The Wrong Number

Joe Lavin's Humor Column

The Wrong Number

July 12, 1996


This piece is from my recent book which you can buy here

The following is a true story. We all have that one special bizarre story from our lives that we like to tell at parties; mine is about the time I was arrested for drunk driving 1,500 miles from where I was sleeping.

It was 3:30 of the morning after my 20th birthday when in Princeton, Massachusetts my parents were awaken by a phone call from a complete stranger. As my mother answered, the caller slurred, "Hi, Mum? It's me. . . . I'm in jail for drunk driving."

Now, I should point out three important facts:

1. I was not in jail for drunk driving. I was peacefully asleep in my St. Louis dorm room.
2. I am an only child.
3. At this moment, my mother, wonderful woman that she is, entered parental idiot mode.

Somehow, she believed that she was talking to me. I still don't get it, but for the next five minutes she talked with this drunk kid, all the time assuming it was me - her one and only child. I had obviously not made that memorable an impression during my first twenty years.

Because "I" was drunk off my ass, my parents got little information out of me. They didn't even find out what jail I was in. They assumed it was in St. Louis, but they had absolutely no concrete information. For a half hour, they panicked. My mother wanted to call a lawyer. My father, meanwhile, was all for letting me stay in jail because "it'll teach him a lesson." Great. . . er, thanks, Dad. I guess I have learned a lesson. If I get in trouble, don't call Dad.

My parents desperately needed more information, so my mother called my roommate to see if he knew what had happened. I answered the phone. This was not what she expected.

"Joe, what are you doing there?!"

"Mom? What are you - It's four in the morning!"

"But what are you doing there?"

"I'm in bed sleeping! It's four in the morning!"

"No, you're not. You're supposed to be in jail."

"What? What are you talking about?"

"We just got a call from you. You're in jail for drunk driving."

"I'm in my room. Sleeping!" And in case they had missed my earlier point: "It's four in the morning!"

And then came my favorite question: "Are you in jail or are you in your room?"

My sarcasm decided to wake up. "Yeah, Mom. I'm in jail," I snapped back. "I just had my calls forwarded here." At this point, my father got on the phone to find out exactly what was happening with his apparently drunken, no good, loser son who might as well just stay in jail because sure as hell no one was gonna be posting bail any time soon. The whole charade began again.

"No, Dad, I'm not in jail," I kept explaining.

My parents couldn't figure this out. It seemed as if they were angry with me for not getting arrested. "You said you were in jail, damnit! Why aren't you in jail?" I felt horrible for disappointing them like that, but what could I do? I simply wasn't in jail. Eventually, I yelled enough, and they yelled enough, so that we all realized I hadn't been arrested. I was finally allowed to go back to sleep, but the grade on the test I had the next morning was not at all impressive.

Meanwhile, somewhere in a jail cell, sat a very confused and inebriated young man. Initially, I thought it was a practical joke. The guy in my dorm who liked to call up Domino's to order pizza with fetuses on it was a prime suspect. But I have concluded that no one would have thought to commit a practical joke that elaborate. No one would have assumed that my mother wouldn't recognize my own voice.

That year, there was a misprint in our small town's phone book. I found out later that my parent's number was accidentally listed next to another family's name, so the kid on the phone could have belonged to that family. Quite possibly, this kid was too drunk to remember his number and had a police officer look it up in the phone book. He then dialed my parent's number, at which point my lovely mother answered.

Looking back, my night might have been unpleasant, but it was nothing compared to the night of this person, who used his one precious phone call to have a five minute chat with my Mom. It is now nine years later. I only hope he's not still sitting in that jail cell.


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