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Leave message or listen for a laugh

A few weeks ago, Dennis Devine, a musician friend of mine, decided to call me up at home and play me a little blues.

I'm not quite sure why.

Those of you who have musician friends know that the less time you spend sitting around and wondering why, the less your head hurts.

It might have been an impromptu invitation to one of his parties. It might have been to see if we wanted to ride together to a concert. But as Devine was playing his harmonica to my answering machine, something interesting happened.

He somehow hit the correct tone or collection of tones that activates the playback mechanism on the machine. I never use the remote playback function because that would only make it easier for people to get in touch with me, and the whole idea of having an answering machine _ in my case anyhow _ is to avoid that whenever possible.

And so, my friend Dennis got to hear all of my messages, which, I am relatively sure, were fairly boring _ mostly men and women with phony names (Mrs. Brown, Mr. Green, Ms. White and all of their equally colorful friends suggesting with varying degrees of niceness that I call them at whatever 800 number it is that their credit card company uses for collections).

Like I said, why do you think I got the machine?

That was okay, and mildly amusing.

What if there had been a message on there from Wife saying:

"I'll be home as soon as I can. I don't care what we do this weekend as long as it's not with Dennis; you know how boring he is."

Or a fellow musician saying, "Yeah, I know Dennis was flat last night, but please don't write anything about it. . . . I think he's losing his ear."

Dennis, incidentally, isn't boring and is never flat _ or swears he isn't _ but his accidental access to my messages could have been embarrassing for both of us.

A female public relations person who was a good friend used to call my office as a joke and leave terribly suggestive messages in a seductively breathy voice on the tape, things like: "Hi, I'm at the same motel, Room 203, in that black fishnet teddy you like so much."

We had never been in any motel together in any room with anyone or anything named Teddy. It was her way of making sure I paid attention to her calls and getting a laugh on a slow afternoon.

Once when I was out of town, a fellow reporter happened by chance to be using my office and, when I called in and asked her to check my messages, said with a straight face: "Your dentist called to remind you that you have an appointment at 9 a.m. tomorrow morning. Somebody named Ferd says you need a new alternator. You've been offered a great deal on a burial plot and somebody named (name deleted because I want to live) says she's at the Ramada Inn and to remind you it's your turn to bring the Jell-O. No wonder you write so much about that place."

It is fortunate that the reporter who took that message has a good sense of humor, because she now sits on the Times board of directors.

All of which leads me to sympathize with Pasco County Tax Collector Mike Olson, who last week suffered the indignity of having somebody crack the code on his office answering machine and who caused it to answer callers with a message telling them that Olson was doing something obscene with an employee and couldn't be bothered at the time.

Don't bother checking, Mike. Whatever time it happened, I have an alibi. Besides, I would have picked on County Appraiser Ted Williams. I owe him a prank or two.

Never forget the motto that I have borrowed from George Carlin. When people are really out to get you, paranoia is just good thinking.