The other morning I answered the phone to the mellowed tones of a retiree named Bill who had somehow got hold of my number.
“Hello, can I speak with Alexander Cockburn?”
There was an alluring gravity to the voice, and the pleasant lack of buzzing, delays and echoes prevented my standard: That was my dad. He died two years ago. Please remove him from your database. Goodbye.
“Who is calling?” I enquired.
“Well, I read a re-published piece by him recently and I was just amazed that he ended up in Humboldt!”
“Hmm,” I said, not sure how to address his amazement. Then I broke the news: “I”m sorry to tell you that he passed away two years ago”
“Yes, I read that too.”
“Let me get this straight. You knew that he had died but you decided to call him up?”
“You decided to call up the house of a dead person and ask to speak to them?”
“Yes. It’s strange, I admit.”
“It is very strange.”
“Yes, I’m sorry. I didn’t think anyone would answer the phone.”
“I’m sorry, but I’m having trouble with this whole concept. Why did you call someone you knew to be dead?”
“I don’t know. I don’t understand it. I didn’t think anyone would answer the phone.”
“What is your name?”
“Bill. I”m a retired guy. I don’t live in Humboldt myself but I was just astounded to discover that Alexander Cockburn had ended up in Humboldt of all places!”
I couldn’t get sidetracked into this amazement of his.
“Well Bill, I think you would do well to be more sensitive to the possibility of a relative answering the phone the next time you think about calling a dead person and asking to speak to them.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t know what I was thinking.”
“OK. I think I’m going to get off the phone now. Goodbye.”
I worried about Bill’s mistake call throughout the day. I hope he finds some live people to call up; it seems like he could do with the company. I’m grateful to him for the note to my elder self: think twice before dialing the dead.