By Lynn Ashby 30 May 2011
THE PHONE – My phone is ringing, so I answer. “Dis is Vito.” Crackle, crackle. “Ah won’t yew to buzzzzz…owe dat…and…break….hospital….” Silence. Vito is such a silly savage. He apparently wants his money back with that 60 percent interest compounded, like my legs will be by next Wednesday if I don’t pay. I’ll just pretend I never got the call because he is phoning me from his cell phone, or iPhone, or iPad or Kindle or tom-tom or whatever.
In any event, his call breaks up, perhaps just like my legs. Also when he drives through a tunnel or thunderstorm or at night, his phone goes silent, so he has to call back. But Vito is playing with danger because he is DWT (Driving While Talking/Tweeting/Texting).You, no doubt, have been behind a car that roams all over the street, alternately going slow or fast, braking for no reason. You pull alongside and, sure enough, the driver is on the phone, paying little heed to the bridge abutment just ahead. That’s when he says, “About the Smedley contract, I think we need to, what the… AHHGGG…smash!” Then the sound of glass shattering and metal bending.
Here is a genuine offer I just got from my phone company: a single little black box so that I can “Surf the Web while talking on the phone.” I also get touchtone screen display, vibration, send texts, pictures, videos and IMs (whatever an IM is), camera and camcorder, music and radio, weather reports and mobile email. And with Bluetooth wireless phone service I have at least one hand free to drive! Wait. Is that a bridge abutment just ahead? AHHGGG!
It is on radio call-in shows that cell phone users are the worst. “Let’s go to Jack in Jacksonville.”
“Hi, Rush, first-time listener, long-time caller. That bozo in the White Houzzzz.” Click, click, dial tone. Maybe it’s just the god of idiots culling the herd.
Studies show that talking on the phone while driving hinders a person’s attention equivalent to several drinks of alcohol or a couple of high-grade joints. But it is the receiver of such calls who has to put up with voice fading, lots of static, the: “I’ll buzz, crackle you back when I get in mmmm, click,” and the incomprehensible. “The magtou hut zeep inside. So diffle the putcake. Got that?”
When was the last time you dialed (we don’t actually “dial” anymore, but you get my drift) someone and heard a busy signal, or the phone rang and rang and no one answered? Not often, because today every single American has a message recording device of some kind or call waiting that lets a third party interrupt a conversation.
This brings us to phone etiquette, because you and I are tired of putting up with frustration, wasted time, arrogance and inconsideration. Let us start with phone messages. You arrive at your home or office and there is a little blinking light which means a message is waiting. “Hi, I want to tell you about that thing, which is not where I thought it would be. And be sure to fix it.”
You have not a clue who is calling, what the message is about, nor when and where. Such people are so arrogant that they think you should immediately know who they are without so much as introducing themselves. Or maybe they are just clueless or insensitive, but you should always begin your message with something like: “Hi, this is Malcolm Cumquat, we met at the Friends of Formica convention.” And go on from there. Such etiquette is also proper when dealing with live phone conversations, each time some caller begins with, “Hi, I want to tell you about that thing, which….” I interrupt with, “Excuse me, but who is this?”
When leaving a phone message, talk slowly and distinctly. We have all replayed phone messages which begin with the above-mentioned no-name caller. But how about the phone number? “Call me at fivefivefive-twotwo etc.” Huh? You can replay the message several times and still not understand the number. It’s a complete waste of the happy hour.
About your own answering machine: Do not greet callers with a funny impersonation. “Hi, this is Jim-uh, Jum-ee Stewart. And uh, uh, leave a… just leave …” Hey, I’m busy. I don’t have time to wade through your meager attempt at humor. If I want Jimmy Stewart I’ll rent “It’s a Wonderful Life” and hear the real thing. Same with music. Unless you play in a symphony, jazz band or won the Pulitzer for your epic opera, “Cheerleaders in Chains,” spare me the melody. Again, I’m busy.
So you are talking on the phone and hear a beep. The person you are conversing with says, “Sorry, but I just got another call. Can I put you on hold?” No, you cannot, because what you are saying is that any other unknown person on earth is more important than I am. The only excusable excuse is to be warned up front, “I’m expecting a call from EMS telling me they’re on the way, so I may have to take that call.”
While dwelling on phone etiquette, it goes for companies, too. My financial institution, Texas Bank & Earthworm Farm, doesn’t know squat how to be customer friendly. Callers only get a recording, no humans work at my bank but a few have the overnight shift in Bangladesh. The bank’s phone message is a recorded list of options: start a new account, amount of overdraft, book a brazen daylight robbery. But none of them is what I want, which is the code to the vault. If you push 0 for a real human, you are put on hold for half an hour while listening to “The Best of Sousaphone Serenades.”
As for my problems with Vito, things are getting sticky. A concrete truck just pulled up to my house and the driver asked for my shoe size.
Ashby is on hold at email@example.com