Nonfiction

How To Reach Me: A Manual

Jeremy Simon

You can call me at my home number, 212-665-5557. I am nearly impossible to reach at home.

I spend most of my at-home time sleeping. I am asleep between 2 a.m. and 9 a.m., or sometimes 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. This is an excellent time to not call. The calls I take at those hours are of a scary and improbable sort: the girlfriend from seventh-grade, the unforgotten math teacher, and Anna Wintour of Vogue magazine.

Sometimes you will call when I am asleep, and by the third ring I will have scrambled over to pick up the phone. Probably, I will mumble incoherently about how Anna offered me the cover, even though it has been some time since Vogue has put a man on its cover, much less so strange and unphotogenic a man, and she would be happy to let me wear Levi’s for the shoot because fashion is for everyone. You will be sorry you called.

Many of my waking hours at home are spent writing, a symphony in four movements: 1) Typing; 2) thinking about typing; 3) thinking about doing something else; 4) drinking coffee. When I am doing 1) or 2), I let the phone ring through to my answering machine. It will not help if you leave a guilt-inducing message, if you are mom, or even if I like you. I promise to apologize when I call back, whenever that is. You are so doomed if your incoming message begins, "Your beep is so long, you must be soooooo popular!"

If I am in 3) or 4) mode, though, I will answer on the third ring. Assuming you have not reconsidered your call, I will deliver to you a 10-minute monologue on the guilt I feel about neglecting 1) or 2). Please respond sympathetically, but not voluminously. I will feel queasy if you tie up my line for too long. No, of course I don’t have call-waiting. One at a time is quite enough.

I spend the rest of my home time on various tasks of leisure, during which I may or may not answer the phone. If I am reading a book about things that happened long ago, I will not pick up. The weight of history, and the guilt that follows its neglect, is too heavy to bear. But if I am reading something light–say, a periodical on contemporary culture–then I will pick up, because you are contemporary culture.

I may pick up the phone if I am watching TV, but never when I am watching the Weather Channel because the Local Forecast is a fleeting and fickle thing, or if I am watching Sports of Historic Import like the Olympics or a Tiger Woods anything, or Reality TV–unless I need reassurance that other people, too, watch Reality TV. If I pick up and want to talk about Reality TV, please do not tell me you don’t watch TV or even own a TV.

If you call when I am in the bathroom, all is not lost. The phone is cordless and you never know.

If you reach my answering machine, realize it will cut you off after 30 seconds. Leave your message in what journalists call "inverted pyramid" form, with the most exciting, power-packed information in the first few sentences.

Do not hang up on my answering machine without leaving a message. I do not care if you think "phone tag" is a silly game, and it would be wrong to assume that if you wait an hour and call back, you will reach me. I will dial *69 just to see who slighted me. This is not petty, but a principle. Do unto my answering machine as you would have done unto you.

I return all my answering-machine messages, though not always right away, or in the order in which I receive them, or by phone. My outgoing message is short and not overly cutesy and it does not ask that you eat shit and die (or equivalent) if you are a telemarketer, and it is free of the conspicuous background blare of some brash or heartfelt song. That would be so obnoxious.

I check my answering machine as soon as I get home, sometimes, but other times I allow the red light on my machine to blink. I watch it like I watch an unopened gift, afraid it might lose its value when unwrapped.

Now and then, I check the machine from what is called a "remote location"–some place other than home. Do not assume this will make me respond any sooner to your message. Once, I called in to hear a message and could not find a pen in time to take down the phone number, and when I got home another message had been recorded over it, and I lost the original message forever because I had lost the answering-machine manual. Actually, this happens all the time. If this happens to you–sorry! Please call again.

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Most of my waking hours, I am not home. To ensure we remain in constant contact, I have a mobile phone. Its number is 917-270-5305. When I am out, my mobile phone is with me, except when I am exercising, or with my parents, or somewhere that I will "be right back" from, or at a function where I don’t want the bulge in my pants.

If you call my mobile phone, your odds of talking to me are excellent if I am in a quiet place (my phone is on low volume) or even a loud place if my phone is in a piece of tight clothing (my phone is on "vibrate"). I am less likely to answer in wintertime; down and heavy wool dampen the vibration of the phone.

When I am not in class or at the movies or somewhere else where I turn the phone off, call me. I am all ears if I am alone; and if I am not underground, in a subway, in a bar or a tunnel; and if I am within Verizon’s tri-state calling radius; and if my hands are not full and my gloves are not thick; and if I am in the mood.

My mood vis-a-vis cell phone correspondence is fickle, and circumstances sometimes demand that I do not answer. Perhaps I am nearing my 200-minutes-per-month weekday limit and it is a weekday; or I am not nearing aforementioned limit but think I might be because I have lost track; or I am just paranoid about my mounting non-communication-related expenses and am steering clear of anything I could possibly be charged money for.

I will not answer if I think you think you can just willy-nilly talk to me whenever you want. I am not your slave. A phone is not a leash.

The best time to reach me on my mobile phone is when I am walking down the street, feeling insecure about all the people around me on mobile phones.

Please, if you reach my mobile-phone voice mail, leave a message. I check it every time I have a message, when I notice I have a message, or when I don’t know who left the message. Usually, I do know who left the message, because my mobile phone has Caller ID, which reveals your number (unless you call from a law firm, newspaper or other Caller-ID-blocking enterprise). If I know who left the message, I may leave my voice mail unchecked (for explanation, please refer to unopened-present metaphor on previous page.)

When I retrieve your message, I will probably call you back soon if I am near a landline or it is the weekend (when my minutes are free) or if I have to meet you in 30 minutes at Avenue A and 7th Street and you are saying something like, "The avenues are numbered, not lettered." If not, then later. Do you not trust me?

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I have some work phone numbers, one of which will link you directly to my desk without intrusion from receptionists, personal assistants, impersonal assistants, and impersonal automated systems. In exchange for revealing my direct line to you, I have been authorized to request your Social Security Number, your mother’s maiden name, and a thumbprint. Meanwhile, you may call the main switchboard and ask for me. The switchboard will connect you with our call-management network. Some days the call-management software translates "s" sounds as "f"s. Other days, it is the other way around. Who says computers do not have minds of their own?

It is hard to predict when you will be able to reach me at work. I work when I want to in the New Economy. But I am a creature of habit, so one aspect of my schedule remains constant: I take lunch in the afternoon. Please do not call me in the afternoon.

Otherwise, you can call me at work, so long as the conversation obeys Valid Conversation Topic at Work guidelines. Valid conversation topics at work include "the weekend," "where we should go Wednesday" and "I am bored." They do not include "us," if we are dating.

If I am not in, leave a message. I will retrieve it as soon as I can reach the company voicemail administrator, who will remind me what my password was and/or how to retrieve voicemail. I just called and left her a message, and am waiting for her to call back. If you do not hear from me within a few weeks, please call back. Or consult the mobile-phone section of this manual.

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I do not have a Palm Pilot. Do not try to call me on your Palm Pilot. It is not made for such things.

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Fortunately, there is e-mail. My home e-mail address is js1134@columbia.edu; for my work e-mail address, please phone the main switchboard. E-mail is the perfect way to reach me if you do not want to talk with me. If you have anything to say that requires you to speak for more than 30 seconds, zap me an e-mail.

Send personal e-mails to my home e-mail address, and work-related e-mails to my home e-mail address also. My work e-mail address exists to sift out messages from Human Resources, Information Technology and Accounting. I check my work e-mail once or twice a week, because now and then the office manager distributes an office-wide e-mail about a pizza left over from a Business Development lunch meeting. If you send me a personal e-mail between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. certain days, I may not acknowledge it right away, even if I have no work, just because.

I am most likely to return your e-mail quickly if you return my e-mail quickly. This will produce a vortex-like effect, with us replying to each other’s increasingly inane e-mails faster and faster until the surrounding world is blotted out. If this occurs, realize that this fling will end, and we will never again see or talk to each other, it will be that awkward, and you will be forgotten.

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Old-media modes of correspondence are still operable in some metropolitan areas. There is the mail (195 Claremont Ave., Apt. #64, NYC, NY, 10027), and there is knocking on my front door (ditto). I do not advise these methods.

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If you see me on the street, please feel free to say hello. Why haven’t you called?