It’s no easy thing to record an answering machine message, especially when you start to think about it too much. When else in your life are you asked to create a verbal persona in fifteen seconds or less that reflects who you are and will be divulged indiscriminately to friends and strangers? It boggles the mind. Or, at least, the mind that is supposed to be doing reserve readings. Or the mind that is waiting for a certain someone to call and wonders if they have already but didn’t leave a message because the mind’s answering machine makes them sound too needy.
How should you sound on your message? Fun-loving? Easy? A combination of both? I think less is more. Getting too fancy is bound to get you into trouble eventually. If your message is in poor taste, you are almost guaranteed to receive a call from the person whom you would least want it played for. If you leave a message that says “This is Molly; leave a message–unless you’re Bill, who is ugly and eats cat food,” Bill is going to call you, even if you haven’t heard from him in years and he lives across the ocean now. And with your luck, he was probably calling to leave you money. Try not to be too blasé about it, either, with: “I’m out and I don’t know when I’ll be back. You can leave a message but there’s no guarantee I’ll get it. My life is dizzy and wonderful and full of excitement.” This person is trying too hard. Somewhere between that last message and one that implies that you sit with the phone in your lap waiting for people to call you, lies compromise.
All you push-button voicemail junkies out there, I don’t know how your little system works and I don’t reckon I ever will. In my room I’ve got an ancient, tacky little black box of an answering machine sitting on top of a sagging cardboard dresser and that’s the way I likes it. Sometimes, though, I find myself wishing that my happiness and sense of self-worth didn’t hinge on a little red light that blinks when times are good and messages plentiful, and stares up at me with a sullen, red glow when no one cares.
Coming home late at night and being confronted by the hateful, unblinking red light of an answering machine with no messages on it can really make you want to rob a liquor store. (Note to authorities: Not a binding statement.)
I wish my answering machine had a function that made it blink permanently with the promise of a message. When I didn’t have a message (as happens oh so occasionally), my pressing “Play” would make the answering machine say something nice to me, like: “You have no messages, you sexy, sexy piece of ass. Man, if I weren’t an answering machine….” Or even something reassuring, like “He must have lost your number. I’ll bet he’s kicking himself.” Maybe someday that technology will be available. The future is now.

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