Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Day 31: Bill Called

Well, Readers, here we are: Day 31. This is it.

On Day 3, I told you a sweet story about a stranger. To close, I'll tell you a STRANGE story about a stranger. Really strange. And creepy. And most of what makes it strange and creepy has to do with how I behaved. So, you have been warned.

I moved to Boston after college at 21, got an apartment with a friend, and started temping to pay my rent. I hoped the temp assignments would lead to a permanent position, but a couple of months in, that didn't seem to be happening. My roommate was working full-time and plenty of noons found me still in my pajamas, eating cereal and staring out at the South End, watching the gainfully employed scurry around. (Remember, children: there were no computers.)

One day, the phone rang, and a man with a mellifluous voice said he was conducting a survey for a lingerie company (he named it; I won't) and could he ask me a few questions in exchange for a box of free samples? I was bored and broke, so I said sure. He was charming but business-like, launching into what seemed like standard boilerplate about my bra and panty preferences and quickly lulling me into an unquestioning state. Now, some of you are already thinking "Are you a total moron?" and I deserve that, Readers. If it makes you feel better, I'll just say "Yes" and we can get on with it. Honestly, I thought he was legit. I don't know why, except that maybe he was just a really, really persuasive actor. There are such people.

We did the question and answer thing for fully 30 minutes, and I didn't get uncomfortable until he asked me my cup size. A tiny alarm bell went off in the distance then. He must have sensed it, because he said smoothly "Thank you so much for your time today. Now I want to tell you something. I don't work for a lingerie company."

I laughed nervously. "Are you doing a psychological experiment?"

"No," he said, still charming. "I like to talk to women. But if I call one and admit that, she gets defensive and angry and hangs up on me. So I found if I made up an elaborate lie and tricked her into talking to me, she would stay on the phone, just like you're doing right now."

I could feel the blood pounding in my ears. I didn't hang up.

"You're not going to hang up, are you?"


"I think I know why. Because then I win. I made a fool of you. If you stay on the phone, you can at least yell at me and tell me I'm a jerk. After all, what do you have to lose? I have no idea what you look like or where you are. Now, I'll be honest: I call women because I hope they'll want to talk to me about sex. But I'm just as happy to talk about whatever you want to talk about, if you don't like that idea."

"I don't like that idea."

"Fine. What would you like to talk about?"

Readers, the next part is hazy because it stands to reason that I don't sharply remember why I decided to stay on the phone with an invasive, lying pervert. Maybe I was bored? Needed to vent about my job search and my loneliness? I really don't know. But talk I did. For about four hours--that time.

His name was Bill, he said. He was a used car salesman with his own business, happily married, four kids. He was a bit worried about his oldest son, who was thinking of dropping out of college. What did I think? How could he convince him to stay in? I told him about my lousy temp jobs. We laughed about them. I told him I didn't like my roommate's girlfriend. I told him anything that popped into my head. He listened.

Every now and again, he'd politely--with no creepy language--ask if I'd reconsidered talking about sex with him. Each time, I'd politely say I hadn't. And then he'd drop it, just like that.

One day, my roommate and her girlfriend came home for a late lunch and found me in my pajamas, talking to Bill. I hurried off the phone and they asked who I'd been talking to. When I told them the story, they laughed but said I was nuts. "But he's so nice!" I said.

"That's what people said about Ted Bundy," said the girlfriend.

To be honest, I never worried about Bill stalking me, or even finding me. Again, this was before the internet. It just seemed like I was a needle in the haystack of a very big city--sure, he'd found my number in the phone book, but our address was unlisted. He called three or four times a week, and we often talked for a long time. I started looking forward to his calls, storing up anecdotes I knew he'd enjoy. I can't defend myself for saying this, but he was a nice guy.

One day, I got a temp job at an advertising agency that quickly turned into a full-time job offer. I didn't hear from Bill for about a week--maybe he was on vacation--and by the time he called again, I wasn't getting home until 6:30 p.m. One night when I came in, my roommate had left a message on the white board:

Bill called.
He says congratulations on the new job.
He'll call tomorrow to hear about your first week.

I stood in the doorway, staring at the note, and something in my brain went "ping!" I'm not sure why it took me a couple of months to have this epiphany, but I suddenly thought:

The mysterious sex-talk man who found me by lying about underwear knows me so well that it's not even weird that my roommate chatted with him about my new job and that he's probably genuinely excited for me.

Everything changed. If I was home alone, I let all calls go to the machine, and if my roommate answered, I told her to say I wasn't there. He couldn't leave a number, or call at night because of his family, so with me working, it was easy to avoid him. And--although this sounds crazy--because he was always polite, he took the hint after about four messages and stopped calling. I truly believe he didn't want to bother me. If I didn't want to talk to him, he would just accept that in the same way he'd always accepted that I didn't want to talk to him about sex.

And that was that. We were two strangers on a first-name-only basis, talking about our lives like we were friends. We met on a prank call, and never once saw each other. One day, we stopped talking. Is that strange? It still seems strange to me.


erin said...

It's strange but oddly wonderful at the same time.

Poor lonely Bill.

Well, you could have called me and talked...

oh you see where this is going, don't you?

...but I was probably in utero!

ugh. I make myself cringe.

Stephanie said...

Odd as all of it seems, it's also not odd at all~

Anonymous said...

Yes, it's strange. Very strange. Weird even.

But I've always been more uptight than you . . .


The Wades said...

What Tee said. No judgement here, just nerves and gratitude that it all turned out fine. I love my Sam!!

It was scary how calculating he was. Oddly, I'm glad he had you. Maybe he found that he didn't have to be a creep to find companionship.

Crazy story. It will be one of those that makes me think days later.

The mad woman behind the blog said...

I would have done exactly the same thing. I'm that gullible and trusting.

Very interesting. And congrats for getting to Day 31. I just started my own blog marathon.

Paul and Heather said...

I swear you have the coolest stories!