By Mordechai Schmutter

I want to know why every single time my wife walks out the door, the phone rings for her. It’s like she knows someone’s about to call.

I wouldn’t be complaining, except that I’m usually the one to pick it up, and it’s awkward, because a lot of times I actually think she’s in the house until I say, “Just a minute” and find out that she’s not.

The truth is that people call me when I’m not home too. I know this because every time I walk into the house, the phone is ringing. And I wonder: How long has this been ringing? Was it ringing the entire time I was out?

Or are they watching me walk in the door?

But at least when that happens I could grab the phone and say, “I just walked in,” and they can say, “I know. I saw you pass my house.” What’s worse is when I’m on the way out, and I lock the door, and then I hear the phone start to ring. Should I unlock the door and run back in? Nah, it will probably still be ringing when I get home.

But my point is that the same thing happens to my wife, except that when she locks the door, I’m still in the house. And then the phone starts ringing. And it’s for her. Sometimes I chase her down the block with the phone. “Wait! Wait!” I hate taking messages for her, because I always forget to give them.

Sometimes I remember a few days later, though. Or sometimes, hours after she comes home, she decides to look through the Caller ID, and she asks, “When did Weiss call?” And I say, “Oh yeah. Weiss called. Here’s a message.” And then she gets mad at me, like I didn’t give her the message.

You have to be patient. I probably would have remembered tomorrow at the latest. Or at least the next time they called, I would say, “Oh yeah. Weiss called yesterday when you were out. This is probably her wondering why you haven’t called back.”

And I always get in trouble. I want to lie and say, “I don’t actually know when she called. I was probably otherwise occupied.” But I can’t lie, because I know my wife is going to talk to the person eventually, and that person is going to say, “Yeah, I spoke with someone. I think it was your husband.”

I hate taking her messages, though, because half the time I don’t understand them. Like they’ll say, “Well, tell her I can’t come to the thing, and the thing is not the thing.” (They’re usually not that unspecific, but this is how it sounds to me.) I’d like to ask the caller to explain, but she usually doesn’t have the time, and to be honest, it’s my wife’s job to explain things to me, not hers. And I don’t want her to think my wife and I don’t talk. So I say, “Yeah, okay,” like I have any idea what she’s talking about. “The thing is not the thing. Got it. Is it the other thing?” Sometimes I muster the courage to say, “What?” And they say, “Don’t worry, your wife will know what I mean.”

Great. I hope so.

So I’ll relay it to my wife. I’ll say, “Your friend called, and she said to tell you that the thing is not the thing.” And my wife always asks me a follow-up question.

“Well, does she mean Tuesday and Wednesday, or only when it’s raining?”

Like I’m going to go back now and call the other person.

And then my wife calls her back and says, “Sorry, my husband gave me half a message.”

No, I gave you a whole message. She gave me half a message.

So when I know it’s for my wife, my first instinct is to let the machine pick up. But then she’s going to ask why I let the machine get it if I was right there.

Because we have a machine that takes messages. Why do I have to do it? We also have a machine that makes toast. Should I still rotisserie my pizza bagels over a bonfire?

It’s tough, being a work-at-home husband.

The Caller ID is great, though, because it lets you know who’s calling, so you can mentally prepare yourself. The only thing is, it doesn’t let you know before you leap over furniture and knock over kids to get to the phone before the machine picks up. You set it to a number of rings short enough that the caller won’t give up, but long enough that you can get to the phone when you don’t know where it is, using only sound. And that requires quite a bit of athleticism.

Sure, some Caller IDs help you out. My parents’ phone mispronounces names when people call. That helps a lot. But the Caller ID doesn’t always work. Half the time it waits a couple of rings before it says anything, but you have to start leaping on the first ring or else you’ll miss it. And half the time it doesn’t even give a name at all. It says “Unknown name, unknown number.” If the person calling doesn’t know his name, how should I know if I want to speak to him? Or it says “Private Caller.” Your name is some big federal secret? It’s not like I’m not going to find out once I pick up.

Anyway, it turns out that most of the time when the phone rings and my wife’s out, it’s my wife. Other than that, most of the calls that come in are for her. Most of the calls that are for me are people asking me to write things for them or perform stand-up comedy somewhere. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate that. But most of the non-business calls that come in, such as calls from relatives, are for my wife, not for me. (Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate that too.) But usually, I have to answer the phone, because I’m holding it, in case my wife calls.

Even my parents don’t call me. I call them.

Barely, if you ask them. It’s not my fault. I don’t really have much to tell them. My father grew up in a generation where phones were used only to tell about important news, such as births and deaths. They were almost never used to broadcast to the world what you had for lunch. So when I get on the phone with my father, that’s what he wants to know about. Big major news. It doesn’t have to be births and deaths. (He’s relaxed his standards.) But he does want headlines. And usually what I give him is the weather.

But when I call my parents, they never pick up. It’s usually one of my sisters who picks up. I have several sisters, and they all sound pretty much alike over the phone, especially when all they’ve said so far is “Hello.” And I have to make awkward conversation with them for a few minutes while I try to figure out which sister it is, and then maybe I can move on to more specific questions. At first I say something like, “How are . . . things?” I don’t know yet which things I’m asking about.

I don’t want to be rude and just ask for my parents. But seriously, before I call my parents I make a list of things to talk about, and I can’t really make a list for each sister, depending on who answers the phone. And if I work from the same list, and tell one of my sisters my news, then she is going to tell it to my parents while she’s handing over the phone, and I’ll have nothing left to talk about. It’s going to be one of those calls where I say, “I just called to say hi,” or “to tell you ‘Good Shabbos,’” and then they tell me that nothing is new over there either, because they didn’t make a list, because I’m the one who called them. They didn’t even have any idea that I was calling, because the Caller ID said it was Maraca, and they have no idea who that is.

My point is that . . . Oh, got to go. Private Number is calling. It sounds important. v

Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of four books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to

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