In the days before caller ID...
...you could pretty much get away with anything.

Again, this was compiled from stories told independently in several emails with friends.




When we were kids my friends and I used to call random numbers, but we never had any plan in mind, nor characters, scenarios, voices, etc.  We were just silly.  We used to drive the poor people at PBS nuts during pledge drives because, after all, what else were we going to do while we were waiting for "Dr.  Who" to come back on?

We used to call the number at the bottom the screen so often that I still have it memorized.  And we did more damage to the spirits of public broadcasting volunteers manning the phones than Newt Gingrinch [sic, I know] did to the entire PBS system.  Granted, it was pretty obvious that we were just a bunch of stupid kids, but I don't think anyone ever appreciates a bunch of stupid kids calling and screaming and making silly voices and shooting sound effects-making toys into the phone like stupid kids.  Because that's what we were: Stupid kids.

Things didn't get more sophisticated until I was in high school.  A friend of mine was one of the first people I knew to get three-way calling.  He used to call me up, then we would dial another number and prank call people.  This, too, was still before caller ID was invented, so we could just dial numbers at random with impunity.  We ended up doing a bunch of the routines from Pink Floyd albums and the "I don't like fish" bit from Roger Waters' Radio KAOS album.  I remember we also used to sing some of the more unusual songs like "The Gnome" and "The Trial" that required us to adopt unusual voices.  The surprising thing was that, more often than not, people would just sit there and listen to us rather than hanging up.  We typically ended up having extended conversations with complete strangers.

One night we called a random number and got a guy named Danny.  He thought we were hilarious and gave us his friend's number to call.  We messed with the friend for a bit, then called back Danny.  We told him we got the guy (I don't even remember what we did, but it probably wasn't very imaginative), and he said, "Great!  Hey, listen.  I'm heading out here right now (it was a Saturday night; he could drive whereas we were 15), so talk to my wife, Rachel." So we did.  In fact, we called up and talked to her off and on for probably about a year.

She and Danny were in their late twenties or early thirties and didn't have any kids.  We knew a fair amount about them, even where they lived.  She never knew our names or our phone numbers or pretty much anything substantial about us, but she gave us music recommendations, etc.  I bought Yaz's "Upstairs At Eric's" because of her and later proposed to my partner to one of the tracks off it.  Interestingly, I never met either Danny or Rachel, though maybe I should invite them to the wedding.  Assuming they're still together.

Danny and Rachel were typical "victims" of our hijinx.  In general the idea was simply to spread some insanity around.  We usually just acted nuts for a bit until the person on the other end engaged us in a conversation.  I remember an old lady we called telling us we weren't bad kids, we just had an over-developed sense of humor.  That was probably a good description.  We never pulled any pranks that would be considered threatening or cruel.  We didn't make obscene phone calls, but the weirder we were, the better.

Admittedly, there was one mean thing we did, and that was only when we called pay phones outside of grocery stores.  We knew this one store where girls from our school were cashiers.  They had to sit on the bench in front of the store for their smoke breaks, so we thought to copy down the phone numbers one day when we were there.  One night we dug out the numbers and rang them up.  One of the girls answered, so we pretended to be the radio station.  We didn't have a routine worked out, but I did the DJ's voice and my friend just jumped in with random bits.  Today we could make it sound so much better with sound effects and such, but we were convincing enough for most people who didn't expect to hear more than one person on the other end of the line.

"Hello?"

"Hey there!  This is 92.5 WXKW, classic rock 'n' roll!  You've won a rock and roll winning weekend!"

"No way!"

"Oh, yeah.   You've got the Rolling Stones 'Steel Wheels' concert tour package with fourth row seats, backstage passes, and four of their classic albums: Exile on Main Street, Some Girls, Sticky Fingers, and Get Your Ya Ya's Out!"

"Oh, man!  You're kidding me."

"You're absolutely right.  We sure are."

"Hey!  Fuck you, you son of---" [click]

We didn't do that too often.  In fact, we started calling the same set of pay phones and asking strangers what their favorite episode of M*A*S*H was.  They were always like, "My what?" One night the store manager picked up the phone and realized we had been doing this off and on for a couple weeks.  A few nights later he had a cop answer the phone to try and get us to admit who we were, but we just hung up on him.  After that they changed the numbers on all of the phones in front of the store.

Occasionally the humor was a little more avant garde.  For example, we started calling this one business after hours and leaving peculiar messages on their machine.  They always followed the same formula: We would state a time (never the real one, and it always ended with the number "7") and then would ask an insane question relating to popular culture.  For example: "It's 9:47.  Why did they take Speed Racer off the air?"  We didn't do this every night, but a few weeks after we started, we called them late one night, and someone picked up on the line.  I don't know if they were simply there working late or just trying to catch us in the act.  Whoever it was acted very threatening, telling us they had called the police about our calling them.  Apparently they were a little unnerved by our insanity.  I guess we stopped calling them after that in case they decided to set up a trace.

At some point we got the idea to call girls in our classes at school.  It was a relatively rural part of the world, so it didn't take a lot of work to narrow down the options in the phone book if we wanted to look up someone cold.  We would call a girl and act silly and never even tell them who we were.  As usual, we almost never got hung up on, and they would laugh and pretty soon say, "Hey, why don't you call my friend so-and-so and mess with her?" Before the year was through, we wound up with a notebook full of phone numbers.

Believe it or not, sometime later I ended up going out with one of the girls I met this way.  I dug out the notebook one day about a year or so after we had done all this, and somehow I ended up calling a girl we had prank called previously.  She and I ended up talking for quite a while, and since I had a yearbook handy I was able to see what she looked like.

We ended up going out the next day, and then stayed together for a little over a year until we drifted apart after I went away to college (she was still a senior in high school).  Now that I think about this, it really was pretty weird.  I think in this case the prank was on me.



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