When Gina and I first moved into our house a couple of years ago, we decided to get a landline telephone as part of our Internet & cable package. (“Landline” is a loose definition, I know, since even that is being transmitted through fiber optics in our case instead of the traditional telephone lines, but work with me here.) Among our circles of young professionals, we’re probably in the minority in having a “home phone” number versus just using our cell phones for everything, but the landline has proven useful on several occasions:
- To have an “emergency” line if cell service goes out
- To order Chinese food
- To call our parents from the basement, where cell service isn’t so good
- To receive a multitude of telemarketer calls
The fourth category is actually the most interesting (unless you’re a connoisseur of Chinese food). Early on after moving, we realized that we were consistently getting calls and voicemails from people who wanted their watches fixed. They were looking for their favorite watch repairman, by the name of Mr. Watchband. Clearly my generic voicemail greeting of “Hello, you have reached [insert number here]…” ending with the usual leave-your-number-and-we’ll-get-back-to-you language, which any self-promoting business would not have as their voicemail greeting, wasn’t deterring anyone. At that time, our phone number was new enough (to us) that we often answered the phone innocently enough, only to have to tell the disappointed watch owner that the number was, in fact, a private residence. I mean, this was different from telemarketers – residential numbers with our area code were popping up on caller ID, so how could we know that we weren’t just in a really friendly part of Northern Virginia without answering the phone? It’s not like caller ID tells you the reason for the call, but if “CONSUMER TELCOM” or “ANNOYING SURVEYORS INC.” show up, you at least have a clue that it’s not your neighbor calling you over to have tea. Gradually, we adopted a let-it-ring-and-check-voicemail-later approach, which then devolved into basically only checking our home voicemail once every month or two. But that’s another story.
I decided to do some research into Mr. Watchband, figuring we could at least forward his latest information to his disappointed customers. As it turns out, he used to be set up in the Springfield Mall, a place that at that time was still operational, though it was more a wretched hive of scum and villainy than a shopping mall. Our home phone number, naturally, used to belong to the business. The decline of the mall drove a lot of the normal stores and kiosks to close up, including our intrepid watchband repair shop. There was no business webpage that I could find, only a Facebook page that had several fans and appeared to be maintained by the man himself. It was there that I discovered a shockingly sad twist to this whole story: Mr. Watchband had committed suicide several months prior.
That revelation threw me for a loop. I instantly felt a tinge of grief for the man, who obviously ran a successful business with happy customers. Being only tangentially involved, by a coincidence of timing and the availability of telephone numbers, I could only wonder what drove someone like that to do what he did. Suddenly the inconvenience of a few wrong numbers seemed impossibly petty… but now, armed with this information, what did I tell those unsuspecting customers when they came calling? Somehow I couldn’t imagine ruining the day of every average Joe who only wanted a new leather strap for their Timex by introducing the gruesome details of the truth. Similarly, I couldn’t bring myself to change my voicemail greeting to, “Hello. If you’re calling about watch repair, I have some sad news… otherwise, leave a message!”
So, Gina and I decided… to do nothing. The recent demolition of Springfield Mall has changed things, but we still field the odd Mr. Watchband call here and there. Since watches are an item that only need maintenance every few years in most cases, it seems that people just assume their guy is still in business, somewhere. We vaguely tell our callers that he’s out of business and wish them a good day, leaving them unaware of the truth unless they decide to Google him.
But here, I feel like symbolically doing more. Call it absolution of guilt for not telling the whole truth. After checking the Facebook page again, I see that Mr. Watchband once recommended his former partners at Annandale Watch and Clock Repair for all your watch battery and repair needs. And so do I. The next time I need a watch repaired, I’ll go there, and it seems I’ll have a bit of a story to tell.