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by Abigail Van Buren

Rules for Living Keep You on the Straight and Narrow

DEAR ABBY: We recently moved to a new city, and our new telephone number once belonged to a doctor's office. (The doctor has moved to the other side of town.) We frequently find phone messages on our answering machine from people attempting to contact this doctor. One man left a message in minute detail about which vertebrae his wife injured while she was dancing. Another individual left three messages in two hours. He was obviously in extreme pain, begging the doctor to call him.

Our new number is also very close to that of a "Jason." Although the greeting on our machine clearly states that Kraig and Lisa live at this number, we often get messages for him, too. His bank called about his savings account; a car dealer called about a new model he thought Jason might like; a few of his friends were in town for the weekend and called about getting together.

We are often tempted to call these people back and tell them they reached the wrong number, but we remind ourselves that we are not someone else's answering service.

For a while, we had a hilarious message -- obviously not that of a doctor's office. Finally, in desperation, we changed our greeting to: "Kraig and Lisa cannot come to the phone right now. Please leave a message after the tone. And by the way, this is not a doctor's office and Jason doesn't live here." That seemed to do the trick! -- KRAIG AND LISA, CEDAR RAPIDS, IOWA

DEAR KRAIG AND LISA: Thanks for your letter. As more and more people use telephone answering machines, it is important for callers to listen to the machine's "greeting" to be certain they have reached the right number before leaving a message. Callers could be leaving a message for someone who will never receive it if they have dialed the wrong number. (Press the star key if you comprehend this message.)