Spreadsheets were not balancing and no one was answering the phone at work. I leaned forward to find my phone buried under stacks of ledger pages.
“May I have the wrong number please?”asked an elderly woman with a weak, wavery voice.
Our company has five locations, each location has five lines. Out of the twenty-five phone numbers none of them are . . . wrong. Through the smoke-glass window separating my office from the large lobby outside my office door, I watched Haney shuffle his way across the lobby floor. Katie Couric looks better on our lobby TV than on his living room set, he likes to tell us. We serve him coffee and doughnuts from the employee’s lunchroom. When he gets carried away with the volume button on the remote, we offer to take him out for lunch, dropping him home afterward.
“Wrong number?” I queried, stalling for time to understand.
Some years ago, my son worked his way through school serving residents in the dining room of a local retirement home. The first time he served Esther she asked him what it was she liked to drink. New to the place, he didn’t know, but glanced at her upturned coffee cup and suggested coffee.
“No, no, ” she replied, “it’s what goes in this cup right here.” She tapped the coffee cup and added, “it’s what big kids drink!”
Discovering a connection for the first time, he smiled at her, “Oh! I need to go into the big kid kitchen for your drink!” and came back with milk in her coffee cup, much to her pleasure.
Recalling this incident, I asked my caller if she was calling for Richard.
I work with four Richards. Big Richard has worked here for 50 years, guaranteed a job forever by the owner, an old high-school friend. Little Richard specializes in talking to farmers about John Deere tractors and when to plant their crops even though we are not in the business of farming. And then there is the Richard we call Rick and the other one we call Pete. When people call for Richard, they don’t realize there are four of them. When their call gets transferred to any available Richard, often times the caller realizes they’ve been transferred to the Wrong Richard. And when I’ve been saying Richard, what I’ve meant is Dick.
Perhaps, my caller had previously called for Richard, and ended up with the Wrong Richard. I assumed it had been such a wonderful conversation, that calling a second time, she wanted to have that same “wrong” number.
Maybe that was it.
I transferred her call to the Wrong Dick (excuse me, I meant to say Wrong Richard). I snuck outside my office door to listen as he answered the call in another office. His delighted laugh and gentle, teasing voice told me I had guessed which wrong number was right. He remembers birth dates, the names of your five children, where you lived before you moved. How long it’s been since your husband died. And how you like your coffee.