Image the time and effort to bend rock into marble-cake swirl.It used to be if the phone rang, which wasn’t often, we answered. That was before Caller ID and telemarketers.

Now the phone rings constantly, especially during dinner and those evening television shows I like to watch. And the only thing Caller ID does is tell me whether to answer the phone or just let it keep ringing. Some calls display numbers beginning with “800-“ while others report titles like “Friendswood, TX” and “Platinum Reward.” One day this week, the phone rang and the display reported “Adams County.” We answered because we live here – to hear a recorded pitch about interest rates.

There was a time when I could go through my detailed phone bill and look up each number I called to find out who I tried to talk with. All I needed was an Internet connection to my phone company, enter the number, and get back the name of the person who owned it. Not anymore.

Now I search the number and get pages of advertisements for companies who report knowing the information, and offering to charge $10 or more to share it.

I always thought time shares were a racket (not a legal term, of course)  – in which you take out a mortgage to become part owner in a vacation cabin you only get to use if you take out another mortgage to build up eligibility to make a reservation. We thought, since we were nearing retirement, we might actually use ours. Thought. Past tense.

But the bigger racket is the businesses calling to offer to take more of our money to sell our time share. We have never signed up for such a service, but all of them have our number. “Please call us if you would like to get rid of those time share fees,” the machine-generated recorded messages say to my voicemail.

Remember in the early days of cell phones, when the companies would not publish your number? Privacy, they cited, explaining most cell phone owners do not want their numbers given out.

Now my phone rings steadily in spite of the “Do Not Call” list. I used to answer, but I’ve changed my policy. If I do not recognize the number, I let it go to voicemail.

“This is John. I cannot answer right now, but if you leave a message about who you are and why you’re calling, chances are good I’ll call you back as soon as I am able. If you do not leave such a message, chances are even better that I will not call you back. So at the beep, tell me something I don’t know.”

The callers who refuse to identify are not limited to scammers. I waited for weeks for a call from a certain medical office connected to the provider where I live. I finally became suspicious when I was at another office and the nurse said, “They’ve been trying to call you.”

The next time I saw that Philadelphia number I hadn’t recognized, I answered. Sure enough, it was the one I’d been waiting for.

“Why don’t you identify or leave a message,” I asked.

“Privacy regulations won’t let us,” came the reply.

Every medical insurance company knows my health history, but my doctor cannot reveal he would like to chat with me about my most recent test for which he has billed the all-knowing insurance company.

So if you call me, please leave a message. And if you want to buy or sell my timeshare, please save the phone call and just send money.