My first “advertising” job was in a pr/marketing firm that specialized in high-tech during a pretty low-tech period of time comparatively. Before the internet. Before email. And before cell phones came smaller than a hard-cover book.
When I joined the firm there were eight people on staff. Oddly enough, four of us were named Mike. I was number four—behind the owner, his son and his wife’s cousin. The owner’s wife was also our office manager and bookkeeper. This was, in every sense of the word, a family business.
The agency was tiny. It was situated in a suburban office park surrounded by CPAs, attorneys and other left brainers.
An interesting thing about working in such a small shop was that we were all called-on to perform various tasks. I was the entire creative department—art director, illustrator, pre-press artist, print production manager. I was also, on-occasion, asked to make “bank-runs” for the sole reason that our bank happened to be on my way home.
We also all had the responsibility of answering the phone when our office administrator was absent or on another call. The phone system was comprised of a series of hunting-lines. If the main number was busy, it would ring through to one of the other phone lines.
An account guy I worked alongside—surprisingly NOT named Mike had the quickest mind and the best sense of humor of anyone I’ve ever met. He was a bright source of humor that made the long stressful days bearable.
He realized that if one of those lines rang without the main number in use, it was always a wrong number. Whenever he saw that hunting-line light up he would call me to his office before answering the call on speaker. Then he’d mumble some gibberish of a greeting.
The caller never understanding what was said would ask, “Is this so-and-so…?”
Of course, it always was.
It was amazing to watch how quickly my work-friend could think up a scenario and take the caller along for a ridiculous ride.
We soon branded this exchange “the incoming crank call.”
It delighted me every time it happened. Whether it was the person calling about a car he had dropped off for maintenance only to be given the unfortunate news that it was horrible condition requiring days of repair. Or the woman calling school to inform them she would be late picking up her son. (OK I still feel guilty about that one.)
On the Friday after a more stressful week, he would turn to the occasional “outgoing crank call” randomly dialing a number that always ended in 00. Based on who answered, he would quickly engage in an exchange that was insanely comical on our end and I’m sure painfully annoying on the other. But in the grand scheme of things these were silly harmless distractions for us all.
That was all some 20 odd years ago. To this day I will occasionally engage with my friend—now separated by several time zones. He is still a sharp wit. And someone I will always remember fondly.
He taught me many things. First, if you dial a number that ends in 00 it usually connects to a business—he never liked crank-calling personal numbers. And more importantly he taught me how important it is to bring your fun to work.
I thank him for that.