During the summer before I started college, I worked as a laborer for a lawn-cutting service. There were five guys on the crew — including me — and my boss was a guy named Crew Leader Carl. He had hair down to his shoulders and always had a cigarette sticking out the side of his mouth.
This is a story from one of my many lawn-cutting crew adventures:
We were all the maintenance truck, driving down the highway to our next job.
Crew Leader Carl had the radio set to a classic-rock station. Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” was playing. It was the fourth time that day we’d heard it. Next would be a series of commercials, and then “Hotel California” by the Eagles, followed by Eric Clapton’s “Layla” and then a fifth rendition of “Stairway to Heaven.”
Clearly, I’d listened to this particular station before.
When the commercials came on, one was for Jefferson Heating and Air Conditioning.
“Call us for all of your heating and air-conditioning needs!” the announcer screamed. His voice had an auctioneer echo-effect — which made it all the more unbearable. I hated radio commercials more than I hated my job.
The ad continued: “We’re here seven days a week! Call us now at 1-800-555-1776. Again, that’s 1-800-555-1776. Call now! 1-800-555-1776.”
“What was that number again?” I asked out loud. “I didn’t catch it the first 15,000 times.”
“That’s so weird how they got that phone number,” said Stan, one of the younger — and dumber — members of the crew.
“What do you mean?” Crew Leader Carl asked.
“I mean that their name is Jefferson Air Conditioning, and their number has ‘1776’ in it,” Stan said. “Do you think it’s just a coincidence, or did they plan it that way?”
“You dipstick,” Carl said. “Of course they planned it that way. They called the phone company and requested it. Their number is a big part of their image.”
“So you can request to have a certain phone number?” Stan asked. “That’s really cool! I never knew you could do that. I’d like to have my own number. I’d choose 1-800-CALL-STAN.”
Carl didn’t take his eyes off the road. “That’s too many digits, numb-nuts. Try again.”
But Stan didn’t seem to hear him. His eyes had darkened, and he was biting his lip.
“What if the number you want is already taken?” he asked. “What do you do then? Do you have to pick another one?”
“How the hell should I know?” Carl asked, throwing his hands in the air. “What do I look like, a switchboard operator? Why don’t you call the telephone company and ask them?”
“Maybe I will!” Stan said. “What’s their number? 1-800-TELEPHONE?”
“You lame-brained horse’s ass!” Carl yelled. “That’s too many digits!”
“You know,” I said, quietly inserting myself into the escalating conversation, “our company needs a memorable phone number. Ours is just standard-issue. It’s painted on the sides of all our trucks, but there’s nothing special about it that stands out. People probably forget it as soon as we drive past.”
“How about 1-800-LAWNCARE?” Stan asked.
I noticed Crew Leader Carl tightening his grip on the wheel.
“That’s no good,” I said quickly, before Carl could launch into a tirade. “You can have only seven digits max. It’s a rule.”
Stan cocked his head. “Seriously? Why?”
“Because …” I shrugged. “Because that’s how long phone numbers are.”
“You know,” I said, “I honestly don’t know. That would be a good question to ask the phone company.”
“I got it!” Stan exclaimed suddenly, making everyone jump. “How about 1-800-MOW-LAWN? That’s seven digits.”
“How about 1-800-SHUT-THE-HELL-UP-OR-I’LL-KICK-YOUR-SCRAWNY-STUPID-LAME-BRAINED-ASS!” Carl bellowed, swiveling in his seat.
“Nope,” Stan said, shaking his head with a smug smile. “No good. That’s too many digits.”