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No, I do not have the world’s deepest voice…

March 11, 2018, 9:32 PM

Sometimes, a comment on a post inspires me.  In this case, it inspired me to finally write what I believe will be an amusing entry that I had been compiling for a while about my not-so-deep voice.  It started with this post, made late at night on March 6:

"It's 2 AM and Elyse is criticizing my Marge Simpson voice."

Yes, Elyse told me that I could do a better Marge Simpson than what I was doing in the car on the way to the gym.  Then my friend Pete chimed in with this:

"You often sound like a cartoon lady..."

I was thoroughly amused by that, because it’s true.  I don’t have a particularly deep voice.  In fact, “deep” typically doesn’t even factor into the discussion about my voice.  Give it a listen and see for yourself.  When I was in college, my female hall director had a deeper voice than I did.  In situations where I’m a disembodied voice, I get mistaken for a woman a lot.  I used to be surprised about it, but eventually, I got used to it.  Taking hundreds of phone calls a day as a directory assistance operator while in high school gets you quite accustomed to such happenings.  Those people would be in and out of my life in thirty seconds or less, and correcting someone about gender would have cost me money (pay was tied to average call length, and the shorter the call time, the better).

I have never been someone to get upset about it, since it’s fairly inconsequential in the grand scheme of things.  My old boss at Food & Water Watch, whose first name was “Lane”, occasionally got mistaken for a lady on the phone on account of his name, and also got mail with “Ms.” on it.  He would always get so annoyed about it whenever it happened, and would correct people in an annoyed tone.  Someone clearly had a thin skin.  I was always amused by it, because you would think, having lived well into his fifties by that point, he would be used to it by now and would have learned to just roll with it, especially when it was inconsequential.  I admit, though, that before meeting him, I had only known “Lane” to be used as a feminine name.

In any case, I know what I sound like.  My voice is my voice, and puberty is long over – so it’s not going to get any lower.  So I’ve come to take these kinds of things as free entertainment.

When I was working at Walmart, I worked at the service desk, so I was on the loudspeaker quite a bit in performance of my duties.  I was told by a coworker about someone asking who “that old lady” on the loudspeaker was.  When he figured out that it was me, it became a running joke between us, as he would jokingly refer to me as “Benise” due to how I came off over the speakers.

It was also around this time that I had an encounter on the phone with my old sixth grade reading teacher, who was later one of my mother’s coworkers, and I got mistaken for my mother.  My old teacher was calling to confirm a social engagement with Mom, and when I answered, she said, “Hello, Jane?”  I answered, “Noooooooo… this is Ben.”  Then I explained that Mom wasn’t home.  I tend to think that I open my mouth and my father comes out, but apparently, out came Mom that time.

One of my favorite instances was around 2012, when I was working at Food & Water Watch.  For whatever reason, I had to call Pitney Bowes, which was the company that managed the office postage meter.  I got a lady on the phone who answered, “Thank you for calling Pitney Bowes, this is Tyler, how may I help you?”  We talked about whatever business that we needed to attend to, and then eventually, Tyler and I got to the point where she needed to take down my information.  It was clear that Tyler thought that she was speaking to a woman, but I didn’t realize exactly how convinced that she was of that.  Usually, once I give my name, people realize, oh, I’m speaking to a dude.  I am not going to correct someone on my gender over the phone, because it’s typically inconsequential, and not worth the effort.  I’ll just roll with it.  In Tyler’s case, after I gave my name, she didn’t miss a beat: “Wow, a woman named Ben!”  And she continued: “I know that my being a woman named Tyler is unusual, but I’ve never heard of a woman named Ben before!”

Oh, Tyler…

Giving the condescending pat on the head.

That was, um… special.  It never once crossed her mind, upon finding out that my name was Ben, that I might have been a guy.  I saw no reason to burst her bubble, but I definitely had to put some effort into containing my laughter.  And I suppose that a woman named “Ben” would be an unusual occurrence.  In any case, any time there’s an amusing moment with mistaking my voice for the opposite sex, I typically will tell them the Tyler story.

Meanwhile, in my current line of work, I interact with people in an official capacity as a disembodied voice far more often than I do face to face.  I make station announcements for the passengers, and communicate with dispatchers and other personnel via radio.  Two amusing instances come to mind there.

The first was on a weekday at the end of my first trip across the line.  I had been making station announcements the whole way across on what was a rather uneventful trip.  When I got to the end of the line, two ladies came up to my cab window.  I came out, and they asked me if the train had automated announcements.  I pointed at the newer train on the other track, and said, “Those do,” and then pointed at the train that I had just exited and said, “but these don’t.”  They were surprised, because they told me that they had heard what a woman making all of the announcements, but I clearly wasn’t a woman.  I took it in stride.  My response was, “Yep, that was me.  It happens all the time.”  We all got a good laugh about it, because I know what I sound like, and they were likely relieved that I wasn’t offended by their question.

Then the other occasion was late at night, as I was going up the line.  I got an instruction from the dispatcher, and repeated it back in a questioning tone, because I wasn’t 100% certain that I repeated it back correctly.  The response came back as “Yes, ma’am!” to confirm that I had, in fact, repeated it back correctly.  I wasn’t worried about it, letting it go without comment, being more concerned that I had gotten the repeat-back correct on the air (i.e. we are all on the same page).  But apparently, someone subsequently told the dispatcher that I was a dude, because a few seconds later, they came back on the air, falling all over themselves apologizing for it.  I laughed it off, because I wasn’t worried about it.  I know what I sound like, and I take it in stride.

Then there was another instance last year where the person on the phone was entirely convinced that they were speaking to a woman.  My pharmacy called me to let me know that my prescriptions were ready, and the conversation went something like this:

“Hello?”

“Hello, this is Giant Pharmacy.  May I please speak to Benjamin Schumin?”

“This is Ben.”

“Yes, will you please let him know that his prescriptions are ready for pickup?”

“I certainly will, thanks.”

I don’t quite know who they thought that they were talking to on the phone, because clearly, my identifying myself as the person that they were looking for didn’t register.  Was I my wife?  A personal secretary?  Who knows.  In any case, I joked with the pharmacy people about it the next day when I came through to pick up said prescriptions.  I assume that the person on the other side makes that same call so many times that the responses are automatic, and that they didn’t even notice their faux pas.  The pharmacy manager was apologetic, but I explained that I just laugh about it because it happens all the time.

And lastly, do you remember when my car broke down at the end of November?  When I called AAA for the tow and gave my card number, which is linked to a family plan, the first thing that the representative on the phone asked me was, “Is this Jane or Ann?”  I had to set him straight, because in that case, it was relevant that I was a guy, because he needed to relay to the tow driver about exactly who he would be looking for on the side of Georgia Avenue.

So all in all, welcome to my life, I suppose.  It’s not narrated in a baritone range, but I’m a good sport about it.  I know what I sound like, and am glad that I can have a little fun with it.  After all, it’s inconsequential most of the time, and getting upset about it just causes a lot of unnecessary stress.

Categories: Myself