Phone Calls from All Over
I’ve been keeping track of which countries most of my cell-phone calls come from, and the United States of America is way behind. Slovenia is in the lead, but lately the Lithuanians have been giving the Slovenians a run for their money—or, considering the warnings that we’re constantly getting about the danger of answering such calls, maybe I should say a run for my money. Yes, I’m aware that Melania Trump is from Slovenia, and I want to make it clear that I’m not in any way casting blame on her. She has enough on her plate as it is.
Also, any number of countries besides Slovenia are ahead of the United States when it comes to the origins of my cell-phone calls—Madagascar, for instance, and Sierra Leone and Bosnia and Albania and Zimbabwe and the Solomon Islands. (Yes, the Solomon Islands!) Of course, I haven’t been answering those calls. Sometimes I look at the phone as it’s ringing, establish from the readout that the call is from some place like Estonia (at the risk of being labelled a provincial, I have to state, for the record, that I don’t know anyone in Estonia), and reaffirm that I am too savvy to fall for whatever temptation the caller intends to dangle in front of me. “Not a chance, buster,” I say out loud to the unanswered phone, or “You’re not dealing with someone who just fell off a turnip truck, fella.”
Lately, though, I’ve been wondering if this attitude has gone too far. Am I hardening into one of those embittered cynics who always expect the worst from people? Is my suspicion of calls from foreign countries a form of xenophobia? Is it a form of paranoia?
Consider the calls from Lithuania. As it happens, my maternal grandmother was born in Lithuania and lived there until she immigrated to Missouri, in what I figure must have been around 1900. Could she, in the excitement of setting off for the New World, have left something behind—a family keepsake of purely sentimental value, for instance, or a rare Lithuanian postage stamp that is now worth five hundred thousand dollars at auction? Could it be that a kindly Lithuanian neighbor had grown fond of my grandmother (for reasons that escape me, I must admit) and that an even kindlier descendant of that neighbor, having come across this forgotten article, was trying to send it to its rightful owner? Was it simply a coincidence that my grandmother’s brisket tasted very much like something left behind in Lithuania around 1900?
And how about Slovenia? As I envision the scene, I haven’t heard from the Slovenians in almost twenty minutes. In order to be in a welcoming mood when the phone does ring, I’m trying hard to summon up some warm feelings toward the country, in the same way that our First Lady must sometimes try hard to summon up some warm feelings toward her husband. The phone rings at last. I answer by singing a little tune I’ve written about the Slovenian capital: “Oh, surely there’s a song by now by someone like Madonna / To celebrate the beauty and the charm of Ljubljana.” I pronounce Ljubljana flawlessly.
The caller is impressed by my pronunciation, and even more impressed when I tell him that—inspired by those baseball fans who set out to see a game at every single major-league stadium—I plan to visit his country someday, to fulfill a dream to see the childhood home of every one of Donald Trump’s wives and mistresses, followed by a visit to the childhood home of every woman who has accused him of sexual assault. The caller offers to be my guide when I come to Ljubljana, and, as a token of international good will, I teach him the correct pronunciation of Natchitoches, Louisiana, which, he is fascinated to learn, sounds nothing like the pronunciation of Nacogdoches, Texas.
While I was imagining this scene, there was an uncharacteristic silence from my cell phone. Finally, the phone rang. I didn’t recognize the caller’s number, but I did notice that the readout said “United States.” Who might be calling me from the United States? Could it be Publishers Clearing House, informing me that I’ve won five thousand dollars a month for eternity? But don’t they normally come to the front door so that they can film the surprised winner? Or could it be a childhood friend whom I haven’t seen since middle school, when we would whisper farm-animal jokes to each other in math class? But how would he have my cell-phone number? I tried to think of some other circumstance that would account for a cell-phone call from the United States. While I was doing that, the phone stopped ringing. ♦