Stick a pin in the phonebook. See where it lands. Make the call. Does everyone have a story? Five writers find out
When the editors first broached the idea, I was sold. Crazy experiment, free lunch, then write about it. What could go wrong?
Well, here’s the list:
Hurdle 1: Finding a phonebook
They don’t make those on my side of town anymore.
“Can I type a random letter into the community contacts forum and pick one of the entries that come up?” I asked.
“Pin. In. Phonebook,” Miriam said.
Okay then. I called my mother for help, but she was pretty certain she hadn’t seen a phone book around in years.
“You can look for yourself, though,” she kindly invited.
After nearly half an hour of creeping through my parents’ bookshelves — and repeatedly explaining to my brothers why asking strangers to meet me in random places was not a bad idea — I baruch Hashem found a tattered volume from a decade earlier.
Hurdle 2: Finding a name in said phonebook that I can actually call
There were a few false starts with the pinpricks. Apparently Mishpacha couldn’t cover any tickets overseas, so I had to keep going until I landed on a local number. Then I had to go halfway down the page until I found one I could call.
The official project rules were: no one related, and no one close enough to you that you’d invite them to a family simchah. I made up my own addendum in which I disqualified anyone whose son I’d dated. Not related, and not close at all, but still…
I finally found a name and was in the middle of dialing when something started ringing a bell. Why did this name sound so familiar? I plugged the name into Google and found the information for the woman’s levayah. That’s the problem with old phone books.
Hurdle 3: Finding a person in said phonebook who’s actually okay with the idea
The first number I finally called is now a plumbing service’s phone number. (Anyone in Brooklyn need a recommendation? They sounded nice.)
The second number I tried didn’t answer, so I played detective and found her work email address online. She emailed back to say that I probably wanted to reach her mother-in-law — and what was this article about?
I gave her a quick summary: We were testing a premise that everyone had a story through this interesting phone-book project. I explained that my pin had landed on her.
I haven’t heard from her since.
The third woman I called thought I wanted to sell her a Mishpacha subscription. When I explained the article idea to her, she still wasn’t convinced I didn’t want her money, but was surprisingly willing to meet a stranger.
I guess it’s good all eateries are outdoors these days.
Hurdle 4: Getting said person’s story
Here’s the thing: having a story is a personality type. When my brothers go on walks together, one will come back with hysterical tales of what he saw and heard. The other? He’ll have nothing more to say than “hi.”
In short, my lady was very sweet. Within ten minutes of the conversation, in the truest of Jewish fashions, she’d already found all the people we knew in common and promised to find a shidduch for my single relative.
“I’m not so good at that,” she told me, “but my son is. I’m going to ask him for ideas.”
Then, for two hours, she told me about her days as a seamstress and how much she loves her children, but we never came across a moment that screamed “Follow me! I’m a story!”
I tried following up after our interview to poke for more details, but she didn’t answer my calls. Once again, I was ghosted, but not without the woman’s final words ringing in my ears.
“Send me the résumé! I’m going to make this shidduch!”
In short, I called countless random numbers, met a stranger for lunch, played Jewish geography — and all I got for it was this sidebar. But maybe, just maybe, we’re yet to get a shidduch out of it too.
I’ll keep you posted.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 712)
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