Daily Archives: February 6, 2009

A Message from the Great Beyond….

A gentleman wrote in to Amy today to ask a question on behalf of himself and his 85-year-old mother. They were finding that many of the older widows they knew were not re-recording the outgoing message on their answering machines, but rather leaving their husbands’ voice as the greeting. The writer found this “disconcerting” and wondered, “Does hearing the voice when screening calls offer some form of solace?”

I highly doubt it’s anywhere near that complicated. My first thought, keeping my own grandma–and her rather flustered outgoing answering machine message–in mind, was that these women simply couldn’t figure out how to re-record the message. Amy suggested the same:

I can think of two explanations — either hearing their husband’s voice from time to time brings solace, or they can’t quite figure out how to rerecord an outgoing message (I would join them in this frustration).

To me, it also seems likely that the ladies forget that they “need” to change the message (if they do in fact want to.) It may be almost as much a surprise to them to hear their husband’s voice on the machine each time it plays as to anyone else. Likely they make a mental note to change it, or ask someone to help them change it, but in the long run, it’s not so important, or it’s not part of the daily routine, and it gets dropped, only to resurface the next time it happens.

I’m not trying to be age-ist, or assume that every woman in her eighties is in her dotage, as that’s certainly not the case. But, like I said, I have a grandma, and that grandma has an answering machine….I’m speaking from a certain amount of personal experience.

Another odd twist in the letter….I’m not really sure that many older ladies “screen” their calls. Again, maybe I’m just narrowing my perspective to my own grandparent experiences, and maybe it would be a good idea if they DID screen more often, rather than rushing to pick up the phone, or getting caught by solicitors or even scam artists. But from what I’ve seen of this generation, they are unlikely to use the machine to distance themselves from interaction with others. To me it seems sort of suspicious to assume that they’re sitting there screening…but maybe I associate a stigma with call screening that no longer exists.

The original writer wrote in mainly because he and his 85-year-old mother found the situation “disconcerting.” My guess is that when she calls her friends or family and gets a voice from beyond, she is either upset by it, or confused and can’t remember a) that the person has died or b) the opposite–how they could possibly be speaking to her.

This is just sucky all around….it’s very hard to watch your parents or grandparents lose their confidence and their sense of security and awareness about their environment. This sort of thing really could throw a person, and either be quite upsetting, or in the passing of time and activity, get jumbled to the extent that she believes she really did speak with the person who owns the voice. Unfortunately, I don’t know that there’s much to do about it. If the other ladies are close friends or relatives (or at least know the son), he might ask them if they would like or need some help re-recording their message to “keep current.” They might be pleased and grateful, they might wonder why he’s asking, or they might not want to change it at all, and that’s all fine.

More internally, if it is his mother who is having trouble calling her friends and getting the voice of a dead husband, perhaps he could create a list and post it near her emergency numbers, to remind her that Fred’s voice is still on Ethel’s answering machine message, and not to be alarmed. It sounds odd, and might look odd to others (would those numbers hang neatly inside a kitchen cabinet door?) but might be helpful, and prevent one more episode of disconcertedness in the march towards aging (and death…um, sorry, this is morbid for a Friday morning) that disconcerts us all.


Links: Weak!

I just realized, to my chagrin, that more often than not when linking to columns on this blog, I link to the columnists main page, not to the specific column I want (with the date or ID number specifying it in the URL). This happens because I’m usually writing about a column on the same day it was posted, so it shows up on the main page. Also I’m usually either writing early in the morning or late at night and I’m not really with it.

Anyway, it’s unfortunate because (obviously) those links don’t work after 24 hours, or a week at most. I tried to go back and fix, but most papers don’t let you browse back more than a couple of weeks (I do think that correctly linked columns will take you back to older content, I just can’t seem to get to it without the link).

I apologize for my poor blogging/archiving technique! And resolve to do better in the future.


It seems Amy’s been getting a great deal of publicity for her new book, and perhaps (according to some) riding the coattails of her predecessor, Ann Landers, a little too closely. Ann Landers’ daughter, Margo, has plenty to say about it, and she did so in today’s column. HOLY COW! The Etta James/Beyonce @** whooping scandal is nothing compared to this. It’s too late at night to dissect and analyze, so for now I’ll just link and post. But whoa–right down to the icy “dear” in the last line.

Dear Amy: I have a problem. My distress has actually been going on since 2002, the year my mother died. As many people know, my mother was Ann Landers, and she was Ann Landers for 47 years. That’s a long time to build a brand … and build a brand she did.

Because the name “Ann Landers” was iconic in the second half of the 20th century, people often tell me whenever they hear or see the name now — seven years after her death. Alas, mostly they are hearing it from you. And therein lies my problem.

Most recently you did some television promotion on “Good Morning, America,” “The View” and God knows where else. You allowed people, if not encouraged them, to consider you “the new Ann Landers.” Well, you are not the “new” Ann Landers because there is no “new” Ann Landers. It is a copyrighted name and trademark, and what that means is that no one else can use it — not to write under, and not to promote themselves.

Before they had fired most everyone at the Tribune (your home paper), a few top editors were informed that introducing you as “the new Ann Landers” was skating close to copyright infringement.They backed off — for a while. But then (because the newspaper business is in trouble and you are flogging a book?) there began yet another round of publicity touting you as the new, well … you know.

In short, when the Tribune hired and syndicated you, that made you their new advice columnist, period. You are no more “the new Ann Landers” than Carolyn Hax, Dan Savage or any of the dozens of advice columnists who were bought by newspapers to fill the space previously occupied by my mother.

By law, the only person who would have been able to become “the new Ann Landers” was me. And that was nothing I chose to do. You see, dear, even I knew that there could only be one Ann Landers. — Margo Howard

Ok, I do have to add just one thing. I looked up the Trib’s bio of Amy, to see what they really said about her. Most of the bio lists Amy’s many experiences and accomplishments as a journalist, writer, and radio contributor. They mentioned Ann Landers once, as a segue–to say that Amy’s column replaced hers is simply fact, not promotion, and I think they were nothing less than respectful and accurate in how they stated it. The potentially offensive paragraph is:

Amy Dickinson joined Chicago Tribune in July 2003 as the newspaper’s signature general advice columnist, following in the tradition of the legendary Ann Landers.

I smell a copyright suit! Oh wait, that’s just some burning plastic….

**Days later: burning plastic? What? What did I mean by that? Oh well.**