The Art of Answering Machine Messages

The temperature finally broke 60 degrees today with blue skies and plenty of sunshine. After weeks and weeks of below-freezing temperatures, it's a welcomed change of pace and the first sign of spring. Chloe and I went to Cooper's Daughter Spirits at Olde York Farm, a little distillery about a five-minute drive outside of Hudson to enjoy the sun, drinks, and spring vibes. We shared some food and drank mocktails at a picnic table, we're both not drinking these days. As much as I love being in warm weather and longing for the tropics, there's a different level of appreciation for days like this when the snow finally is almost gone, the maple trees are being tapped, and the sun hangs out for a little longer each day.

This week I signed up for French lessons on a site called, Preply. I've been practicing French every day via Duolingo, 796 straight to be exact. I love the app and how it gamifies learning another language though feel it shrinks my confidence in actually talking with someone. Whenever I meet someone who is fluent in French I freeze and feel like an idiot. I kind of liken it to reading about how to cook, reading a shit ton about cooking, and knowing all about ingredients and flavors yet have barely touched an oven, knife, or cooked anything. It's time to take my learning to the next level and challenge myself to face my fear of actually speaking French. I'm nervous though excited about my first lesson tomorrow morning with Linda from Paris.

Yesterday I started writing another song inspired by a voicemail left on my phone. Meshell Ndegeocello left me a voice message last March about getting our kids together to go for a bike ride. We first met about ten years ago or so when I was going by the name, Baba Buffalo which I think she still calls me from what I gather from the voicemail she left me. It'll make more sense when you hear the track and message.

OMG, I had no idea about this but this picture is what the homepage of her website is right now. As my friend Cameron would say, that's totally fucking cosmic.

On the subject of voice mails and answering machines, do people still leave voice messages? I know I can be lazy when it comes to leaving a voice message. I'll often opt for a text message instead or leave a short message or hang up before the "sound of the tone".

After my dad passed away in October of 2020, I went back and listened to every voice mail he left me. Some were pocket dials that went on for three minutes with nothing but the sound of his phone jostling around in his jacket pocket while he was walking. Others were really sweet though and brought me to tears. The low-quality audio has a unique analog and iconic sound to it. Often times it's hard to make out what is being said. I sometimes enjoy reading what my iPhone deciphers what the voice message is into text. It either gets it or butchers a few words or just says, "fuck it, I'm just gonna put a long line through this garbled mess of sound."

Now about answering machine messages. You can tell a lot about a person from what they leave or don't leave as their answering machine message.

When I hear "The person you are trying to reach does not have a voicemail box that is set up yet," I tend to think the person either has a new phone and forgot to set up their mailbox, or doesn't know how to set up their mailbox, or is too lazy to, or depends on someone to let them know they haven't set it up yet, or doesn't care enough about voice mail to set it up, and rather be reached via text or email.

A person who just opts to let the cell phone carrier leave your number tends to not care enough about answering machines or voice messages to either listen or leave them. They might find the process antiquated and also might tend to be more private and or introverted. They also may only have a few people that leave them messages, or on the complete other end of the spectrum, are so popular that the person leaving the message better know who they are leaving it for. They also may be the type of person who is so busy that leaving a voice message takes too damn long and is a waste of time.

"The mailbox of the caller you are trying to reach has a mailbox that is full and cannot accept new messages at this time. Goodbye." This has been me a couple of times in my life. Most likely the person hasn't deleted messages in a while or can't keep up with how many different ways they need to delete the message to clear up voice mail space. Or they can't come to delete enough messages because they each hold some kind of sentimental value. This person could also have been off the grid for a while and hasn't been by their phone, or becomes super famous all of a sudden, or has a major life event, or dies.

Then there's the person that takes the time to make a unique answering machine greeting. The most generic riffing off of something like, "Hi, thanks for calling, sorry I missed your call, please leave a message after the tone or beep and I'll get back to you as soon as I can." I've left something along these lines throughout my life at different points.

There's an art to leaving an answering machine or voicemail greeting. If someone has taken the time to call you and get through the gauntlet of the greeting and the standard 5-10 seconds of useless bullshit that nobody cares about like pressing # for more options after you leave a message... Who presses #? I mean really? What other options do you need? You either leave a message or you don't. I think it's great to give them something. It's an opportunity to connect with someone. I for one love to make someone laugh or bring a smile to someone's face, especially if they've taken the trouble to leave me a voice message.

Growing up, our family, like most families had an answering machine for the house phone. Back then people left more messages because it was the quickest way to be in touch. Texting wasn't an option and email was just getting started.

Our family prided itself on the answering machine greetings we left, most likely thanks to my father and his sense of humor. My dad loved the comedian Jonathan Winters among other comedians at the time. Jonathan had a series of different answering machine messages that were totally wacky and zany that my dad had on cassette tape. We would switch up different answering machine messages from time to time, always making us, and usually the person leaving a message laugh. We also had other answering machine greetings that we made but these are the ones that stuck out in my head.

This probably explains why my answering machine message is the way that it is right now. "Hi, you've reached Tony. Please leave a message after the tone. If this is an emergency, please hang up and dial 911." It's fairly standard, with a little twist. And it is true, I highly doubt I could be of any greater help than 911 if you did have an emergency.