[This is probably going to be a long story, so thanks in advance for however much time you spend reading it!]
If you’ve ever lived in New York City, you’ve probably seen one of those weird flyers on the subway. You know the ones, with the moon and stars and All-Seeing Eye of Providence? And then a phone number printed across the bottom in big block numerals. They’re honestly pretty creepy, but I always figured that the phone number just went to a fortune-telling hotline or something.
Or that’s what I thought until the other day, when I actually called. I went in expecting it to be a scam, because obviously any psychic or palm reader advertising on the F-train is trying to scam you. But, in my defense, I was bored. Like, really bored. Funny how many life-changing experiences are triggered by boredom, isn’t it? Plus, I figured that actually calling the phone number on a weird occult subway advertisement is a New York City rite of passage, like visiting the top of the Empire State Building or throwing up in an Uber.
So anyway, a couple of days ago I called one of those 718-numbers. Right from the start something seemed off, because after I dialed the phone I never actually heard it ring. You know how usually (read: literally every single time I have ever used a telephone in my entire life), you hear your own phone ring a few times while the call finishes going through, and then it either gets picked up or goes to voicemail? Yeah, that totally didn’t happen when I called this number.
What did happen is that as soon as I finished punching in the tenth digit of the phone number, hold music started playing.
Now, in my experience exactly three types of telephone hold music exist: type one is public domain classical music with the sound quality of an illegally downloaded MP3; type two is generic “music” that sounds like it was recorded for The Sims and may or may not be arbitrarily Christmasy; and type three is Hall and Oates.
This hold music, however, was a previously unheard of fourth type. I honestly don’t even know how to describe it. Imagine that it was 3am and you heard a song come on the radio while lying awake in the dark, and out of curiosity you looked up the artist, only to learn that this song was the last one they recorded right before being killed in a freak accident, and then realizing that the lyrics of the song seem to describe the fatal accident that was about to happen- this song sounded the way that experience would feel. But, like, with a kind of dreampop vibe. Nightmare pop, maybe?
I don’t know. I promise you that I searched high and low on Spotify for something that sounded vaguely similar, and I came up with nothing remotely comparable. It was just really strange, okay? Weirdest song I’ve ever heard. And this weird, indescribable, subtly disconcerting hold music plays for at least a few minutes. It’s hard to tell if the track loops or if it’s some kind of long-ass prog rock thing, but it definitely goes on for what seems like longer than a song should be. It’s for sure longer than Freebird, I’ll tell you that much.
So after a while, I figured that this was just some weird musical showcase. Like maybe I was listening to an underground radio station or some guy’s mixtape. And right when I was about to hang up- I mean the exact moment that my thumb was hovering over the “End Call” button- finally somebody picks up the call.
“Thank you for calling our hotline,” says a woman’s voice. “I appreciate you giving me a moment of your time.”
“Yeah, no problem,” I say. “So what exactly is this-”
Okay, so you can imagine how annoying that was. I spent all that time waiting patiently on hold, and as soon as I get through to a live person, the call gets disconnected.
So I called back, because at this point I’m invested in figuring out what the hell is going on here.
When I call back, the same thing happens as far as going right into the hold music without ringing. This time it’s either slightly different hold music, or it’s the same hold music but it sounds slightly different somehow? I know that doesn’t make any sense, but I swear that’s what I heard. Maybe it was a remix, I honestly have no idea. But after the hold music plays for another however long, I start debating just hanging up. It’s really starting to seem like it was a fluke that I got through to someone at all the first time.
Nah, fuck it, I decide. I’m going to stay on the phone until something happens.
And I’m not kidding, as soon as I think that to myself, someone answers the phone again. It’s a man’s voice now.
“Thank you for calling our hotline,” he says. “We thank you for giving us a few moments of your time.”
“What for, though?” I ask. “I mean, I know I’m the one who called you guys, but I was actually hoping to find out what kind of number this is?”
And get this: this dude starts laughing. Not chuckling, but full-on belly laughing like I’ve just told him the funniest joke he’s heard in a hundred years. And then all he says is, “Sure, if you’ve got some time to spare!”
And then: click.
Rude, right? It seriously pissed me off. I know a phone call isn’t necessarily a major investment, but I couldn’t help but feel like a lot of my time had been wasted. I felt like I had physically aged from dealing with whatever that bullshit was all about.
And that’s, like, part one of this whole thing. The next part is where shit starts getting really weird.