Wednesday, March 6, 2013

When a Stranger Calls

Typically, when you get an unexpected phone call in the newsroom, it's not going to be a tremendously positive experience.

Today, sitting at my desk and trying to decide if I wanted to break for lunch or continue researching an article, the editor that answers our calls transferred one over to me.

I looked over at the number as my desk phone rang.

"(Who the) fuck could this be?" I groaned.

Previous phrases I've used just prior to answering these mystery calls include, "Fuck me," "Oh no," and "What fresh hell is this?"

That last one I used when I saw the area code was from the Harrisburg/York area, part of Pennsylvania's strong Racism Belt.

Among the calls I've gotten in the past were old women trying to explain the difference between "who" and "whom," laughing and chiding us for not having a copy editor (Sidebar: the reason why we don't have a copy editor is because you stopped reading the newspaper and started throwing all the advertisers over to Fox News. That's why, Ethel.), a guy trying to pitch a story, at least five different times, about his trials and tribulations in paying taxes, and one victim's mother screaming at me for identifying her son (after I wrote an article that doesn't identify him).

Today's caller, however, started off calmly. The man sounded middle-aged and he spoke in a metered fashion.

His calm actually made me edgy.

He wanted to tell me about a story I'd recently written about some drug dealers. He said I was wrong in the story.

If anything sets me off, it's when someone tells me I'm wrong. I don't know why, maybe it's that I put so much effort into everything I write for publication, but it just bothers me to no end when someone comes after me, professionally.

The man began telling me what he thought was wrong. He said I had attributed a past charge to one of the defendants that didn't belong to him.

"Listen, who are you?" I asked before slipping, "Because, if I'm supposed to believe you, I don't know who the hell you are."

"I'm the father of (the defendant)," the man replied, still calm, almost friendly.

"Oh...okay," I replied.

After checking through the documents, I found out that the guy was right. One of the charges I attributed to the defendant actually belong to a guy with the same name but who was much older.

Seeing I had made a mistake, I thanked the man and told him I'd write a correction right away.

The defendant's father said he'd been going through paperwork from the court and that another part of my story, where I said police found a quantity of one of the drugs in the apartments, was wrong, too.

"All they found was those little, you know...roaches. You know those little things they smoke," he said.

I checked through and told him, according to the information from police, there was indeed the drug at the apartment.

Typically, this is the point where the person on the other end would get overly emotional and tell me the police were lying or incompetent or both.

"Oh, well I guess I have to read more, then," the man replied, still holding his nearly friendly tone.

I was stunned. I thanked him again for bringing my error to my attention. I couldn't think of what else to do. Then I wished him and his son "good luck," because, once again, I didn't know what to do.

"Oh, thank you," he said, his voice now actually breaking the threshold to friendliness. "Well, you know, this is one of those things. He's being a knucklehead and he's young and this is one of those things he has to work through. He'll get straight."

In that moment, the man's father sounded very much like a Cliff Huxtable talking about Theo. Except Cliff would've been talking about Theo dealing cocaine.

Cocaine was the drug by the way. Might as well say it now.

In any case, I wished him "good luck" again and hung up the phone.

A little later, I went back to the court docs window I'd opened. Looking at the names, I realized the defendent in the cocaine dealing case was a junior. The man I'd confused the charge with was a senior. Same name.

Apparently the father of the defendent, who I'd just talked to, read the paper, saw his past criminal charge listed and said, "Oh, shit, that's me. I'd better call to straighten that out."

Nice guy, though.


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