Secret code broken by number of rings

I’d ring twice, hang up, then call back immediately.

Hearing the signal, my friend would pick up, knowing he was being called by someone other than a bill collector. Or a “process-server.” Learned to do this while growing up in Brewerytown, a working class section of Philadelphia, and continued it following a divorce and working as a newspaper reporter.

Only did it when single, and wanted to duck callers. Tried to avoid people looking for money. Not that I was a deadbeat. I was just tardy. For instance, I’d let an electric bill go for months without paying it, even though I had the money in the bank. There was just so many more important things to focus on. Money — or paying it out — was not one of them.

I’d brag about a joke I’d pull on my creditors, saying that each month, I write down the name of all of those I owed money, put ’em in a hat, and pull one out. That’s the one I’d pay. And if someone would make demands, I’d threaten to take their name out of the hat.

Didn’t care that much about credit-rating. Was paying off a car for the next three years and lived in an apartment. Wore old clothes, even when dating. Heck, one woman who visited my “bachelor pad” in Pottstown, PA. swore she’d  never get over a pair of loafers I left lying on the living room floor. Looked like they were “bit,” and had a “bite mark.”  They did. From my dog Willie. They were my favorite shoes. His too! Slip-ons with a well-worn smell to ’em. Mighty comfortable though. Sure wish I had them, but my second wife forced me to throw ’em out.

Was I the only one who used the old telephone code with family and friends? This was the days before “Caller ID.” You couldn’t tell who was calling. There was nothing like a “No Call List” for which to subscribe. You were at the mercy of Ma Bell.


(Oops. Forgot. Bell Telephone Company was broken up 25 years ago. It was considered a monopoly. Had little if any competition, and the federal government forced it to divide into smaller entities. [Talk about a hang up!] )

Marketing folk would call you at dinner time to sell a “time-share” in a condo at some Florida swamp land. You either picked up the phone or let it ring . . . and ring . . .  and ring . . . Had no answering machines back then.

Sometimes, I would lie. Outright. Tell  someone trying to sell me childrens’ books that my child recently died, and then choke up, as they try to comfort me. Usually did this while entertaining visitors. I’d use a really great line from  a short story called, “Bartleby, the Scrivener,” by Herman Melville (the “Moby Dick” author). “I prefer not to,” is all I would say in response to what ever they asked of me. “I prefer not to.” It would drive ’em crazy. They’d ask for a reason and simply get the same reply: “I prefer not to.” Many would hang up in frustration. I still do this with some political parties seeking money. “I prefer not to.” “I prefer not to.” “I prefer not to . . .”

Try it! If it doesn’t work, just call me. Make sure you ring twice, hang up, and immediately call back, and hang up after three more rings . . . and I”l let you stay on line to talk to my answering machine after only a short 10 minute wait. 

2 comments on “Secret code broken by number of rings

  1. souldipper says:

    We used to signal friends without paying long distance charges. (In Canada, we lived so far apart almost every friend was a long distance call away.) We’d place a person to person call asking for a false name. That call would get some terribly important message through – like see you next Friday…


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