April 14th, 2002


"Hello, DA's office"

(I’ve decided to have a theme week. All this week on GordonzolaLJ we will have entries related to the phone. I was trying to compile them into one post, but it was getting way too big.)

When I lived on Dolores Street in the late ‘80s, my housemate and I had a phone number that was only one digit different than the San Francisco District Attorney’s office. We wouldn’t answer the phone between 9-5 on a weekday because we knew it wasn’t for us. The phone would ring all day long and the first thing our an swering machine would say was, "Hello, this is NOT the DA’s office. This is a private residence. The DA’s number is Five - Five – ZERO etc."

None of which prevented people from leaving their messages on our machine, "Hi, this is John O’Connor. My case number is XXXXXXX. I wanted to know if there’s been a warrant issued for my arrest or not." At first, I’d return some of the calls, feeling bad for people and not wanting them to be waiting for a call on that kind of important information. Unfortunately, sure that they’d left a message with the DA, they refused to accept that I didn’t work for the city. "Can you help me out?" "Can you transfer me?" "Can you tell the DA I deserve a break?"

"Dude, I work in a photo lab," I’d reply.

‘Then how did you get my phone number?"

Since being straightforward didn’t seem to help, and Pac Bell refused to change our number without charging us, we started playing with the callers. Hell, they were the ones calling the wrong number.

Our new message said, "Hello. This is the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office. Martial Law* has been declared. Do not attempt to leave your homes. You will be notified individually when the crisis is over." This actually worked better. People stopped leaving messages and, I assume, found a live person to talk to somehow.

Most of the calls came in during business hours but, of course, some people want to call when no one will answer the phone. One night, with the martial law message on the machine, someone called at about 3 AM. A slurred, obviously drunken voice came over the machine, "You Motherfuckers. You’re playing around when you should be working. Wasting taxpayer money on your stupid jokes. Fuck you. Why don’t you just do your jobs . . ." Normally I could just i gnore the late night messages. But the machine was on its loudest setting so it woke me up in my bedroom. And this guy wouldn’t stop! After about five minutes, with the caller showing NO signs of slowing down. I staggered out of bed, picked up the phone, and yelled, "This is not the DA’s office! Shut up!"

He hung up right away. It was only later I began to wonder if he’d heard the martial law message on a different day, and was holed up in his apartment for weeks, getting lower and lower on food while becoming more and more desperate. Not going to work, just sitting at home waiting for that "all-clear" call.

The meanest thing that was done wasn’t by us at all. We had a houseguest who was at home one day while we were at work. The phone kept ri nging and ringing so finally he took out his revenge. "Has a warrant been issued for my arrest?" a caller asked.

"Let me check. What’s your case number?" houseguest said, and put down the phone for a couple of minutes. "Still there? OK, it hasn’t been issued yet, but it will be this afternoon."

"What should I do?" asked the caller.

"Well come down to the Hall of Justice, room 305. Show them your documents and that should clear everything up."

"Wow. Thanks a lot. You’ve been a big help," said the caller, anxious to head downtown.

After that one, we turned down the volume on the answer machine for the next couple of weeks.

*Little did we know that only a year later martial law WOULD be declared in Black neighborhoods and the Mission because of th e Rodney King riots.