To understand this story, you need to know about July heat in northeast Colorado, when the temperatures would melt dashboards and western skies flexed purple and green while threatening hail.
I worked at a farm implement dealership that year, in the middle of thousands of acres of pickups, apple pie, and shimmering wheat. In July, the wheat ripened to a golden color that rippled like ocean waves in the heat. When the wheat was ripe, the frenzy began.
Farmers had waited since August of the previous year for the seeds to sprout, grow and ripen. But July thunderstorms were common, meaning that a single evening of wind and hail could wipe out the year’s crop. The wheat had to be harvested now.
Against that backdrop, the fellow employees where I worked knew that harvest meant long hours for us, too. We had to be at the shop if a combine or truck broke down. The farmers depended on our inventory of parts and our experienced mechanics.
But sometimes nothing broke down. We sat in the hot evenings like a teenage girl hoping for an invitation to the dance. Waiting opened the door to shenanigans involving water fights, high-powered squirt guns and factions.
The problem with answering machines began with my primary responsibility: ordering parts. One of my suppliers used an answering machine to receive orders in those days. I would call and listen to a long description of how to place the order followed by a beep. After the beep, the answering machine recorded my order.
I had the information memorized so I had time to daydream before I placed an order. On such a day, I stood beside my desk, phone in hand, ignoring the instructions.
Then I saw one of my fellow employees creep out of the back shop, knees bent, head swiveling from side to side like a deer hunter on the prowl. No big deal in the July heat except for one problem: the plastic squirt gun he gripped in his hand was mine.
“Hey!” I shouted at him. “You give me back my gun!” And then I realized that the answering machine had beeped.
I didn’t place an order that day.
And the next time I called, I asked for a salesman instead. Well, yeah, I changed my voice, too. Just in case.