Remember answering machines? Nowadays, we "check our messages" by holding down the number 1 on our cell phones and receiving bits of sound that exist somewhere in the ether. In the olden days, however, people had boxes with tiny cassette tapes connected to their land lines to record and play back phone messages. You'd walk in your house and look to see if the light on your box was blinking. Because none of us had cell phones back then, and very few of us pagers, these devices played an important role. While you were out, friends asked you to come play, sleep over. Bill collectors knew they'd be heard. Far-flung relatives sang you happy birthday.
I remember a friend's family once left an interesting greeting. It said the traditional stuff, "You've reached the Floyd's. We're not home. Leave a message." But then, at the end, it said, "and if this is Carey, we'll meet you on the north side of the gate at three-o-clock." They left that recording on there for months. They were so ingenious. A pre-cellular text message.
Other families would choreograph their greetings. Everyone would gather 'round the microphone hole and wait to say their part. "You've reached Diane, Corey, and Fido," at which point the dog would bark hello. I always wanted to have the Grateful Dead playing in the background, but mom would record over these greetings.
Sometimes, you'd leave someone a message, and then meet up with them out in the world (how did that happen before cell phones? I don't remember). When you'd walk into their house, you'd see that light blinking and remember that you had left a message. "Oh god," you'd say. "Don't play that." But your friend would, laughing cruelly, and you'd suffer through hearing your own voice through that tiny speaker. "Do I really sound like that?" you'd ask.
"Of course you do," your friend would reply.
The first time I heard myself on the answering machine, I must've been 10 or so. I realized that the voice I hear from myself, filtered through and echoing around in my head, is different from what everyone else hears. What a stunning revelation.
Recently, I wrote a book review for one of my professors, Ned, the book review editor at The Fourth Genre, a literary magazine. I knew my review was a little long, 9 or so pages, and that Ned would give me some comments and edits to help trim it down. A week later, he emailed me a track-changes version with lots of slashed out words and sentences, and many phrases rewritten. That's cool. That's good. He's the editor. That's his prerogative. Plus it helps me see where I can shorten, tighten, clarify and vivify.
But reading through some of phrases he reworded made me wonder, "Do I really sound like that?"