Communication Breakdown

Communication Breakdown By: Debbie Farmer

Let me say that, in this day of astounding high-tech communication, cell phones, email, instant chat windows, call waiting, computer video conferences and message machines, you are lucky to get one legible scribble from your family. Yes, it's true.

Take, for example, the phone message my eight-year-old daughter wrote yesterday that looked like "7hnmk." Now, some of you (and you know who you are) might not see a big problem here; however, I don't know anyone on this entire planet who goes by that name.

Don't ask me why my children take messages like this. I suspect they all use a secret message-taking code which is a blend of phonics, Barney songs, and some mystery language which they forget the very instant they've finished writing.

So by now I've learned that the only hope to get to the bottom of a phone message, is to ask a lot of questions. But first, you must narrow it down. In this case I thought of all of the people I know who have five letters in their name. One of them being a seven.

"Was it a lady?" I say.


Did she have a loud or soft voice?"

"Ummm. Loud. Kind of."

"Was it Susan?" I ask hopefully.



"Uh, no"

"Wendy? Carol!! JULIE?" I say desperately.


"How about your piano teacher?" (Hey, piano has five letters.)

However, I must admit, no matter how illegible my daughter's writing is, it's an improvement over the messages I get from my five-year old son who, I suspect, uses them as an opportunity to practice writing his numbers. The last message he gave me said simply "824-47223392228888".

Then, again, it might not be entirely his fault. I mean we've all heard messages left on our machines where people start out speaking slowly and clearly, then, for no good reason, suddenly speed up blurring all seven digits into one humungous number. And, face it, no matter how many times you rewind the tape, it still sounds like "fourninethreeonebitysevenzunmeruninebop"

But let me just say, it's not just phone messages. It's also grocery lists.

It never fails that, right underneath bread and cereal, someone comes along and writes "chrsutys".

And you can't resort to questioning, mind you, because any fool knows that by the time you discover it, you're in the grocery store -- alone.

Oh, you can always try approaching the clerk and saying something like, "Excuse me, but do you have any chrsutys?" But, then you run the risk of being met with a stare usually reserved for people claiming to have seen flying saucers.

And you can always skip it, but then there's the chance that it's the one and only item on the list that your family can't live without, and you'll only have to turn around, once you get home, and go right back to the store to get it.

The only solution is to hope you run into someone who's better at deciphering than you.

And, lo and behold, that's what happened today. I saw a tired-looking woman squinting at a list then reaching for a bag of potato chips. I immediately relaxed because I knew I was in the company of another mother.

"Excuse me," I said, "But, can you read this?" I held out my list and pointed.

"Chimichangas," she said simply.

Don't bother asking me how she knew this. I'm just going to chalk it up as one of life's little mysteries. Like my good friend 7hnmk.

Whoever you are.