Not many people know this, because I just made it up, but when Alexander Graham Bell made the first telephone call, to his assistant, Thomas Watson, and said, "Watson, come here, I want you," he heard a voice on the other end say, "This isn't Watson. You have the wrong number."
Thus began a long, irritating chapter in telephonic history involving millions of clueless people who wrongly call other people who often respond in such an unmannerly fashion that the caller has no choice but to unwittingly call back in a futile attempt to reach a third party who, by this time, could well be dead.
I recently received wrong-number calls from three people who were not only apologetic but so pleasant that our conversations could have been (if the callers hadn't sensed that they were talking to an idiot) the beginning of beautiful friendships.
The first call was from a woman named Carol. After I said, "Hello," she said, "How are you, Mitch?"
"I'm fine, thanks," I replied. "There's just one problem."
"What's that?" Carol said tentatively.
"This isn't Mitch."
"Oh, I'm so sorry!" Carol exclaimed, adding that she was actually calling her friend Fran, who is married to Mitch. "I don't have Fran's cellphone number, so I called Mitch," Carol said.
"I'm Jerry," I said.
"Nice to meet you," said Carol, a retired nurse who lives in New York. "Mitch and Fran live in Florida," she told me.
"What's their number?" I asked.
"I wish I knew," said Carol, who noted that she sometimes gets calls from people who have the wrong number. "I try to be nice about it," she said.
"Me, too," I said, relating the story of how we used to get calls for a pizzeria. "This went on for months. Finally, I started taking orders. I don't know if they're still in business."
Carol laughed. "Nice talking to you," she said.
"You, too," I replied. "Give my best to Mitch."
A couple of days later, I got a call from a guy named Frank, who was trying to reach his son, also named Frank, who, like Mitch and Fran, lives in Florida.
"Maybe it's a Florida thing," I told Frank, who apologized when he realized he had misdialed.
"It happens," I said, introducing myself.
"I should know my son's phone number," Frank said. "I guess I got the area code mixed up."
"I'm frequently mixed up," I said, "even when I'm not making phone calls."
"I know how you feel," said Frank. "Thanks for the chat."
"You're welcome," I responded. "Good luck reaching your son."
A few minutes later, the phone rang again.
"Frank?" said the familiar voice on the other end.
"Frank?" I replied.
"I did it again!" Frank cried. "I don't know what to do, but I'm going to get to the bottom of this."
He must have because he didn't call back.
The next day I got a call from a woman named Anita, who asked if I wanted to be an altar boy at a nearby church.
"I'm a kid at heart, but I'm probably a little too old to be an altar boy," I said.
"My goodness, I must have the wrong number," said Anita, adding that she's a secretary at the church and was calling families in the parish to recruit altar boys.
"I wouldn't want the church to get hit by lightning," I said.
"I don't think that would happen," Anita said.
"I wasn't exactly an altar boy when I was young enough to be an altar boy," I confessed.
"You sound like a good person," said Anita. "And we're always looking for new parishioners. We'd love to have you."
"If I decide to become an altar boy," I said, "I'll call you."
"OK," said Anita. "Just make sure you don't dial the wrong number."