Clippings by John McCright: Who was that on the phone?

I don’t think it is just that I was brought up in Iowa and that people are so much nicer there. They’re not, we’re not — really. I’m sure there are plenty of people who talk to me on the phone at the office who have felt the short end of my temper, perhaps 80 percent of them justifiably so. Still, I don’t raise my voice; there are things you learn as a kid that stick with you.
So, I wonder why I got so angry, really angry, shouting angry at the guy on the phone at my home Monday evening.
It all started on Saturday, when I picked up the phone and said “yyyyELLo!” good-naturedly into the receiver.
The gentleman on the other end of the line was quite polite. “David Williams,” who had an Indian accent and was calling from a room full of other people making calls, said he was from Microsoft and he was calling because there was a virus on my computer. I was suspicious. Besides the fact that Microsoft doesn’t just call customers out of the blue to fix problems, we don’t have a Microsoft PC in our household — we use Apple computers.
But I am from the Midwest, I want to believe that people are nice, so I was confused. True, we don’t have a Microsoft computer, but we did for many years. It completely crashed last year and we switched to this Apple. Maybe someone ELSE was now using our old Microsoft PC and maybe THEY had the virus and the Microsoft gentleman was just a little mixed up about who he should be calling. I was about to tell him this when he courteously directed me to go to my computer so he could help me fix the virus.
I said I’d feel more comfortable if I called him. He was unfazed and ran through a long string of numbers in a sing-songy voice. I grabbed a pen and asked him to repeat it three times because I wasn’t getting the last four digits right. Here’s the number he gave me: 150-955-45759. Hmmm. Even I could see that this wasn’t a legitimate U.S. phone number. He told me to ask for “David” when I called back; I said goodbye, hung up and jumped on the Internet to do a little detective work. After only a few minutes of googling I found several stories on the “Microsoft virus” scam. One columnist for a tech magazine recounted the pitch a scammer had gone through and it was word-for-word the script that my boy had delivered. I was amazed. The SOB was trying to install malware on my computer.
My younger daughter, Sophie, had been observing this and she asked what was going on. As I tried to explain it to her I thought of the most direct, uncomplicated way of describing the guy, and I ended up telling her that “David Williams” was a criminal. Really, what else was it? Hijinks, frivolities? No, he was trying to steal information from me. I felt a little violated. I also felt a little sorry for the guy; I could imagine the 21st-century sweatshop in which he worked — low wages, long hours, high stress. I wished I had thought of some witty retort I could have delivered to the poor shlub, but it was too late.
Then he called back.
It was Monday evening, I was making dinner, I was tired, I was hot. The phone rang, I checked the caller ID and the hair on the back of my neck stood up. I answered and the SAME GUY was on the other end of the line — David Williams. “I’m calling from Microsoft because you have a virus on your computer.”
My other daughter, Emma, was nearby, so I turned away from her and said very pointedly to David, “Look, can I say something to you. What does your mother think about what you do for a living; what would she say if she knew what you were doing right now?”
I could feel my game face going on.
David said he didn’t know what I meant, which really got me angry. It was bad enough that he would call me from half way around the world trying to scam his way onto my computer and run his fingers through my not terribly valuable personal data, but now he was lying about lying. I was enraged. Without even meaning to, the volume of my voice inched up, then it bounded up until I was really shouting into the phone.
“What do I mean? What do I mean? Don’t tell me you don’t know what I mean. You’re lying to me. You’re lying to me. You want to steal from me, that’s what I mean.”
My eruption was so disturbing to Emma that she rose from her chair and hurried outside. Sophie told me later that she could hear me shouting from downstairs.
David stammered. I felt bad for scaring my daughter, so I figured I better end it quickly before I started using foul language.
“Don’t you EVER call me again, and if you do I’ll call the police and report you for harassment!” I bellowed into the receiver. Then I hung up.
I was shaking. Who was this man — this man shouting into the phone? Me? Emma came back inside; I apologized for scaring her and gave her a hug. She gave me a hug, too.
Later, at the end of dinner, Sophie and Emma wanted to hear another story about when I was a little boy. This time I told them about the time my dad had taken time out from what he was doing to help me make a bow and arrow. Sophie was particularly moved and said she wanted to call her grandfather, but she was a little shy. So I dialed the phone and handed it to her.
Nana picked up on her end and Sophie explained that Daddy had been telling a story about when he was a little boy. “So I just wanted to call and tell you that I’m glad that you were Daddy’s mother, and tell Papa that I’m glad that he was Daddy’s father. That’s all.” She listened for a couple seconds and then almost whispered, “I love you, too. Goodbye.”
After Sophie hung up the phone I asked if Nana was crying. She said, “Ya.”

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