Remember those good old days when we all had answering machines. They were great beasts, huge and convoluted. Being the immature so-&-so I am, I changed my outgoing message more than my underwear. After all sorts of audio performance art attempts, I settled on a simple and succinct message:

 “What.” I asked, flatly, without the question mark.

Clever people, and those who knew me, were taken aback for a nanosecond, then left their message. For most of the other incoming calls, I heard silent confusion, perhaps a sense of frustration and, if I’m lucky, a few grumbling curses.

It saved hours out of my day.

I don’t know. Maybe it’s not nice to confuse people so. And sometimes, there’s the piper to pay.

A while back, according to my friends at The Associated Press, it seems a frivolous answer machine was cause for a SWAT squad to storm a family’s home in Copenhagen.

It seems a member of the Becker family recorded a message on their answer machine and it went a little something like this: “We have been taken hostage by two children. Hurry. Please bring some help after the tone.”

Relatives called. They felt something was rotten in Denmark. The hard-of-hearing grandparents thought the message said: “We have been taken hostage WITH two children. Hurry. Please bring some help after the tone.”

I don’t know what the Denmarkian words are for “with” and “by.” Perhaps they sound the same. The police evidently couldn’t tell the difference and they sent in the troops to storm the Beckers’ apartment.

It seems the original message was correct. The parents were there, held hostage BY their two children. The flustered couple quickly changed their answer machine greeting.

All those messages I used to leave.

Was I confusing people?

I used to have a nice little recording that started with the theme song to a long forgotten cartoon show, “Magilla Gorilla.” The machine would beep and a peppy hepcat daddy chorus, backed up by a big brassy band, would sing:

“We’ve got — a gorilla for sale. Magilla. Gorilla. For-sale. Won’t-you. Buy-him. Take him home and try him. Gorilla for sale.”

Then, I’d come on with the music still in the background and ask the caller to press 1 if they were calling for the gorilla or press 2 if they wanted to leave a message for me.

This was back in the late 1970s, if memory serves me. That was before you could press buttons to access different functions on your answer machine. If I also recall, these primitive answer machines were about the size of a washer and dryer set.

I think many of us go through those goofy honeymoon days of having an answer machine where we attempt to invent some clever mini radio show of the 1930s and squeeze it into 30 or 60 seconds.

I’ve heard messages where the family tries to come off as the Osmonds and they sing 12-part harmony. Their greeting is so homey, so cheesy, you develop and eye twitch. It makes you want to find their address and pay them a visit in the dark of night with a chainsaw.

I had a sibling-like substance who, for a brief time, had her toddler children record their salutation. You hear these high-pitched, fumbling voices that go on and on. I left a message with sissy stating I was the monster who lived under the bed and would claw my way through and pull them into a hellish void if their mother didn’t get to the damn phone pronto.

She changed the message.

Later, she added caller ID.

Of course, she had to put up with calling me when I had the theme music to “The Addams Family” in the background. I made up my own lyrics, which ended with: “The Boston Guy Is Me.”

The needle flew off the maturity scale.

I think my all-time favorite answer machine joke was done by my pal, Kristi. You’d call up. You’d get her voice on the machine saying it’s Kristi, she wasn’t available, yada yada, “leave a message after the...”

Then you’d hear a commotion, a series of crashes and beeps and Kristi yelling in the background: “Ah, damn it! HOLD ON! I just got out of the shower and knocked over the phone. Give me a minute.”

Kristi somehow got her mitts on a 2-minute long greeting. After about a minute-45 of it, you’d hear:

“Hah. Gotcha. It was the machine all along. Fooled ya! This time, leave a message after the beep!”

Very clever. And funny.


I’ve sort of sprinted to the opposite end of the spectrum with my four-letter message of: “What?”

At my age, is that immature?

As for the Beckers, they changed their answer machine. I don’t have their number in Copenhagen, but I’m told when you call, the machine instructs: “We’re doing fine. Please don’t call the police.”

But really.

If you were captured by evildoers, wouldn’t that be exactly what the kidnappers would want you to say?


(SCV author John Boston also writes The Time Ranger & SCV History for your SCV Beacon. He’s has earned more than 100 major awards for writing, including being named, several times, America’s best humor, and, best serious columnist. Don’t forget to check out his national humor, entertainment & swashbuckling commentary website, America’s Humorist — thejohnbostonchronicles.com.)

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