The voice mail message on my private office line went like this: “This is (name omitted) at (address omitted). Recycling gave me this number. I’m trying to get a trash barrel for my house. It’s been three months since we had one, and I’m using my neighbor’s. Someone get in touch with me as soon as possible at (phone number omitted).”
The caller would have heard my voicemail message before leaving that message: “This is Judge Vic Fleming, Little Rock Traffic Court. This is NOT Little Rock Public Works. Leave a message. I’ll call you back.”
I receive several calls a month from people who have misdialed, by one digit, the number for the department that’s responsible, per the city’s website, for “providing garbage collection and disposal services, maintaining the City’s traffic systems, cleaning streets and drainage systems, maintaining City maps, maintaining City-owned buildings and facilities and much, much more.”
When I answer the phone and it’s one of these calls, the caller usually says, “I’ve got the wrong number.” And I interject, “If you’re calling Public Works, you missed by a digit,” and I give the correct number.
I’ve never not called someone when, as here, the caller doesn’t understand my greeting and leaves a message asking for City services. Especially if they’re upset, my not calling to tell them about their error would merely exacerbate an already tense situation.
So, I called the number this person had left. I got a voice mail greeting: “This is D.O.C. I’m not able to take your call right now, but please call me back.”
Hmm, I thought. The greeting did not identify the greeter. The voice was different from the person who’d left the message. “D.O.C.,” I figured, stood for Department of Corrections. I assumed the caller was a probation or parole officer. The greeter did not say leave a message, but rather “Call me back.” That’s OK, I guess, for someone who gets a lot of calls from supervisees.
I called back a little while later. “Hello.”
“This is Judge Vic Fleming, Little Rock Traffic Court. Who am I speaking with?”
“(Name omitted.) How’re you doing, Judge?”
“I’m fine. Someone left a message on my line asking for a garbage barrel –”
“That must have been my son.”
“Maybe so, but here’s the deal. The number for Public Works is one digit off from mine, so you won’t get the barrel unless you make call the right number.” Which I then provided.
“Thank you, Judge.”
“You’re with the Department of Corrections, right?”
“Department of Corrections. Your voice mail greeting said D.O.C.”
“No, sir. My nickname’s Doc. I work at …” He called the name of a local restaurant. I’m a cook.”
I held off on the belly laugh I was about to have. “Well, you tell George I said hello.” George, whom I’ve known for 30 years, owns the restaurant.
“Yes, sir. Next time you come in, you ask for me and I’ll fix you a great burger!”
Vic Fleming is a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.