hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

February 14, 2013

New Year's greetings run amok

Tom Vartabedian
The Haverhill Gazette

---- — I’ve often reminded myself that the shortest distance between two strangers is simply a telephone call.

Thus, I wanted to start 2013 on the right foot by calling people who’ve lost touch with me over the years.

I find it more personable than sending off an email and taking a chance on getting a reply. As it was, I didn’t have their addresses anyway.

Truthfully, I’m not much for telephones, now that we’re in this age of computers. I can get my messages across without listening to long, mundane conversations.

“Great idea,” said the wife. “Just don’t hand the phone over to me like you always do when you want to get rid of someone.”

Since we have caller ID, half the phone calls we get never get answered because we know in advance who’s calling. And if we don’t, it’s probably a solicitation anyway so why bother lifting the receiver?

My first call would be to Cousin Barbara on Cape Cod. The last time I encountered her presence, we were at a wedding and promised to get together. Neither one of us ever followed through.

The New Year’s call to Barbara turned into an exercise in futility.

“Sorry, that number is no longer in service,” came a voice. “If you wish further assistance, please call your operator.”

I did precisely that and there was no record of a Barbara Keshgegian anywhere. Had she moved? Gotten divorced? Died?

Next, I tried an old friend named Martin. We worked together for many years and off he went to another paper. Nice guy, Martin. He could get hit by a bus on the street and still come up with a story.

I called his home and a woman answered — rather defiantly I might add.

“We’ve been divorced for three years now,” she lashed out. “Have no idea where he is. For all I know, he can go to h ---.”

My next call would be made to Uncle Albert. He was one of those guys you could always count on for a helping hand. Somehow, distance and time have drawn us apart. Every since losing his wife, I heard he had become somewhat of a recluse.

“Hello, Uncle Albert. It’s Tom. Remember me? Your favorite nephew?”

“Who did you say was calling?”

“Tom. Tom Vartabedian. The newspaper guy. Just called to wish you a Happy New Year.”

Click! Down went the phone, conversation and all. Always told him to get a better hearing aid.

Cousin Alice would be happy to hear from me. She was always a loyal relative, there for every birthday and anniversary, before getting lost in transient. Last I heard, she was fighting an illness and keeping her peace.

She answered the phone on the third ring and was surprised to hear from me. At the same time, a bit emotional and sluggish. I had no idea.

“Hopefully, the radiation treatments will help,” she stammered. “After that, then the chemo starts. I was the one who always went to the YMCA remember? Now, I’m fighting cancer. Hope I didn’t ruin your day with the sad news.”

Next came a call I really dreaded making. It was to a friend who severed ties over money that was loaned to him during a difficult time. He never reciprocated, much to our chagrin.

I got him on the line — and wish I hadn’t.

“If you’re calling about the $100 you loaned me, it’s coming, once I’m able to get some cash flow going,” he said.

“I didn’t call about money. Just wanted to wish you a Happy New Year, that’s all. Forget the loan. Seems like you did already.”

“You calling me a freeloader? I may be a lot of things but I’m not a thief.”

“Look, Bub. I’m not about to get into a shouting match. Just hope the New Year treats you better than the old and we patch our differences, that’s all. God bless!”

And so it went on New Year’s Day, one call after another. Not everyone was home. For those who weren’t, I left a message, indicating they didn’t have to call back. I just wanted to send a greeting.

And finally, there was Ralph, my comrade-in-arms. We grew up together, played Little League, studied together in high school and parted company after marriage. He went into the restaurant business. I chose newspapers. He’s been living in Florida for some time now and went bankrupt after some bad investments. Maybe a call would cheer him up.

Little did I know he was out celebrating the night before and hung over badly. He sounded like he was wearing a gas mask. At least I tried.

Photographer and writer Tom Vartabedian is retired from The Haverhill Gazette. He contributes this regular column.