Telephonophobia

by Andy Demczuk

Phone calls used to scare me more than falling off a bike or being alone. My biggest fear was hearing a ring and knowing another human was somewhere waiting to speak with me. Whenever a caller gave up, “brilliant!” I’d think and smirk. Proud of my negligent phone etiquette, I knew my boycott was debilitating communications everywhere and that dark place containing a mouth and teeth and phone wire would disappear.

As a kid alone in the house, phones were portals to grown-ups. Businessmen trying to find out if my parents were home infiltrated our walls, like airborne parachutists behind enemy lines. I always told them, “we aren’t interested.”

A bit older, I’d have to call my friends to ask if they wanted to play. Their parents usually picked up and I’d want to barf into their earpiece. Not that I really cared what they thought of me, but rather that their parental psychology projected through the phone too well, reminding me of the whole authority figure concept. A thing no kid wants to think about on their time off.

“Sure, Kyle’s home, want me to put him on?” is all they’d say, except for when they were mad. In such a case I wouldn’t get transferred to Kyle, I’d get the “Kyle is in a lot of trouble, he can’t play for at least a week, please don’t call until he’s done being grounded,” and all of a sudden I’d feel too involved with the family politics and I’d wonder what he could have possibly done since yesterday. These sharp replies made me never want to call again, though I continued painful dials out of necessity.

In my pre-adolescent years, I once called a girl’s house and her brother answered. He sounded so big and grown up. His tone of voice was weary and displeased of my call. “Abort, abort!” I thought, it was going horribly.

My nervous and stumbly phrases then botched in response to his electric, deep, inquisitive words: “Who’s this?”

I came to find that the adult world of Telephone is plagued with scammers, salesmen, receptionists, perverts, pranksters and customer service agents. If I knew as a kid I would become one of those “customer service agents” I would have stopped believing that my stuffed purple platypus Beanie Baby was an all powerful wizard, though I could never deny that he was an accomplished author, painter, and entomologist. He was also well respected among the insects. Together, we collaborated on many bug books and planned to go into publishing. But at twenty-eight I found myself in a call center and Platty was long lost. Someone sold him on eBay for twenty-thousand dollars. And I, double that in debt.

They hand me a headset and I am now that mysterious voice talking to strangers. Fashionistas entrust me with their very important financial information, and I hold potential power to offer free shipping. I click my status to “available” and I’m standing in a vast purgatory waiting for people to enter.

They come lined up one by one, arguments prepared, a dark veil working in their favor, identities drape the space between our voices allowing for brutal interactions. I don’t know the answers to their questions and words from ugly places inside them come out.

“I feel like I’m talking to myself, what is the point of you existing?” one says.

“You know literally nothing,” another says.

“Do they hire just any random person off the street?” another says.

“How can you be so poorly trained? You’re inept at possibly helping me in the slightest and you’re raising my blood pressure,” another says.

“How do you accomplish even a simple task throughout your day?” another says. 

“I want to speak with your manager, I’m going to get you fired, so they can hire someone who can actually be of use,” another says. 

“What’s your name?” they all demand to know.

I tell them “Robert,” the more professional version of Bob, though nobody calls me Robert. I put them on brief holds and look around the office for help, but everyone’s busy. I call a supervisor and they tell me the call isn’t important enough for them to take. All the customers want is to see if a shirt is in stock.

A part down inside my gut revels when I finally hit the “transfer now” button and the call drops. I take half a breath and another comes, “Incoming Call, U.S.” bellows a screeching robotic female voice in menopause, with no warning as to who’s next.

I say my spiel, and a loud lady replies, “HELLO? Hello? Yes. I have a problem. Shut up! I’m on the phone! Don’t throw that. Yes, hi, there is this problem. Shut up! Sit quiet! Don’t throw your dinosaur in the salad bowl! Get down from there and shut up!”

I found myself five years old playing with my favorite Jurassic Park Tyrannosaurus Rex with the removable chest piece that shows his flesh and ribcage. My mom’s yelling at me saying to shut up, she’s on the phone. My dad’s on a business trip and they had just fought before he left. My mom had to call a lot of adults about a lot of adult things that I didn’t understand. And I kept playing with my dinosaur until I got bored of his nihilism and then started drawing on the kitchen table. It was a grainy
wood, and I got yelled at again and I couldn’t stop noticing my ear ringing.

The headset bothered me and the crescendoing voice of my mom made me pull it off my ears. I couldn’t help her get overnight shipping because two weeks hadn’t passed since the date of shipment. She needed shirts and she needed them bad. There was a wedding on Sunday, but there was no way they’d arrive on time. I said, “sorry mom, I tried everything I could.”

“Don’t you tell me it’s your policy! I demand these shirts now!” she persisted.

“I wish I could get them there on time, but It’s out of my control,” I said almost sobbing.

“You are pathetic and no help at all, let me speak with someone who knows what they’re talking about,” she said as I played with Platypus on the floor.

Category: Featured, Short Story, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU Student