Not That Kind Of Emergency
There’s a special kind of person out there between the ages of 65 and 75; an interesting type of Boomer, hiding in plain sight. They spent the 60s and 70s as political activists when they had the best hair, the most energy and, parents still alive to rebel against. Then they had kids in the 80s, pumping them full of fluoride, Tetris, and Judy Blume. In the 90s, they pivoted their careers as technology advanced, forcing them to become more serious than they may have intended. Now, finally, here they are enjoying their retirement by re-creating the best times of their youth which has become easier since a bunch of places legalized marijuana.
This story is about this specific group, in a specific town in the very general North East region of the United States before said legalization. It’s about two couples, Donna and Wayne, who are very tall, and Sharon and Howie, who are not. This is relevant. Donna and Wayne, while card-carrying, composting, and picketing members of their community, spent their time outside of their home in clothes that have recently been ironed and carry their professionalism on their sleeves. Wayne is a serious attorney who takes on serious cases and even his blue jeans carry an air of gravity. He and Donna look like they were made for each other.
Sharon mostly tries her best in this department. Howie does not. He, also an attorney, pulls it together in court. If you don’t know to look, you wouldn’t see that his pink shirt evolved to that color from an errant pair of red underwear in the white wash. You wouldn’t see that his socks don’t match unless you were sitting under the table of opposing council. You wouldn’t see that the white specs on his tie are not a silk pattern but rather from that morning’s Colgate. You’d have no way of knowing that his boxers are possibly on backward. If you did notice these things, you would notice them after he won your case because that’s what took his focus. And then, please, you wouldn’t care about the toothpaste. But when he’s not in court, all bets are off. The point is, all the other times, he kind of looks like an old hippie dragged out of the lost and found of a 90s summer camp.
It was on an unseasonably cold Friday night in New Hampshire when Sharon and Howie invited Donna and Wayne over to dinner. Sharon had earmarked a new recipe in October’s issue of Cooking Light magazine and was excited to have her friends over for a baked lemon chicken whose secret ingredient was Greek yogurt. She mentioned to Howie at least half a dozen times how much she was looking forward to a nice night with their friends but Howie had lost his hearing aid somewhere between his office and the coffee shop and was genuinely surprised when Donna and Wayne arrived at his back door around 6pm.
“Oh hi!” Howie exclaimed, “What are you doing here?” Donna and Wayne greeted Howie with a hug while Sharon rushed them in from the brisk night air. They chatted and laughed in the kitchen while Sharon hid the Greek yogurt so she could surprise her guests with her low-fat, high-protein meal after they tasted how delicious it was. This was when a very seriously-dressed Donna put her hand in the pocket of her serious pants and pulled out a very serious joint that she had confiscated from her teenage son earlier in the week.
“What kind of dope is that?” Asked Howie, eyeing the thick roll. Howie’s daughters had repeatedly told him to stop calling weed, ‘dope,’ because ‘dope,’ was heroin and that was a whole different ballgame but, again, the hearing aid was in a dusty corner at the Mean Bean Coffee Machine, and that linguistics note had not registered. Sharon looked over from her vinaigrette shaking. If there was anything that could make her chicken even more impressive, it would be if all her guests had the munchies. She smiled to herself and added some Agave which her children told her is really the same as honey but she didn’t listen to them either.
“We should smoke this before dinner,” offered Wayne from behind his serious mustache. The group agreed. “And we should do it outside.” The group agreed again. Then they all bundled themselves up in matching LL Bean and headed out to the back porch to get high on their stolen teenage weed. Now, to be fair to Howie’s question, he was asking because ‘dope’ has changed a lot since the Dazed and Confused era. It’s stronger. And they were older. They managed to light it with a long BBQ torch from the hardware store and pass it around twice before they each erupted in a coughing fit and realized they hadn’t closed the door to the deck and that the dining room was now a bit cloudy with smoke. The timer went off for the chicken and the group sat down for dinner.
The conversation was less intellectual than usual which, is really what the two couples needed. It devolved from where they would cross-country ski next month to why were all their children wearing intentionally ripped jeans to… was calling the number for Information still a thing? You know, now with the internet and smartphones, could you still call 411 and ask the operator to look up a number in the phone book?
The group debated this for far too long and Donna, ready to find out the answer once and for all, pulled out her iPhone, additional charges be damned, and gave them a call. Except, she didn’t. She dialed three numbers, yes. And the last two digits were “11.” But, instead of leading them with a “4,” she hit a “9.” Which is how, utterly stoned, and full of lemon chicken, she found herself on the phone with the 911 dispatcher.
“911, what’s your emergency?” Donna’s face turned the color of one of Howie’s many pink work shirts. Her eyes went WIDE.
“Oh. My. God. I am SO sorry,” Donna began, her entire body suddenly rigid. “I meant to call 411. You know, information. For phone numbers. Actually, do you know if that even still exists?
“Ma’am, just to clarify, there is no emergency?” Everyone could hear the operator’s voice through the receiver and sat frozen at the dinner table. Sorry, everyone but Howie who had no idea what was happening and didn’t understand why the phone book people were making Donna so uptight.
“No no no no nonononononononono,” Donna protested, “everything is fine here. I simply misdialed. Thank you for your service, Lieutenant.”
“Ma’am, by law we have to dispatch an officer to every call. Can you confirm the address?”
“Um, really,” Donna insisted, “I was just looking for a phone number. I could have Googled it, of course, but I just wanted to call because, because,” Donna searched the faces of her dinner companions. Howie was beginning to realize that something was up. Sharon shrugged. Wayne took the phone from his wife’s hand.
“Hi, operator, we apologize for the mistake but everything is fine here.” His voice was even, soothing, but the woman on the other end of the line didn’t buy it.
“Sir, who am I speaking to? Why did you take the phone from the woman who called? I’ve heard all this before. Two officers are on their way,” This time, Wayne’s face went pale.
The two couples jumped up from the table, waving dish towels, opening windows, and lighting candles like all of their children had been doing for years.
Through the kitchen window, blue and red beams flashed, speeding down their very suburban street. The neighbor’s lights turned on like dominoes. “Who’s going to answer the door?” Shrieked a panicked Sharon. Wayne took control.
“They’re worried about a domestic disturbance. So Howie should go. With Donna.” Wayne had a point. A schlumpy Howie didn’t look like he could hurt a Shitzu, let alone a 6’2” impeccably dressed Donna. They shuffled to the door, slowed by their intense paranoia. Two young policemen walked up the steps, their feet heavy with the weight of their equipment hanging from their waist belts.
Now, this was a small town in East New Hampshire. Everyone more or less knew everyone else and there was no way that these two young deputies didn’t know that they were at a local attorney’s house. A local defense attorney, nonetheless, who had a habit of getting the people out of jail that they’d been trying so har to put in. One could say that Howie had a few cards stacked against him.
The doorbell rang. Gloria, the Basset Hound, raised one eyebrow. Howie and Donna opened the door.
“Good evening, officer,” began Donna in her best ‘I PROMISE EVERYTHING IS FINE,’ voice, “what seems to be the problem?”
The Redheaded deputy wasn’t having it. He was missing the UNH basketball game and was kind of in the mood to arrest someone.
“You called us,” he reminded Donna.
“Yes,” Donna was good at admitting when she’d made a mistake. “But, you see, actually, I’m not totally sure what the lady on the phone told you but I was trying to call 411, not 9-11. You understand?”
“No.” The dark-haired officer spoke up. “411 isn’t a thing.” He looked at Donna: tall, put-together, taking control, and then over at Howie, whose hair stuck up in all the directions God made, whose shirt was grossly mis-buttoned, and whose socks clearly didn’t match underneath his 20-year-old Birkenstocks. Donna put her hand on Howie’s shoulder. Both officers reacted, looking for signs of bruising on the smaller man.
Howie thought this was a great time to chime in.
“See, that’s what we were discussing. Whether or not it’s still a thing.”
“I’ve never heard of that.” The dark-haired one turned to the redheaded one, “you have any idea what they’re talking about?” The redhead made a face.
“Ma’am, Sir, we’d like permission to come inside.” Oof. Howie didn’t want the cops in his living room on that Friday night. For one, it smelled like weed. For another, he didn’t need these two young whippersnappers going back to the station and describing his home to people he might be seeing in court later in the week.
“Really, Officers,” Howie asked his stoned head to export his most calming voice, “everything is fine here. You see,” Howie began, as he really loved educating anyone about anything at any time of the day, “you used to be able to call the operator and ask them to look up a phone number for you if you didn’t have immediate access to the Yellow Pages.”
Howie smiled, pleased with himself for so directly explaining the situation. The redhead looked even more annoyed and clearly had never heard of the “Yellow Pages.” He put a hand on Howie’s other shoulder, glancing up at Donna’s face.
“Sir, are you sure you’re ok? Is there anyone else in the house?” Howie froze. He and Sharon had been married for three decades. He knew everything about her and loved most of it. But, Sharon had a habit of, well, oversharing… all the time. Bringing her into the mix was a gamble. But, he really wanted the cops to leave and get back to the chicken that tasted a bit too much like yogurt. He called to Sharon over his shoulder. She popped through the kitchen to the doorway way too quickly.
“Good evening, officers,” Howie gripped Sharon’s hand before she could invite them in.
“Ma’am, is everything copacetic here on the premises? No violence? No danger? We’re hearing a story about a misdial that isn’t making much sense.”
“Oh,” Sharon also loved explaining things to people. She and Howie were a good match, “you see, back in the day before the internet, if you wanted someone’s number you had to-“
The dark-haired cop interrupted, “Yes, yes, we know, Yellow Pages.” Sharon smiled and nodded, “I made chicken.” The cop didn’t seem impressed. Sharon was about to tell him about her secret ingredient and really get his attention when he interrupted her thoughts.
“Is anyone else here?” Oof. Donna knew that Wayne was probably simmering mad at this entire situation and it would be best not to bring him into it. Sharon didn’t get the memo. She called into the kitchen for Wayne who begrudgingly trudged to the door.
“Sir, we were called here to investigate a possible domestic disturbance?” Wayne really didn’t have the patience for this, especially after a 70-hour workweek.
“It’s all a misunderstanding,” Wayne rolled his eyes. He did not like explaining things to people when he was not on the clock. “You see, Donna here-“ he glared at his wife through a forced smile, “thought she was calling 411-“
“YELLOW PAGES!” Interrupted the redhead. His partner turned to him,
“Let’s just go, there’s nothing going on here except for a bunch of old weirdos looking for a phone number.” The redhead rolled his eyes and shrugged. He looked each one of them in the eye.
“Next time you need a phone number, just look it up like a NORMAL person.” Donna, Howie, Wayne, and Sharon emphatically agreed as they watched the police car slowly reverse out of their driveway into the foggy night.
Howie breathed a huge sigh of relief, “That was insane,” he shook his head.
Wayne glared at everyone and walked back into the kitchen, looking for a beer.
Sharon tried to get the party back on track, “Who wants more chicken?”
Donna smiled, “Oh Sharon that was delicious, I’ll be right there.” Donna watched her friends settle down at the table. She paused and then pulled her phone out of her pocket. Then, with the concentration that the action truly deserved, she dialed 411. It worked. But she hung up on them, too, since she already had all the phone numbers she needed.
If you still can’t sleep, here’s a slightly boring but also kind of interesting article on the history of 411. It should do the trick: