This is an archived article that was published on in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Technology has taken a lot of the simple-minded fun out of life. Thanks to caller ID, it's almost impossible to make a prank phone call anymore and get away with it.

It used to be that you could call people in the middle of the night, wake them up, then disconnect when they got mad because nobody was dead or the house wasn't on fire.

This was hilarious for kids (and drunks) because there was nothing the victim could do about it except fly into an impotent rage.

If the person was a slow learner, it might be possible to call another 18 times before they just left the phone off the hook.

I confess to having done this as a kid. My friends and I would call the neighborhood grouch at 2 a.m. and whisper that there was a bear in his backyard.

We could just see the grouch's back porch from Duncan's bedroom window. We'd laugh every time his porch light came on. He'd fly into an obscenity-laced rage.

When he stopped turning on his porch light to investigate, we began timing the calls. One of us would sneak down and rattle his garbage cans while someone else would call. Every light in the house would come on then.

One night, we were lazy and decided to just call. We watched his house as Duncan dialed the grouch's number to warn him about a space creature.

As soon as the phone rang, there was a detonation in the guy's backyard that rattled every window for half a mile. We didn't call anymore after that.

Some prank calling is more sinister. When I was a cop back in the '80s, I handled a lot of obscene phone call reports. Some sweaty pervert would call a woman half a dozen times to find out what color underwear she had on.

Unless the victim recognized the breathless voice as belonging to her son's Little League coach or someone in her church congregation, it was almost impossible to find out who was doing it.

Not anymore. Make the wrong kind of phone call to the wrong person now and there's a good chance the next time your doorbell rings, it'll be the cops.

That's if you're lucky. If not, it'll be the largest and least reasonable male figure the woman knows. Not to worry. If you can get to your phone in time, 911 has even better caller ID.

Speaking of ringing doorbells, it used to be easier to get away with doing this in the middle of the night as well.

There are a lot of terms for ringing someone's doorbell at midnight and then running away. My friends and I called it "door ditching." Our victims loudly referred to it as "You little bastards are dead!"

It was riskier. Unlike prank calling, you actually had to be at the scene to do this. There was always a chance the people inside would be waiting for you. As soon as you knocked, the door would swing open and you'd be yanked inside for a pre-execution beating.

It happened to Duncan one night. When he was grabbed, the rest of us took off. He showed up half an hour later crying. The homeowner had run a set of hair clippers over the top of his head and right down to the skull. You could get away with stuff like that back then.

Things are different now. There's no telling when you're being monitored with a camera or some kind of alarm. You might get away OK, but there will be a record of your behavior and someone will report you to the proper authority.

Unless, of course, it's my doorbell you ring and my camera you're on. Then it's all about getting even when you least expect it.

Robert Kirby can be reached at or

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