Notes on Humanity After Calling Seventeen Total Strangers With a Blocked Number and Asking “How Are You Doing?” 



Straight to the factory-installed voicemail. I wondered if they were on the phone with some customer service banker, or a call-girl, or their grandmother. Or if this was the cellphone of a dead stock broker, buried with his BlackBerry in remembrance of the thing he loved more than his family dinners. 


A child. He said he was eating breakfast. I asked what he was eating. He read me the back of the cereal box, and asked if I had a dog. I held Radclyffe up to the phone, and told him yes. He began to cry. He told me they had put the dog next door down two days ago, and now there was no one he could sneak bits of bacon to. 

I told him that dogs come back to us in dreams if we ask them to, and he hung up without saying goodbye. 


Did not accept blocked numbers.


Did not accept blocked numbers.


Did not accept blocked numbers.


She told me she was my soulmate, and I was in no place to disagree. I hung up before I got her name, but I’ll keep this number saved for a rainy day. 


The seventh, rung-up scotch drunk by three. I asked how he was and he quoted Rimbaud. That was all. But I think it said something about him. I asked for his address and he gave it to me. I think I’ll send over some Tylenol and a fruit basket. 


Told me she had just gotten home from aborting her father’s child. I told her abortion was a sin and ended the call. 


Did not speak English, but I heard Madonna playing in the background. 


While dialing the tenth number, I got a call from a 1-800 number. I answered, and explained my project to her after the spiel about bogus insurance claims. I asked how she was doing. She began to cry and told me how desperately she needed to pee. I asked why she didn’t. And then she stopped crying, and I heard her chair scrape back against the floor. She yelled,

“Goddammit, no savior is coming.” And then I heard a gunshot. 

“Are you still there?” I asked. 

“Yes, it was just a confetti cannon.” And then she hung up. 

Good for her, honestly. 


Turned the question right around. Some young man, sixteen maybe. Asked me if I’d ever been in love. I had to think about that one. I told him no, but I ate some toast this morning, so really what’s the difference. He didn’t reply, and I stayed on the line for ten minutes waiting for a response. Finally, the call failed. 


Hung up after I asked how they were doing. 


He said, “You know, I’ve discovered I don’t care for Baroque Dutchmen.” 

And that’s how I discovered there is no labor union for minimum-wage black-market everymen. He was locked up in a cheap apartment with a couple paintings from the Isabella Stewart Gardner heist. I asked if he would stand in front of "Storm on the Sea of Galilee" and describe it to me. Apparently that wasn’t his charge. And as he said, 

“At least the bastard watching the urn has an ashtray.” 


Number disconnected. 


After so many “who are you's?" I finally gave up and said, 

“I am a poet, and it is a Sunday afternoon, and I do not watch football.” 

And the voice on the other end had nothing more to say, but we understood each other. So we just sat for the next couple of minutes, and felt comfortable in shared silence. I don’t really know which one of us hung up, but after they were gone, I realized that there was a difference in solitary silence, and silence which is chosen between two people. 

And so I chose to speak with myself, and learned to sing "La Vie En Rose" in French. 


Did not accept blocked numbers. And I didn’t care to try again. 


A dial-up prostitute apparently. She listed her price per minute, then began to talk about things I will not write down. 

I told her I had a husband and hung up. Because having a husband was so much easier to understand than “I’m in an exclusive relationship with myself, at times cheating with leftovers from a couple exes, and half a dozen foreign girls, five of whom are dead.”

And that’s when I realized that these were not seventeen phone calls to seventeen strangers, but rather seventeen phone calls with myself. 

So I dialed up my own number, and after the rings said “Hello.” 

And realized the voice on the other end was one I’d never heard before.

TRINITY FRITZ LAWRENCE writes poetry, short fiction, and essays, and is a student at the University of Minnesota, studying Greek classics, gender studies, and family violence prevention.