Norman Weatherby is a miserable bastard. He’s a sleaze, a miser, and a man who suffers from telephone rage. Don’t be rude to him on the phone …or you might regret it! Warnings: Bad language.
If there was one thing Norman Whitby hated, it was being interrupted by the telephone while he was eating his evening meal. Countless telesales people figuring that the best time to ring people was 7pm had firstly been countered with polite denials, then brusque denials, then outright rudeness, then a phone left off the hook. Norman had now changed his phone number to a silent one, but still got badgered. They simply rang back later when he was watching a porn video.
Norman had today finally taken the step of buying an answering machine. It sat in its box on the cheap formica kitchen table, waiting for him to install it after he’d finished his chops and three veg.
Norman took a long swig of beer and forked the first mouthful of lamb chop and instant mash into his mouth.
And the phone rang. Norman groaned. He’d left it on the hook tonight because he’d entered a competition and was expecting…well, hoping…the organisers would ring to tell him he was a winner.
He gulped his chop, choked, and croaked, “Hello?” into the receiver.
“Hi, Bill, is Debra there?” said a male voice Norman had never heard before.
Norman felt a surge of irritation. Dragged from his dinner for mistaken identity! “No,” he said curtly. “You’ve got the wrong number.”
“Well, stuff you!” snapped the caller rudely.
“Stuff you too!” retorted Norman. And he slammed the phone down loudly in his caller’s ear.
Norman didn’t really taste his dinner that night. He ate mechanically, pondering the phone call. He wasn’t used to people being rude to him. After all, being rude to unwanted callers was HIS prerogative!
So Norman drained his beer, and regarded his telephone. Being someone who was a little on the paranoid side, he’d bought one of the new phones that displayed the numbers of his last callers. He had also ensured his own number was blocked from displaying on other people’s phones when he called them.
Norman made a note of the rude caller’s number. You never knew when it might come in handy, he thought.
Out of interest, he dialled it. The number was busy; presumably talking to Debra.
Norman poured himself another beer. As he lifted the foaming glass to his lips in slow reverence, his phone shrilled.
The competition! Norman thought, and snatched the receiver eagerly, not bothering to look at the calling number display.
“Is this Mr Norman Whitby?” said a pleasant male voice.
“Yes,” sighed Norman ecstatically. He’d won! He’d got the holiday!
“This is Joe Fielding of Megabank calling. We’re calling people in your suburb. We can save you up to ten years on your mortgage payments. Would you like to answer our simple fifteen minute survey –?”
“Nooooooo!” howled Norman. “No, bugger off, don’t call me again!” He thumped the receiver down so hard the whole phone jumped. His hand was shaking as he raised the beer glass to his lips and took a massive gulp.
He almost choked as the phone rang almost instantly. “Yes?” said Norman, spilling his beer as he put it on the table.
“Rude bastard!” said the voice that belonged to Joe Fielding, Megabank representative extraordinaire. With a click the line was dead.
Norman looked at his phone in amazement, and put the receiver down with a thoughtful, tender hand. He made a note of Joe Fielding’s number. You never knew when it might come in handy, too, he thought.
He spent the next half hour installing the answering machine, and after six attempts recorded his greeting of choice. “Hello. If you are trying to sell me something or ask me to participate in a survey, hang up NOW and DON’T CALL BACK. Otherwise leave a message after the tone.” There! That should sort the bastards, Norman thought with satisfaction.
* * *
Norman, it may be said, was a man who let things get to him. The next day at work was particularly nasty. Norman – aka Norman the Nerd or Wanker Whitby to his workmates and Norman the Creep to all females at his place of employment – had a run in with his boss over whose job it had been to write a report, and was still seething when he got home and shot the three bolts and the safety chain on his front door. Replaying his answering machine, he had three hang-ups and a querulous message from his mother saying his greeting message was a little bit terse, dear.
Seeing the two numbers scrawled next to his telephone brought back the previous day’s encounters, and Norman was inspired with a way to take out his frustration.
He dialled in the first number, that of He Who Sought Debra.
“Yup?” answered He.
“Bastard!” said Norman with satisfaction, and hung up. Norman then thoroughly enjoyed his sausages and three veg.
Over the next week Norman made four calls to the hapless He, simply saying “Bastard!”, “Jerk!”, “Wanker!” and “Idiot!” before hanging up. It had such a great effect on him he no longer suffered indigestion, even after eating an entire family sized pizza.
On his sixth call, he hit paydirt. The answering machine. It said, “Hi, this is Robin and Debra Carter. Sorry we’re not here right now, but please leave a message.” Norman did: “Asshole!” Then he wrote Robin Carter next to the scribbled number.
Norman was nothing if not resourceful. Having a name as well as a number, he looked up Robin Carter in the phone book and made a note of the address. It was only three blocks away. You never know when it might come in handy, he thought.
He decided to give Carter a break for a little while. It would be just his luck if Carter got his calls traced and the police came a-knocking. So he spent some worthwhile time researching Joe Fielding instead.
Finding out the information he needed was quite easy. He simply walked into the cold marble expanse of the Megabank headquarters foyer and picked up an employee newsletter from the receptionist’s desk while she was busy with another visitor.
On page 7, there was a short article saying that Joe Fielding had won Salesperson of the Month, and he and his wife Merryn would soon be having a luxurious weekend in a five star resort by the sea as a reward. There was even a picture of the smarmy bastard: gelled back dark hair, eyes that were too close together and the kind of smile that usually features in toothpaste ads. Norman hastily shoved the newsletter into his coat pocket as the receptionist turned her attention to him.
“Can I help you, sir?” There was a look on her face that said spending time on overweight, middle aged men such as he, boasting thinning Brylcreemed hair, a shiny, sweaty face and ill fitting clothing, was a bit beneath her.
“Got anything on your current interest rates?” Norman asked blandly, and was given a glossy flyer to take home after assuring the woman he really did NOT want to see a sales person. In particular, he thought, Joe Bloody Fielding.
* * *
The following day Norman arrived home from his job to find his mailbox bulging with seven envelopes stuffed with advertising material and offers from one Megabank, all signed Joe Fielding and begging him, Mr Whitby, to call a tollfree number and find out more. Once inside, he discovered three phone messages from Joe Fielding at Megabank wanting him to take up offers on a Visacard, a mortgage, and life insurance.
Norman saw red. As he reached to dial Robin Carter’s number and upgrade the insults to level 3, a more malevolent thought suddenly struck him. Grinning, he rang Carter.
“Hello?” said the now wary voice of Robin Carter.
“I’m screwing Debra!” shouted Norman.
“Who are you, you bloody bastard?” demanded Carter. He shouted so loudly Norman could hear him with the phone held at arm’s length.
“Joe Fielding!” returned Norman triumphantly, and hung up.
Norman danced over to the fridge and poured himself a beer. “Cheers, Robin Carter!” he carolled as he gulped it straight down.
He regarded his junk mail. All but one of the letters had been addressed to Mr Norman Whitby. The other was simply “To the Householder.” He hadn’t bothered opening that one; he’d simply chucked it straight in the bin.
Inspired, Norman retrieved it from its home amidst chop bones and orange peel and waited an eternity for his kettle to boil. Then, cursing as he scalded his fingers, he steamed “To the Householder” open.
The contents were advertising material, which was to be expected. The Householder was being offered a Visa Card with Megabank, with a “low” (Norman snorted at this) annual fee that was approximately twice as expensive as any other bank’s. The nice thing about this personal letter to everybody in his suburb was the final paragraph:
“In order to please our customers, Megabank has appointed customer representatives who are responsible for your suburb. We want to help and assist you as much as possible, and provide a more personal service than any other bank. You don’t have to speak to an anonymous voice on the phone; simply ask for your personal representative – me – when you have any enquiry, no matter how small. I am available from 8 am till 8 pm Monday to Friday. I look forward to hearing from you.”
It was signed with a scanned in computer signature: Joe Fielding.
Very, very tenderly Norman refolded the letter and slid it back into the envelope. He glued it down with exquisite care.
Breaking a law for not the first time in his life, Norman checked his neighbours’ mailboxes and retrieved the To the Householder letter from four of them.
Wearing a grin that split his cunning face from ear to ear, he drove the letters three blocks away and slid them surreptitiously under the old leadlight front door of Robin and Debra Carter’s Californian bungalow. They slithered satisfactorily along polished wooden flooring. He had a hunch his telephonic friends would have received other Megabank correspondence that day, too, if their neighbours’ bulging Megabanked letterboxes were anything to go by.
When he returned home he rang the tollfree number on his multiple Megabank correspondence.
“Joe Fielding,” said a familiar voice with all the insincere warmth of the true salesperson.
Norman cleared his throat. “This is Robin Carter from 38 Primrose Street. One of the people you promise to personally service in your last mailout. Well, I’ve been getting some personal service lately. From your wife Merryn. She’s great in bed, particularly when she does that little thing –”
He was talking to a dead line. Norman grinned.
* * *
In a few short minutes he was parked in the dark shadows several metres away from Robin Carter’s house. The house next door to Carter’s was in total darkness, and Norman took the risk of sneaking his bulky frame into the garden and secreting himself in the narrow passage between the house and the paling fence at the side, as close as he could safely get to Carter’s house.
One of Carter’s windows was wide open, and Norman listened with relish.
“Robin, I’ve never HEARD of Joe Fielding, let alone slept with him!”
“Bullshit! Then why have we got eight bloody advertising letters from him today? And some of them delivered bloody personally under the door, too! Is this his way of keeping in touch with you, reminding you he’s there, making you think of him?”
Norman elevated himself by standing on the horizontal struts of the fence, and the palings groaned. He could JUST see into the kitchen. That must be Carter, that tall fair-haired man with the red face storming around the kitchen like a one man army. The small, slender girl cowering against the fridge with tears pouring from her eyes could only be Debra.
A screech of tyres in the street made Norman’s head swivel so fast he almost dislocated something. A car door slammed and Norman shrank back closer into the shadows until the only part of him with any light falling on it was his rotund stomach.
He had a glimpse of Mr Smarmy Fielding thumping up the Carter path and onto the verandah.
“Carter, you bastard! Open up!” Fielding hammered on the front door. Norman heard the tinkle of broken glass, and Fielding’s voice say, “Oh, shit!”
“Is that you, Fielding?” roared Carter.
“I’ll shove your dick down your throat, you bastard!” screamed Fielding.
Norman saw Fielding move backwards briefly, and then rush forwards. There was a very wooden sound which indicated Fielding had kicked in the drawbridge to the Carter castle.
Norman figured he’d better make a move before things got too nasty and some nosy neighbour found him lurking under the kitchen window. He crept across the lawn, moving surreptitiously from hibiscus to camellia to azalea, and opened the gate with the minimum of noise, just a soft click. Walking as normally as he could, he sauntered back to his car and sat in the darkness.
Within five minutes lights blazed on the other side of Carter’s house, and Debra burst through the shattered front door yelling “Heeeellllllpppp!” to anyone who’d listen. Neighbours peered out of their houses like inquisitive rabbits, all twitching noses behind net curtains.
“Call the police!” screamed Debra, bolting down her front path. “They’ll kill each other!”
Someone must have obeyed, for Norman heard the sirens above the yelling and shouting from chez Carter. He wound up the window and slid as far under the dash as he could as the blue lights screeched into Primrose Street.
Peeking delicately between the steering wheel and the dash, he watched the boys and girls in blue do their duty: Carter and Fielding were handcuffed and escorted to the police van. Carter was limping and Fielding was attempting to kick the arresting office. A female police officer slipped a consoling arm around Debra and led her back into her house.
Norman felt a pang of remorse, but it lasted less than a millisecond. Those bastards had annoyed him – they deserved it!
When the van had moved off, sans sirens and blue lights, Norman started his car and quietly drove home. After another two beers and a mindless if cheerful hour in front of his favourite blue movie, he slept the sleep of the content.
Norman’s life picked up considerably that week. Firstly, he read about a local domestic disturbance in the morning paper in which two men had been arrested for assault in the hitherto crimeless boulevard of Primrose Street.
Secondly his boss, in a rare moment of foolish kindness, gave Norman praise for his excellent report and recommendations on workplace safety, and hinted that a promotion was in the offing. Norman was delighted – his plagiarism of a report he’d found on the internet had obviously paid off.
Thirdly, he’d had three days without salespeople leaving messages on his answerphone.
Fourthly, the one message his answering machine did pick up informed him that he’d won third prize in one of the many competitions he’d entered. What on earth he’d do with a full makeover in a beauty salon was beyond him, but it made him felt his luck had changed for the better.
The crowning end to his week was that Jenny, the chain-smoking divorcee in Accounts, had finally responded to his leering and had agreed to go to the movies with him next Tuesday night. The day was his suggestion; movies were half price and if he had to pay for her it wouldn’t cost much.
“From now on, I’m a reformed character,” Norman informed the sallow beige walls of his kitchen. He screwed up Carter’s and Fielding’s numbers and threw them in the bin.
To celebrate the transformation of Norman the Nasty into Norman the Nice, he panfried a particularly delectable piece of sirloin, and took the time to make chips instead of instant mash from a packet. He even tempted fate and left the answering machine switched off and the phone on the hook.
Norman had but one mouthful of his cooling steak to shovel in when the phone trilled.
“I won’t be annoyed,” Norman told himself pleasantly. He unhurriedly set his cutlery down and answered in his most pleasant voice.
There was a childish giggle at the other end and Norman, who despised children, especially giggly ones, cringed. “Big fat wanker!” chorused at least two juvenile voices.
The phone went dead in his hand after one final giggle.
Norman took a deep breath. Then he looked at the calling display and, despite himself, wrote down the number. A familiar thought jumped, unbidden, into his head: You never know when it might come in handy.
© Copyright 2000 Caroline Sully
Reproduction without the author’s permission strictly prohibited