Waging War With Demon Fax Machine

I picture my nocturnal adversary this way: In a dingy room, illuminated by a single, flickering light bulb, he sits, a half-deranged being armed with a fax-modem and my home telephone number.

Late at night, when the Vesti reruns have ended and I'm nodding off, he calls. I leap, spilling the humidifier, tripping over the petri dishes, crushing the left paw of something snarling and furry at the foot of the bed, lunging at the phone.

"Seeep," chirps the modem at the other end. Inquiringly. Knowingly. Mockingly.


What can I do? What could anyone do? I plug the fax machine into the phone line, hoping to get his number and send him back a piece of my mind.

The next call, of course, is invariably my mother.

"Seep," my fax blurts out, dumbly. Baffled, she throws down the phone.

I quickly rip out the fax and plug the phone line back in. The phone rings.

I snap it up.

"It's me, mother," I begin.

"Seeep!" the modem-demon on the other end simpers, wickedly.

I was thinking about this the other day, wondering if perhaps the deranged fax-attacker and mom might be having a joke at my expense, when the phone rang. It had that strange, forlorn, insistent ring it always does when you know it's the wrong number: Riiiingggg. Pick me up!

I picked it up. Summoning up the deepest "allo" I can muster, I said, "Allo."

A gruff voice answered: "Chego?" ("What?") "What, what?" I snapped back, forgetting about voice control. "You called me, you lousy ... ." But the other party had already hung up.

It happened again that day, and again, and again.

Ring! "Allo." "Chego?" "Chego-chego?" Click.

The villain, as always in cases of exponential evil in the fin-de-si?cle, was technology run amok.

It took 32 calls of the allo-chego-click variety before it occurred to me to ask how they got this number. Local phone etiquette being what it is, it took another 45 calls before someone told me Pager Company X had sent my number to its subscribers, telling them to call for the latest on currency exchange rates.

Oh. I called to ask them to cancel the message.

"I'm sorry, there's nothing we can do," was the hapless reply.

After call 93, I got tired of saying allo and recorded a message on my answering machine. At call 157, the machine ran out of tape.

It was night now. Chillingly, the calls were coming in faster. I needed inspiration. I thought of famous movies. "Taxi Driver." No, can't shoot them. "Apocalypse Now." No, napalm won't do, either. "Silence of the Lambs" ... That was it! My modem-tormentor! What would he do?

Of course. I went back to the answering machine and recorded a message, telling everyone that if they wanted lots of free money, they should call Pager Company X.

The pager caper ended soon after, at call 237. At last, sleep. A few hours later, the phone rang. "A real caller," I thought, lunging for the phone.

"Seeep," it said.

Masha Gessen is on vacation.