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A Painful Call

By Hannah Reich Berman

Thanks to home computers and the proliferation of social networks, many folks are reconnecting with old friends. With increasing frequency, people I once knew—in some cases, as long as 50 years ago—are popping back into my life. Several years ago, after receiving encouragement from a friend, who told me that I would love Facebook, I managed to get myself onto it, complete with a current picture and a bio. I have no idea how I did it, and if I had to do it again I certainly could not. I must have done it during one of those occasional flashes of brilliance that are fostered by determination. But my friend was wrong. I do not love it! Nor do I use it. However, it appears that everyone else does!

I have been contacted by friends from high school, nursing school, and even as far back as elementary school. I have heard from kids who went to summer camp with me and from kids who were my neighbors when I was a youngster living at home with my parents. Most of these kids are now septuagenarians, but to me they remain kids because I envision them as they once were. And with any luck, they think of me that way too—as I once was. Most of these people have sent e‑mails, but others have managed to track me down and call me. This is not limited to females. Men are also interested in reconnecting with long-ago friends and acquaintances.

When that first contact is made, the conversation is normally peppered with questions, since both parties are anxious to catch up on the other person’s life. Are you married? Do you have children? Grandchildren? What do you do for a living? Exactly where do you live? And the inevitable question: Have you been in touch with so-and-so? I’ve happily engaged in several of these catch-up conversations over the last few years. But, now and then, after a few minutes of conversation I discover that, while I have fond memories of a past relationship, this person and I no longer have anything in common. Each of us has grown in different ways. Some things cannot be recaptured. Most of the time, however, the result is more pleasant because we’ve simply become older versions of our former selves and, even after many years, we still have much in common and a lasting affection for one another. But recently I received a call that was a doozie!

A fellow that I knew as a youngster spotted me on Facebook and sent an e‑mail. We had not actually been friends and I don’t remember ever having exchanged a single word with him. We had several friends in common and were often in the same place at the same time. Surprised, but happy to hear from him, I responded and we exchanged phone numbers. As he lives in a distant state, our plan was to talk on the phone. That took a little time, as we played telephone tag for almost two weeks before we actually spoke.

It happened late on a Friday afternoon. While on the phone with my daughter, I heard the annoying clicking sound that signals an incoming call. A quick look at the caller-ID screen told me that it was this acquaintance from my youth calling. We were finally going to speak to one another. Assuming that I would have more than enough time to call my daughter back before Shabbos, I explained to her that I had to hang up. It was a mistake—in more ways than one! In the dictionary, next to the words “self-absorbed” there should be a picture of this character.

After the first round of “Hello there” and the inevitable “How are you?” he never asked me a single question. Instead, he bored me to tears with the details of his life. Most of his stories were about experiences that he’d had within the past six months, which was my clue that he was lonely and just wanted someone—anyone—to talk to. Ever the eternal optimist, however, I kept waiting for it to become a conversation instead of the filibuster that it was. That never happened. I was unable to break into his monologue to tell him that I had to hang up. Instead, I just sat and listened. Let me rephrase. I didn’t actually listen; I heard. I had stopped listening after the first 20 minutes.

I have often said, thank G‑d for Shabbos. Usually I say it aloud and I say it for other reasons, but this time I said it (to myself) because it was a genuine lifesaver. It left me no choice but to interrupt him and say that I had to hang up. I didn’t want to be rude by saying it when he was in midsentence, but there was no choice. He was always in midsentence. I did what I had to do but softened the blow by saying I would call him back. It wasn’t a total lie because I didn’t say when I would call! By the time we hung up, it was close to Shabbos and there was not enough time left to call my daughter back. There was just enough time to grab a black Sharpie and use it to obliterate this fellow’s name and number from my phonebook.

My first thought right now is that I hope he won’t see this. But I’m not overly worried, because he had no idea that I write a newspaper column. Actually, he knows nothing about me, since I never got the chance to tell him a thing. Then too, in the unlikely event that he does read this, he will never recognize himself. People like that never do. That’s the way it is. v

Hannah Berman lives in Woodmere and is a licensed real-estate broker associated with Marjorie Hausman Realty. She can be reached at or 516-902-3733.

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Posted by on June 13, 2013. Filed under In This Week's Edition. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.