Thursday, December 30, 2004

#129 - Please Wait

My father had a wonderful way with the phone. Dad was a tightly wound coil - a mainspring with nowhere to go - and certain elements of the population suffered as a result. Highest on the list of suffering humanity was anyone who dared get Dad on the phone.

Dad was a card-carrying curmudgeon. I'm pretty sure the Webster definition had been modified at one point to include Dad as an example of modern usage. Mom, sainted at an early age, had long since learned how to let the curmudgeonry roll off her back. She was, and still is the master of the soft answer and the subtle deflection. If any of her children were guilty of some life-shortening offense, she alone could keep the guillotine at bay and spare our miserable lives. I'm reasonably certain the only reason I didn't end up in military school was because Mom knew how to call his bluffs.

Still, Dad could be intimidating. And his worst enemy was the phone. For most of my youth, the phone company was responsible for providing phone equipment to the home. You were charged for each unit in your home, and there weren't too many styles to choose from. Consequently there was generally only one phone in our house at any given time. Since Mom was a traditional stay-at-home Mom, she got to answer her phone at least 95% of the time, until my sisters got old enough to learn how to string seven numbers together.

Once in a great while, Dad was closest to the phone when it rang. His manner of answering was about as welcome as hearing from the friendly IRS auditor that he'd like a visit with you, say, tomorrow morning. "Hello!" was his clipped response. If the caller was known to him, Dad might follow with, "Whaddaya want?" If an unknown quantity, which usually meant a sales slug, the usual response was "Not interested," followed by an equally curt slam.

Even if he wasn't the one to answer the phone, his hatred of the instrument enveloped the immediate area of the person talking on it, to the point of literally increasing the ambient temperature of the phone itself by several tens of degrees, rendering it impossible to hold for any length of time. Mom, for example, might be chatting with one of her Church friends. After a moment or two, Dad would begin growling; a low, throaty sound that resembled a cheetah protecting its latest kill. If the call extended beyond, say, five minutes, he began making comments regarding the imminent departure of the dratted phone to-blankety-blank-morrow. Or he might threaten to merely rip it out of the wall.

Most of what I know about the phone I learned from my Dad.

Today, of course, the phone has become downright lethal. Not only can it come in an ever-widening variety of annoying styles and colors, it's become completely portable! Some models can be carried all over the house (and, consequently, hidden in a wondrous array of locations). Others are now portable enough that they need never leave our sides. Indeed, many people seem to have had them surgically grafted into their skin, judging from the increasing numbers of people apparently talking to themselves in embarrassingly public places.

My own experiences with cell phones lead me to believe that ol' Scratch himself is responsible for their widespread use in vehicles that weren't any too safe on the roads to begin with. You know the ones I mean: those larger-than-anyone-could-possibly-need SUVs where the driver can barely see over the dashboard, let alone the drivers around them, all the while being completely absorbed by their conversation with some invisible person. Since my vehicles are both much nearer to ground level, I spend inordinate amounts of time dodging CRUAVs (Cellphone-Riddled Urban Assault Vehicles) in order to save my own life.

I, of course, am a much safer cell-phone user in my own vehicles.

Anyway, all of this by way of pointing out that I am not a big fan of Mr. Bell's contraption. And in my book, the worst offenders of all are companies who have decided that it is somehow more efficient for them to use computers to dial their stupid phones for them.

Open statement to anyone who wishes to inform me that my payment is a day or two late: Don't sic your stinking computer on me. I will hang up. This has been a pet peeve of Mrs. Woody and myself for many years now. It is insulting to us for you to assume that your time is somehow more valuable than ours is. That's certainly the implication. "Your time is important to us. Please wait for the next available associate." The message here is that my business is so important that they use a machine to dial our number so that some outsourced customer service rep with questionable English skills can ask me when I plan to put my check in the mail, or would I rather pay over the phone.

This service is so automated, in fact, that even when I've made the stupid payment, I will continue to receive calls from their computer until such time as the payment makes it through the company's labyrinthine accounting department and is actually posted by the computer, at which point it's time to bug me about the next payment. Did I mention that their accounting department is probably located on Grand Cayman? Just thought I'd remind you.

I'm not as bad as my Dad, I must admit. I do enjoy chatting with my children who live in various parts of the country (although I'm far likelier to hear from them than vice versa), and I do occasionally communicate with folks from Church. Even my Mom hears from me during certain phases of lunar activity. Otherwise...

I'll be ripping that blasted phone out of the wall tomorrow. Assuming I can ever find the cord.

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