A phantom visited my voicemail this week— three minutes and fifteen seconds of hold music for a conversation no one initiated. Now I’m sharing it with you.
These days, consumer technology mostly works as expected. My laptop boots up, the link points to the right webpage, and the webpage loads a video of people cooking food without any major glitches. I miss the glitches.
I did not feel this way back when my homework disappeared thanks to a 2 a.m. Windows crash. But the past—a time when, from the current vantage point, things seemed less apocalyptic—has a strong hold, and I now dream of blue screens of death, stacked error box mosaics, Missingno-style overflows, and the sublime artifacts of video buffering.
The other day I got a voicemail. No one had called me. At least I don’t think they had. This isn’t unusual, really. Like everyone else, I get plenty of spam calls, and those calls go to voicemail where they can warn me that I’m behind on my auto insurance (not true) or I owe money to the IRS (somewhat true) or someone stole my Social Security number (almost definitely true). I listen to all of them just in case it’s something important, but it never is, and then they’re deleted to make space for new robodialers who tell me about more problems I do or do not have.
But the message I got the other day was different. It was a song-length recording of watery, arpeggiating synthesizer music, and a woodwind—maybe a clarinet or oboe—keening above it. K-Mart’s unearthed muzak tapes have a similar quality, but don’t convey the same sense of longing. It was like these canned instruments were rowing upstream against their own lousy call-quality. I listened to the whole thing, then texted it to myself and listened to it again the next day.
I’ll probably never know where this hold music came from, much less how it got trapped in my mailbox. Even if it’s a first for me, this sort of thing might not even be unusual. But I’d like to think some machine failed to perform its function as expected and this was the pleasant, unplanned result—an unknown song, just for me, which is now yours too.