats whenever someone’s in a bad mood. I’d return a failure, nothing to show of my life victories in their Republican eyes.
I wouldn’t want to go back, anyway, as I’d then become absorbed by the Borg of hetero family values and become the stereotypcial gay uncle dedicated to enhancing the lives of his straight relatives, walking dogs, cleaning house, shoveling snow, planning parties, housesitting, babysitting and so forth. No more gay activism for this sorry soul stuck in a bland suburban region w/o a car or driver’s license. My only fulfilling outlet would be on the Internet. There are also the ungodly, hot and humid summers that would sap my spirit for almost six months each annum…and due to climate change, Long Island can only expect killer heat waves increasing each year, and more prolonged. Oh I’d be miserable! I would much prefer the icy winter all year long.
Then what if my brother poops out on me, and I am left stranded, no other relations caring enough to take me in? His second daughter is married into El Salvadorean people who are also Christian Evangelists. I can’t bear to go to anyone’s funeral, going to my brother’s is out of the question! What would they think of me, on top of everything else?
I have been in the habit these past 15 years or so of keeping my phone ringer turned to “off,” and my answering machine volume all the way down to “zero.” This is because, as a gay street activist, I have met numerous men down on their luck, some of whom turn out to be kinda disturbed and possibly dangerous, and others who are really nice dudes, but don’t seem to respect my request to not press my apartment building’s buzzer before 8 PM or after 11 PM. (Buzzer is connected to the phone.)
But even though I’ve had this same number since 1983, I get a wrong number once in a blue moon, and they can be pretty weird. Some from a stranger or messed up crazy just pressing buttons to try to get inside (I live on a very busy, main street, lots of foot traffic including bums.) So because of this, I keep the ringer and volume off, and just check the LED indicator on my answering machine to see if I got any calls, every hour or so. Which is frustrating, because I have four good friends whom I see a lot less, due to these strange calls that always start to occur whenever I decide that it’s okay now, to turn my ringer and answering machine volume back on. And you got it:
A good buddy I haven’t seen in more than a year, was back in town…I know because Donnie (that’s his name) buzzed me six days ago, and left a message. Two days later I decided that since no weird messages have been left on my answering machine for more than four months, it would be fine to put the ringer and volume back on. And that is when these county jail messages commenced, just two more days later! I really don’t want to miss out on seeing Donnie, he’s very sweet and good company…but I decided to go back to keeping all phone noises silent. Otherwise I’d have to be awakened every night from Marco Esperanza’s intruding run of unwelcome messages.
So for the past two mornings I don’t even bother to listen to the 20 or so messages left on my machine from the previous day and night…I just press the “listen to messages” button and let them all play through w/o hearing any of them. Once played through, I then hit the “delete all messages” button. What a hassle! That is why I finally decided that, starting today, I’ll just do the unplug/plug-back-in thingie, and be done with it. Not knowing if one or more of those calls was from Donnie or my brother, or perhaps from another person I like, and who is not an asshole.
Don’t know how this “Marco” got my number, it’s unlisted…though it may be one of those wrong calls that AT&T tosses in my direction, now and then. Perhaps he’s pressing “0” which is part of my number, instead of pressing “o”, or some other finger slip. But leaving a slew of attempted calls within the short span of 10 minutes suggests a desperate and pushy sort of personality…that’s not good. Why doesn’t he just call me once, for each of those three times per day, if he is a nice person? I also wonder:
What does he want…money? A place to crash or hide out? I am a poor person, thus not capable of providing him any help in any way, shape or form. I couldn’t even give him legal counsel or references, as I am largely alone in this world. Now elderly at 66, I realize I am prone towards ex-convict types who are known to seek out elderly queers to hole up and take advantage of. The last thing I need is some desperate bully robbing me of both sleep and finances…as well as winding up getting me evicted and even, possibly, arrested myself! Ah, the Castro, I am so sick of putting up with this crappy neighborhood, though I have accomplished much good over the decades. Enough is enough, leave me to my lonely pursuits, please. My days of street activism are long over.
Does he actually know who I am, through a mutual associate? Or has one of my enemies been handing out my number to troubled people in order to harass me? (This has happened before, though many years ago.) Is he gonna get angry at me for not picking up that phone, and track me down when he gets out? Where I live is very easy for anyone to find out, as I have occupied this edifice since 1983, my two windows face the main street, the building is not very secure, thus easy for anyone to slip in and out, especially since frequent building and service contractors leave the front gate ajar, for their convenience, often for an hour or more…and I am kind of notorious. And I do have enemies because of my decades of homeless outreach which sometimes involves confrontations with homophobes and other sorts of disturbed denizens who don’t like to see me on the streets at night, ’cause they like to think it’s their turf, even though they’ve only showed up a year or two ago, and I’ve been here since the Bronze Age.
Early this morning, BTW, around 6 AM, for some reason the ans. machine volume was turned up a couple notches and I heard Marco’s call again. So I picked up the phone and heard the recorded voice…but I already knew to press 7 to cancel any further calls. So I pressed 7, yet the recorded voice went on as if nothing happened, didn’t say anything like “Okay you pressed 7, you will receive no more calls from county jail.” Does this mean I must first wait as she drones on and on until she comes around to the “press 7” spiel before this will work? Am I cursed to have to put up with his message batches for God knows how long, that are blocking me from anyone who matters, reaching me?
Jeez, what a nightmare. And it’s still going on, AFAIK. Thank you for listening.
[–]keokutah – 2 points 15 hours ago:
I think all your questions could be answered if you just answered the phone and asked him what he wants. He’s in jail so it’s not like he can do anything to hurt you, and the calls are recorded so if he does threaten you they would know. And if you do feel like you are in danger, you can let the police know. Maybe it’s someone you know but the prison forces him to use his real name, and you know him by a false name?
[–]i-luv-ducks – 1 point 24 minutes ago:
I’d rather not, but thanks. Police can do very little, even if he threatens me. Picking up that phone can open up a can of worms that I’ll regret. So last night I was up when he began another string of calls…I held the receiver up to my ear until the recorded voice told me to press 7 to ban all calls from county jail. Then I pressed 7. Then the voice told me to punch in a 4 digit code, so that I could cancel the block in a future time, if I so wanted. Did that too.
A wave of relief swept over me, knowing that I’ll never be bothered again by such calls. But that relief was cut short, as his calls resumed a couple of hours later! This morning I arose to find six more identical messages on my answering machine, so I guess that “7” option is useless. So much for peace of mind. I know what to expect when I return home this evening. Happy Halloween. :(
Unplugging/replugging the answering machine does not remove all messages, just the date and time settings…how infuriating! So now I just turned off the answering machine and unplugged the telephone. After a week of remaining disconnected, I will resume phone and answering machine activity, to see if this “curse” has been lifted.
Donnie, where are you!