July 7, 1928

By Gregory Clark, July 7, 1928.

When someone calls your telephone and has the wrong number, do you admit it?

Then you are missing a lot of fun. The thing to do when a strange voice says –

“Is that the butcher’s?

Is to say –

“Yes, ma-am.”

“This is Mrs. Dingus speaking. Will you send up at once a pound and a half of sirloin steak?”

Then you say, in the best imitation of a butcher you can work out:

“Mrs. Dingus. I will send no more steak up to your house until you settle your account with me.”

And then hang up smartly.

There are so many curious conversations to be expected that after while you will be waiting to hear the phone ring in the hope that it will be a wrong number.

Here is a fair transcription of a conversation I had a few days ago.

“Hello, is that Mr. Boomer’s house?”

“Yes, ma-am.”

“Is that Mr. Boomer speaking?”

“Yes, ma-am.”

“Well, this is Mrs. Giffus speaking.”

“Oh, yes. How are you Mrs. Giffus?”

“Very well, thank you, Mr. Boomer. I wanted to speak to you about that cottage.”

“Oh, yes.”

“Is it for rent this year?”

Yes, it’s for rent as usual.”

“How much are you asking for it for July only, Mr. Boomer?”

“A thousand dollars, Mrs. Giffus.”

“A thousand dollars! Mercy! Just for July, Mr. Boomer?”

“Yes. Just for July. I’ve made a lot of improvements. I’ve painted it and built two new ice-houses.”

“Two new ice-houses! Why, the old one was all right, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, it was all right, but the two new ones won’t do any harm, will they?”

“No, but…”

“Then I’ve put a piano in each room…”

“Oh, Mr. Boomer, you are joking…a thousand dollars!”

“No, Mrs. Giffus, I was never more deadly serious in my life. Anyway, I don’t like the way you left the cottage last year.”

“Why, Mr. Boomer! How can you say such a thing! I left it much cleaner than we found it!”

“Ah, that’s what you say, Mrs. Giffus.”

“Really. I don’t know what to say! If you don’t want to rent the cottage. Just say so. But …”

“Now I tell you what to do, Mrs. Giffus. You call Mrs. Boomer. She is the one that is mad. Not me. She just wore herself out last fall cleaning that cottage, and all those empty beer bottles . . .

“Mr. Boomer!”

“And the way the dirty dishes were left about, and the floors filthy …”

“Mr. Boomer! There must be some mistake!”

“I know there is. But you had better call Mrs. Boomer. She is not in now, but will be in in about ten minutes.”

The next time Mrs. Giffus apparently got the right number because I never heard from her again.

Another time a lady said sharply:

“Is that you, George?”

“Yes,” said I, meekly.

“When are you coming home?” she shrilled.

“NEVER!” I said, distinctly and loudly.


“NEVER!” I shouted, slamming up the receiver,

And I do hope my bravery helped the poor chap in his domestic relations. There are no end of possibilities to this sort of thing. You can imagine poor George coming home, a little later, and finding a meek and astonished wife. … But this is fact, not fiction.

A man’s voice said quietly:

“Is that you Mr. Henderson?”

“It is,” says I.

“I have a very painful duty to perform,” said the stranger. “This is your neighbor, Jefferson, speaking.”

“Ah, yes.”

“I am speaking on behalf of the whole neighborhood. That second boy of yours, Mr. Henderson, will have to be dealt with.”

“And who,” says I, “is going to deal with him?”

“Now, don’t get ratty, Mr. Henderson. I am speaking to you only in your own interests. You being away all week you don’t know what goes on. But that boy is really the limit. It ended to-day with him nearly killing my boy, Edgar.”

“Was it a fight?”

“Well, I suppose it was. But we can’t let children go to such extremes. He blacked Edgar’s eye . . .”

“Come, come, Mr. Jefferson! We all fought in our day.”

“Well, I won’t have it! If you don’t curb that kid of yours some of us will.”

“Who will?”

“I will!”

“Oh, you will, will you! Just let me hear of you laying hands on my son!

“What would YOU do?” demanded the stranger loudly.

“Why, I’d bust you on the nose.”

“Just try it.”

“All right, my friend, I will do it right now if you like! Come out in front! I’ll meet you right now!”

“You haven’t got the nerve!” challenged the stranger.

“Oh, haven’t I? I’ll be there in one minute!”

What happened?

Did Mr. Jefferson go out and walk up and down in front of his place, casting blood-in-the eye glares at the neighbor’s house? How long did he wait for Mr. Henderson to come out and fight? Or did he come out and see the innocent Mr. Henderson sitting quietly on his porch or perhaps tending the front garden?

It is interesting to speculate.

What are the ethics of this business? Well, if a man calls the wrong number – and in these days of the dial telephone it is the person’s own mistake that results in the wrong number – if he calls the wrong number and gets a man out of bed or up out of his comfortable reading chair to answer for the other’s carelessness then he is entitled to a little excitement.

Or isn’t he?