As a kid, I remember dialing up my friends on the telephone, and when no one answered, I was patient enough to let the phone ring for as long as I could tolerate it.
"Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall, ninety-nine bottles of beer... you take one down, pass it around... ninety-eight bottles of beer on the wall..."
I would sing it until maybe the 50th bottle. Because I knew that as soon as I hung up, they would walk in the door and miss my call.
There were no answering machines in my childhood.
I used to have the patience to wait on a busy signal. I once read Amelia Bedelia, The Littles Take a Trip and one of the Encyclopedia Brown books with that busy signal honking in my ear before I decided the busy signal tone wouldn't just change into a ringing tone.
I am still puzzled to this day, why a busy signal tone can't transfer into a ringing tone. ...."If we can put a man on the moon......"
I remember getting my first answering machine in either 1985 or 1986.
The large brown machine used a cassette tape and was attached to the phone by cords.
"Hello, this is Shawn.
I can not come to the phone right now.
If you leave your name.
Your telephone number.
And a brief message.
I will call you back as soon as I can."
I stole those lines off the instructions to my answering machine manual.
I recorded my voice over and over and over again. It never seemed quite natural. Like I was reading it. Or... I phrased it wrong or swallowed in the middle of it all or didn't sound like myself. (actually I probably sounded too much like myself, and I wanted to sound more sophisticated). Many times the phone would start ringing in the midst of me leaving the message so I would have to redo it. But. Whatever the reason, it would always take me about two hours to leave a ten-second internal message, sitting under the kitchen table feeling shy and embarrassed to make this recording.
I remember being warned. NEVER say "Hello. Today is August 30th. We cannot come to the phone right now, as we're camping at the Russian River and won't be home until September 2nd. Gordon, the key is hidden under the Welcome Mat as it always is. The window in the bathroom is still broken if you lose the key and need to climb inside. To all others, leave your name and telephone number and a brief message and we'll call you back when we return. Have a nice day!"
So I learned to always say, "I can't come to the phone right now" as opposed to "No one is home to take your call." It was to keep burglars away, of course.
You know what was even worse than leaving that internal message? It was much worse when I was on the other end having to leave a message. I would call a friend and the answering machine would pick up and I would have to leave a message on the spot. Without any sort of rehearsal.
I was too shy to leave messages that first year.
If it was really urgent, I would hang up, write down what I wanted to say, try it out a few times with different expressions and then read it outloud on the message machine. I just couldn't adlib back then. Eventually I started to get brave as others were beginning to become brave and leave messages on mine.
The answering machine was a hugely new invention. And, it took us all awhile to get comfortable. And, then we eventually did.
"Oh hi!!! This is Shawn. Well. ...You probably already knew that. Um... Are you there? ... Hello? ... Are you there screening your calls? ... I can hear you breathing. ... No, I guess not. ... What? ... Hello? ... Oh. ... Sorry. I thought I heard a click. ... Annnywaaaay, I guess you're not at home. ... Well... if you get home before 10, can you call me at --- beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep. (my fifteen seconds were up).
I remember before cell phones, I would be at a pay phone listening to my messages and I would inevitably get, "Hellooo Shawn. Where are you? Where are you? Pick up. Pick up. Pick up. Are you there? It's me! Hello? Are you there? Are you going to the bathroom? I'll wait. I'll sing to you.. "La-la-la-la-la".. okay, take your time. I'll just tell you a funny story that happened to me at the grocery store.. " and they fill up 15 minutes of my cassette tape before they decide I'm not really home. Meanwhile, I'm depositing coins left and right.
And then after that long message, I would get these:
Beeeeeeep. "Hi Shawn. This is John. Guess you're not home, so give me a call." (Time: 2:06 pm)
Beeeeeeeeep. "Hi Shawn. Are you there? Guess not. It's John. Give me a call when you get home." (Time: 2:13 pm)
Beeeep. "Hi Shawn. It's John. Give me a call." (Time: 2:22 pm)
Beeeeeeeep. "Hi Shawn. This is John. I'm tryin' to find you. Give me a call." (Time 2:51 pm)
Beeeeep. "Hi Shawn. It's me, John. Just giving you a call to see if you're home. Give me a call when you get home." (Time 3:13 pm)
Beeeeeeeeeep. "Hi Shawn. It's just me, John. I thought you'd be home by now. Give me a call. Bye." (Time 3:51 pm)
Now, sometimes I prefer leaving a message on someone's answering machine. I've gotten quite good at speaking on the spot. I can even sing a good Happy Birthday song to anyone on an answering machine. But who gets to leave messages anymore? Everyone owns a cell phone now, too. So if you miss them at home, you can easily catch them on their mobile phone.
I certainly don't miss the endless ringing ... but.. every now and then, I secretly hope I get to leave a message ---- just like the good ole days.