Star 69

Many Unhappy Returns

By Courtney Weaver
Published September 9, 1996 7:00PM (EDT)

i'm noticing a disturbing trend in the mating and dating life. It's this new service available from your local telephone company called Call Return, or as it's more commonly known, Star 69.

It's simple. If you miss a call, and your machine isn't on or you don't have a machine, you just press *69, and the phone rings right back to the person who last called you. Whether they have left a message or not.

This service has disturbing implications. Say you just called Belle, a person with whom you are mildly, very mildly entranced. Say you got her machine, and you just weren't yet committed to taking the plunge by leaving a message. Or your roommate walked into the room, just as her "Hi, This is Belle and I'm not here --" began. You hang up. Suddenly the phone rings before you've even let go of the handset. "Hi, who's this?" Belle asks. "You just called me. Why did you call me?"

This little invention was clearly intended for one purpose only: to wreak emotional havoc on the furtive, to out the chickens. Unless you are a cave person, of course you have a machine or voice mail. So it's rather disingenuous of the phone company to pretend this is a service for the technologically impaired.

Not surprisingly, Star 69 has now entered the lexicon of relationships, attaining the much-sought-after status of a verb. "I was Star Sixty-Nined once," said Isobel. "I'd gotten the wrong number, and just hung up. Then there's this woman saying in my ear, 'why are you calling and hanging up on my machine?' "

Some of my friends have confessed to a Star 69 addiction. They come home, see the steady light of their answering machine, and dial Star 69 to see which chump didn't leave a message. There's always the possibility that they in turn will get a machine, in which case they must mull over the next step: do they leave a message asking why a message wasn't left, or do they hang up and open up the possibility of getting Star 69'ed themselves? Conceivably, this could be a very time-consuming addiction.

For some, however, Star 69 may serve as a valuable screening mechanism. Consider Dave's story. Cousin Cheryl from out of town is sleeping on the sofa. The phone rings one early Sunday morning. She answers from a deep sleep, and the caller hangs up. Dave Star 69's the offender, and gets a woman whom he'd dated a few times. "Did you just call me?" Dave asks politely. "I'm just trying out this new service from the phone company." The woman nervously says no, then retracts her lie. They have an embarrassed conversation, in which she apologizes for hanging up and for lying.

"Thank God for Star 69," says Dave. "Now I don't have to waste my time and money with the kind of woman who would lie and hang up on my cousin. The best 75 cents I've ever spent."

I was curious how the phone company came up with such a, well, appropriate number for their service. "It was just the next number in the series," said Barbara, a Pacific Bell service representative. "You know, we have Star 70, Star 68... all of them are dialing codes for our customers. The Call Return just happened to fall on 69. It wasn't intentional."

I'm not sure I buy that. Any company capable of thinking up something as diabolical as Star 69 is certainly capable of giving it a name that sounds like a bad porno movie.

Courtney Weaver

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