I Suppose You Could Call Them, But How?


Spot of news that makes me curious: the Lansing police reported that their non-emergency phone line was down. This didn’t affect 9-1-1 emergency service, naturally. But it’s got me wondering: how did they find out the non-emergency phone wasn’t working? I picture someone calling over, say, the house down the street somehow still setting off fireworks two flipping months after Independence Day and realizing nothing was going on, and then making a desperate run down the street and turning the corner and running up the avenue and into the police headquarters, gasping and collapsing on the desk to sign in and get their stuff scanned by the metal detector, and then picking it all up and running up to the elevator, and then waiting for the cab to get down, and then jogging in place for the ride up to the fifth floor, and then dashing in to say, “The non-emergency phone line is down!” What else would there be to do?

Yeah, I know, I know. they probably just tweeted or sent a message to the city police’s Facebook page. Social media ruins all the good stuff. Still no idea where that house is even getting fireworks from this late in the year.

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How The 11:00 Conference Call Turns Out


10:45. You set your cell phone on the table. Turn it on. Stare at it anxiously.

10:55. Wonder if there’s enough time to read all of TrekBBS before the call starts.

11:00. Watch entire minute pass without the phone ringing.

11:01. Elation: you have avoided being called into the conference call. Elation gone when you remember they probably haven’t excused you from the call, they’re just saving up to have you be even more in the conference call.

11:04. Realize that you have a need to go to the bathroom more intense and more urgent than any other need you have ever felt in my life. It’s the way you might feel the need to move your foot if it were underneath the rear tire of a truck holding a lump of neutron star, although with less of the mass of three Jupiters pressing down on your foot and more a wondering if you could hear the phone from all the way in the bathroom.

11:10. Wonder if they’ve forgotten you.

11:15. Send e-mail to someone supposed to be in the conference call to see if they’ve forgotten you. Kind of hope that they have, except that might encourage ideas of maybe they don’t need you for non-conference-call things. Wonder if maybe you should’ve been running March Madness pools so they’d want you around for that at least. It’s desperately far from March. It’d look odd if you started talking up next year’s anytime before June 22nd. The conference call will probably be settled by then.

11:25. Phone rings. This call is to warn you the real call is running about a half-hour late but they didn’t want you to worry.

11:32. You’re worried.

11:38. It may be preferable to explode from bathroom-related needs than wait for the call.

11:40. They call. The conference call is starting, except two of the participants have to finish up other calls that have been going since the late Middle Ages. These calls are cherished, handed down from a long line of mid-level management, to be someday handed down to levels of mid-level management not yet imagined. They cannot be discharged or dismissed lightly. You might be on hold. Suddenly you appreciate hold music: listening to something you don’t want to listen to provides reassurance that you are remembered to exist by telephone systems that are not aware you exist.

11:43. Everyone is able to talk with everyone else and would like to explain how glad they are that everyone else is glad to be there, and doing well, and all agree that it’s been far too long since we had a chat like this, and we’re looking forward to the way we’ll smooth out a couple of little issues.

11:46. The conference call enters that condition of being pretty much the same as guiding your parents through updating their digital camera’s device drivers only your boss is listening in.

12:02. The phrase “the button marked SUBMIT in the upper right corner” is proven to be either intolerably vague or to not refer to anything the other people on the call have ever seen.

12:05. logmein is summoned.

12:07. Emergency e-mails to people who thought they were going to lunch already establish that logmein would have worked except we had the password wrong, the capitalization wrong, and some kind of domain thing wrong.

12:18. You apologize for needing to step away for a moment, which they take to mean that you need the bathroom, which you do, but you use the moment to step outside and berate a chipmunk who proves to have a perfectly good understanding of the limits of Ajax-enabled web technology blah blah blah and why yes, it does have to have Internet to work.

12:29. All agree this has been about the greatest and most productive conference call since the idea of communication began and we’ve done enough of it, and hang up before anyone can suggest otherwise.

1:04. You emerge from the curled-up ball of yourself that was underneath the table weeping.

2:45. You finish editing the things you needed to get out of the conference call into a series of four questions, e-mailed to the other main party, with the explanation you need to know which of the two options for each question they want before you can do anything.

Three Days Later, 9:15. The e-mail is returned with the note, “That’s great, exactly that! Thanx for understanding.”

Eight Days After That, 3:23. The suggestion is floated that maybe we just need one more conference call to sort it all out.

Things My Prepaid Cell Phone Tells me


Message I Receive How Often
Low Battery Like 80 percent of the time
Dad’s Texting to Ask if I Saw His E-mail Every six weeks
Somebody’s Sorry That They Got Me Instead Weekly
I Have To Put More Money On It Or For Some Reason Verizon Will Take Away The Money Currently On It Annual
Chefmongoose Thought I Dialed Him By Accident While I Was At A Rifftrax Live Movie Event Once
Boss Called, Is Too Busy To Talk, Will Call Back Every five weeks
It’s Just Making Some Tone I Never Heard Before Every six to nine weeks on average

Robert Benchley: The Most Popular Book Of The Month


[ In Of All Things, Robert Benchley includes a review of the phone book in a mode of deliberate misunderstanding that’s at least still current. Benchley though goes on at greater length with deeper thought than most people writing this sort of piece do, which is one of the things which made Robert Benchley turn out to be Robert Benchley, and includes one of his less-common but still popular pithy quotes. As he predicted elsewhere, though, the quote gets better if you take more than the single sentence from its paragraph. I confess also not being sure just what’s meant by “clb bdg stbls”. ]

New York City (including all Boroughs) Telephone Directory— N. Y. Telephone Co., N. Y. 1920. 8vo. 1208 pp.

IN picking up this new edition of a popular favorite, the reviewer finds himself confronted by a nice problem in literary ethics. The reader must guess what it is.

There may be said to be two classes of people in the world; those who constantly divide the people of the world into two classes, and those who do not. Both classes are extremely unpleasant to meet socially, leaving practically no one in the world whom one cares very much to know. This feeling is made poignant, to the point of becoming an obsession, by a careful reading of the present volume.

We are herein presented to some five hundred thousand characters, each one deftly drawn in a line or two of agate type, each one standing out from the rest in bold relief. It is hard to tell which one is the most lovable. In one mood we should say W. S. Custard of Minnieford Ave. In another, more susceptible frame of mind, we should stand by the character who opens the book and who first introduces us into this Kingdom of Make-Believe— Mr. V. Aagaard, the old “Impt. & Expt.” How one seems to see hinm, impting and expting all the hot summer day through, year in and year out, always beading the list, but always modest and unassuming, always with a kindly word and a smile for passers-by on Broadway!

Continue reading “Robert Benchley: The Most Popular Book Of The Month”

I Never Was a Business-Minded Person


“We’ll need you for a conference call,” said the voice on the phone. This was a friendly voice, which made me think things were going well.

“All right … what are we going to be talking about?”

“We’re still figuring out the exact agenda, so just, stay loose, roll with it. We probably won’t need you really, we just want the insurance.”

I said thank you rather than work out whether to be insulted. “When is the call? When should I be there?”

“Oh, we’re working out the time. We’ll just call you when we’re ready.”

“Are you thinking it’ll be late morning? Early afternoon? Late afternoon?”

“Can’t really say. Just wait and we’ll be ready for you.”

“Is it going to be today?”

The voice sighed. “Don’t worry about trivialities. We We need you for the big-picture thinking, that insight you bring into our i-dotting and t-crossing.”

And this is why I spent the whole day sitting at the table, staring at my cell phone, wondering if I could dash off to the bathroom without getting caught.