The calls came a few years back.
One was a cry for help. The other was a demand for justice.
We get those a lot in the newspaper business. We’re here to serve our communities by digging in places most folks don’t have access to, asking the tough questions of those in charge and being the eyes and ears of our readers.
My journalism instructor in college once told me our job as journalists was to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. I’ve always embraced that responsibility, but one thing college didn’t prepare me for was the “Caller of the Day.”
Especially when the call was about a spouse’s birthday.
This past week, a Facebook memory popped up from the day a gentleman called with a request for me to list his wife’s birthday in the newspaper.
I told him I would be glad to help him, but things quickly turned ugly when the gentleman — an elderly man — couldn’t remember the date of his wife’s birth.
I was about to ask if the birthday had been listed the previous year so I could check our archives and help him out, but he was too quick for me and made a rookie mistake.
He yelled “Hey Doris (not her real name), when is your birthday?”
You can imagine what happened next.
Doris yelled “#@&XX!!! (probably not his real name). Do you mean to tell me we’ve been married 53 years and you don’t know when my birthday is?”
Then, she took it to another level and included me:
“My birthday is this Thursday, and it better be in the newspaper. Do you hear me, newspaper man?
I promised the gentleman I would take care of him, but out of curiosity I asked if he remembered my name.
He didn’t, and to this day I feel bad about throwing my buddy George under the bus.
A second Facebook memory this past week — evidently it’s true that folks with birthdays close to Christmas often get the short end of the stick — was from the time a woman called and accused the newspaper of covering for her husband’s crime of not reporting her birthday.
Me: Sports. This is Jack.
Caller: I’m going to ask you something, and I want the truth.
Me: OK, but who is this?
Caller: Don’t worry about that. Just answer my question.
Caller: My husband is a “#@&XX!!!” (I didn’t ask if she knew Doris)
Me: Ma’am. That’s not a question.
Caller: I wasn’t finished.
Caller: Did my husband call in my birthday?
Me: Excuse me.
Caller: You heard me. Did my husband call in my birthday? He said he did, but it wasn’t in the newspaper so I think he’s lying like he always does.
Me: Ma’am. We usually get the names in the paper if they are called in, but it is possible he called and it got overlooked or sent to the wrong place.
Caller: Did he call you and tell you to say that?
Me: Ma’am, would you like me to add your name to the belated birthday list?
Caller: What does that mean?
Me: Belated means late.
Caller: No. He’s not getting off that easy. I don’t want my name in the newspaper late. He’s going to pay for this, and I better not find out you’re lying for him.
Me: Ma’am. Do you remember the name I said when I answered the phone?
Me: This is George. Have a good day.
My buddy and fellow sportswriter George Whitley left us a little over a year ago, and I regret I never got around to apologizing for using his name to keep me out of trouble.
We had the same journalism instructor in college, however, so I have to believe he would appreciate the irony of me afflicting his comfortableness in that way.