Alpha Bravo Charlie

Being the 6th in a miscellany of short posts to mark the 12 days of Christmas

Alpha, bravo, Charlie, delta, echo, foxtrot, golf, hotel, India, Juliet, kilo, Lima, Mike, November, Oscar, papa, Quebec, Romeo, sierra, tango, uniform, victor, whiskey, x-ray, Yankee, zulu.

It is the mid-1990s and the retired General, now in just his second month of his second career with our company, puts the phone down and looks at me quizzically. Is that what you wanted? Oh, yes, I assure him, that’s exactly what I wanted.  I usher him out of my cubicle with effusive thanks. His slight puzzlement is regrettable but unavoidable collateral damage: the target of my modest campaign is not to confuse my co-workers but to annoy my son.   

My then mid-20s son had unwisely mentioned an aspiration to learn the phonetic alphabet, and inspiration struck! Me, not him. Knowing his schedule well enough to avoid the times he might be home, I enlisted my colleagues in my plot: leave messages consisting only of the phonetic alphabet. I dial the number, wait for it to go to voice mail, and hand over the receiver to my co-conspirator without a word. Puzzled but game, they recite the phonetic alphabet — one call per day. Today’s recitation is the third: the first two starred another former military member and an air traffic control guy retired from Transport Canada.

Alone again, I call my son’s voice mail to leave another message without any preamble. Did you know that the average adult has to hear something six times before they remember it? I hang up, and wait for the next move in this little game.

Arriving home that evening, I check for messages: bravo India November golf Oscar! Not angry, but definitely annoyed, my son’s voice greets me, with no preamble: alpha, bravo, Charlie, delta, echo, foxtrot, golf, hotel, India, Juliet, kilo, Lima, Mike, November, Oscar, papa, Quebec, Romeo, sierra, tango, uniform, victor, whiskey, x-ray, Yankee, zulu. The message clicks off.

Excellent! A day without play is like a day without sunshine.

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8 Responses to Alpha Bravo Charlie

  1. Brilliant! Indeed, what good is being an “adult” if you can play complicated, whimsical and irritating games…

    A client was here one night and her phone rang — she didn’t respond.
    It continued to ring. She thought it was ours. It wasn’t. OH, she cried, it must be mine! my teenage sons keep changing my ring tone and not telling me. She laughed, sort of…

    Playing games with/on people is the ultimate flattery.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Barbara – Yes, I’d agree with that: Playing with people is a sign of love. I have learned the hard way not to play with strangers (well, not too much). Lacking history and the trust that can engender, they are just as likely to perceive playful overtures as something more sinister — harassment, or even outright attacks.

      • So sad, isn’t it. This culture of fear and distrust that we now live in. Most people are good-hearted; it’s that’s small percentage that ruin it for us all.
        But we can’t let them. I keep talking to strangers everywhere and much more often than not get a big smiley response.

        • Isabel Gibson says:

          Barbara – Well, they say that much of humour is a ‘dangerous thing from a safe source’ and that seems right to me. Think of tossing a kid in the air (OK for a parent to do, not so OK for a stranger) to teasing (which skirts the line of hurtful remarks for its comedic effect–and fails miserably when it crosses that line, for whatever reason). Just as I have almost given up trying to make jokes in Spanish, so too have I almost stopped playing with strangers. Talking to them – oh yes. Taking a chance on a shared sense of humour and my own ability to adequately telegraph my intentions – umm, less and less. Of course, I try it all the time in writing, just not in person!

  2. Alison Uhrbach says:

    Thought of my dad when I read your post. It is one of the many many miscellaneous facts that he taught me, that I too can recite the NATO phonetic spelling alphabet. The funny thing is… I actually use it quite often when spelling my last name! Who knew it would come in so handy!

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Alison – Well, your dad might have known! Every once in a while I hit someone who has no idea what I’m doing, spelling like that. That can take a while to sort out….

  3. Marion says:

    One day when I was five or so I was reciting the alphabet to my Mum and she said “Well, I can say it backwards” and proceeded to teach me how to do so. As a result I’ve always been able to say it backwards just as quickly and easily as forwards.
    I’ve always wanted to learn phonetic spelling too. So, I just did using your blog post! Tango hotel alpha November kilo sierra for the push!

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Marion – Well, if you find your learning lagging, we could always arrange voice-mail messages! I didn’t know you also know the alphabet backwards. It’s a tradition in my father’s family and the only other folks I’ve ever met who know that version are Irish. The things we don’t know about each other….

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