Scott Woods: A Letter to the Guy who Shares My Phone Number

When a wrong number turns into a de facto friendship

Scott Woods
What happens when a wrong number starts to feel right?

Dear Lawrence,

I hope this message finds you well. I feel like this might be a good time in both of our lives to reach out and make this acquaintance official. We’ve never met, but I feel like I know you very well. As creepy as that sounds, I’ve not been stalking you in any way. The truth is, my phone is constantly ringing and getting messages for you—all wrong numbers—and, well, there are certain things that can be deduced from such signs.

The activity happens in spurts. For months, I won’t get any texts or calls for you. And then, out of nowhere, my phone starts ringing, and it’s clear you’ve been dishing out our number again. I spend a lot of days blocking calls on your behalf, which I’m not sure you actually want me to do, but I don’t know how else to handle those situations. I don’t trust any of these characters to not use the number again just because I say, “Wrong number,” and hang up. That just makes them think they’ve dialed incorrectly, when in fact their number is right; it just never gets to the person who gave it to them. It comes to me, Scott, who doesn’t give his number to anyone.

For years, I didn’t even have a cellphone. My friend, those were the salad days—wandering the earth from errand to errand, not being contacted in any of the myriad ways that have become so common. I only got a cellphone because you can’t run a proper business without one, which, given the numerous calls I get from businesses seeking to hire you for temporary help, I think you understand. (Look: I still call them “cellphones.” What a neophyte you’ve uncovered in me.)

As you must know, this has been going on for years, and I feel like I can tell what’s happening in your life based on the offers I receive. A few years back, when we were in the lusty throes of new communication, the calls were a bit salacious. I was getting them from, shall we say, adult services, seeking to offer you memberships to websites that would disintegrate my puritan search history. I figure those were dark times for you, when love was not your road dawg and companions were better bought than sought. That was a creepy era in our telecommunicative relationship, but I learned a lot. Mostly about blocking numbers and deleting conversations in one deft motion.

Some months later, the calls went from saucy to pragmatic, as random employers were texting me constantly about some job you had applied for, wanting further information. I am almost ashamed to admit that I was frequently rude, offering a quick “Wrong number,” then blocking the caller before what I said even registered. You have to understand, Lawrence, that I have several jobs, and your calls were coming in while I was actually working them. 

If this recent batch of messages I’m receiving are any indication, you’ve possibly moved to Chicago. The calls are almost entirely Illinois numbers, and based on our texts, I hope that CDL license you’re trying to nail down works out. Seems like you may be looking for a life on the road, a lifestyle of which, as a former traveling poet, I heartily approve. Get out and see the world, Lawrence! You could do a lot worse than Chicago as a home base. The record shopping there is amazing, great food abounds and Garrett Popcorn on Sunday mornings is a religious rite. 

But I have to ask: What’s the endgame, Lawrence? You give a ton of jobs our phone number, and then what? They call me, I hang up on them, and the cycle continues until the list burns out. How does this benefit you? I, at least, got this Columbus Monthly column out of the deal, but what about you, friend? Are all these calls from the jobs you no longer need because you’ve made a decision? If that’s the case, I am happy for you. You didn’t need those losers.

Maybe referring to these calls as wrong numbers is itself in error. Maybe you are looking out for me. Maybe you see how hard I am working and think I could use a change of scenery. I have no doubt that if I turned the tables on any of these callers and told them that while you were no longer available, I might be, that they would hit me with an offer. I don’t say that to suggest that I am more qualified than you at whatever your skill set is. I say that out of love for the kindness you have shown me by putting me in touch with so many potential professional suitors.

Scott Woods

Perhaps you are the best friend I didn’t know I had, Lawrence. Perhaps you are not a bot at all, but someone who happened upon a number for someone you have an affinity for, someone who shares your love of Socratic discussion, blues music and ’hood barbecue. I will tell you that I answer each call, since I do know people in other cities, and you never know when it is, in fact, someone you know on the other end. I am not too proud to admit that I wonder if, one day, it will be you on the other end, checking to see if I’m OK. That’s just about the most effective reason I can embrace to keep from throwing our phone into a nearby sewer, Lawrence; if I believe that in the spam folder that is my phone right now, there may be a potential message—and person—I can actually care about.

Scott Woods is a poet, cultural critic, essayist and founder of the arts nonprofit Streetlight Guild.