Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Operators Are Not Standing By, So Relax

For a while I thought we had the perfect outgoing message on our phone, but it turned out the answering machine was just broken.

We like to put some effort into our outgoing messages. It's kind of discouraging when you call someone and all you get is "You have reached XXX-XXXX. Please leave a message." Where's the pizzazz? The humor? The toying with the caller's neurons? Really, if that's the best you can do you might as well just turn the thing off and let the phone ring.

When Kim and I first got married, we had a message that said, "The number you have reached, XXX-XXXX, is imaginary. Please rotate your phone ninety degrees and try again." Nothing like a little higher math humor to liven things up, that's my motto. Or at least one of them. There were probably half a dozen people in our combined circle of friends who got that joke, but we snickered every time and really, whose answering machine was it, anyway?

Kim grew tired of our old kitchen phone a long time back - something about the screen on it not showing any actual information, combined with the fact that you couldn't talk on it and operate the microwave at the same time for all the interference, little things like that - and finally got around to upgrading to a new phone about a month ago. Like the old one, this one came with a digital answering machine built in, and we sat around coming up with ever more ridiculous ideas for what to put on the outgoing message. It passed time that we would have otherwise spent working.

Eventually we came up with something that had all of us - including the girls - laughing to ourselves whenever we thought of it, and we decided to go with it.

"You have reached XXX-XXXX. No one is here to answer your call, but don't despair! Your call is important to us. To continue in English, press one. Para continuar en espanol, oprima el dos. To speak to a non-existent operator, press three. To express anger at this pointless button-pushing, press four. To express sarcasm, press five. To exercise your fingers, press numbers six through eight repeatedly. If you have had enough of mindlessly pressing buttons, press nine. To leave a message, wait for the beep. BEEP! No, really, here comes the real beep. Thank you for playing, and good luck."

Yes, it was ridiculously self-indulgent and about half an hour long, but we liked it anyway. You have to keep yourself entertained in this world.

But the thing is, from that point on we received absolutely no messages.

Now, on the one hand, this is kind if disappointing. You want people to call with things that are important enough to tell you about even if you aren't there, and after a while with no messages you begin to question whether anyone out there knows you're alive.

On the other hand, it's not such a bad thing to be overlooked the rest of the world sometimes, especially since most messages are of the "here is a task I'd like you to do" or "vote for this person or the earth will go spinning into the sun" variety. People who really want to get hold of us know to send emails or make Facebook posts. I only got an answering machine in the first place because I needed it for job-hunting, way back in the early 90s, and I still view it as more of an intruder than anything else.

So there was a profound ambivalence about the lack of messages is what I'm saying here.

But after a while it begins to get suspicious. Surely somebody wants you to do something for them. Surely somebody is running for office somewhere. And the longer the "0" sits up there in the message counter, the more you begin to think the problem lies not with a cold and uncaring world - a fact that never stopped messages from arriving before - but with your answering machine.

Perhaps the message was simply too long.

I recorded a shorter one today and then tried to call in. Nothing. I left multiple messages for myself, and still: "0." But I don't know that - I think I left messages. And, honestly, I'm annoyed at why I don't just pick up the phone and answer myself. Who do I think I am? Such nerve.

So right now I've got the answering machine turned off because I can't find the manual for the phone in order to try to fix this problem and I'd rather people didn't get their hopes up about leaving a message and then wonder why nobody ever calls them back. Don't even get me started on why phones need manuals. I am old enough to remember when phones came in one color (black), had rotary dials, were sturdy enough to use as murder weapons and were about as complicated as an ice cube tray. They were appliances. Now they're technology again, and they don't quite work.

So, no messages for a while. If you need me, you can always make a big pile of phones in your back yard and send me smoke signals. I probably won't get those either, but the bonfire will be cathartic.

1 comment:

tellthestories said...

Really, it's quite Douglas Adams.