Honey, we have to talk. . . . .

There are certain phrases looping through my life which I know will be followed by something unpleasant. The most-often heard of these is when my wife says, "Honey we have to talk," and the second is "Honey, I've been thinking." But not counting those coming from people to whom I have an emotional and legal commitment, the phrase which really makes me cringe is "Your call is important to us, please stay on the line . . ."
    See, I now know the code. When my wife says, "we have to talk," it means we have to talk about me. When that computer voice-mail woman says "Your call is important, " it means, "We don't care. Our intent is to frustrate you long enough so you will hang up."
    My phone broke. It's no ordinary phone –– it's a super-duper 2.4 gigabyte cordless model with a built-in answering machine. The phone part worked great, still does. You can walk around the block and talk on it. I wouldn't do anything as silly as that, but it's great for those long phone calls when you need to go see Mr. John midstream. In my case, the only long calls I get are those from my wife beginning with  "I've been thinking.  . . ." but that's another subject.
    What happened to telephones? There was a time when you could slam them down, knock them off the table, hit them with a hammer and they kept on ticking. And they were simple, so simple that my college roommate and I wired free extensions into one for an entire dorm floor. These new things are fragile and complicated. It must be the space program "technology dividend" that NASA is always bragging on. NASA, the guys who forgot that an inch and a centimeter weren't the same thing.
    When my contraption answered it didn't say "Hi, we're not here" but instead made a noise that sounded like an old TV on full volume tuned to a UHF station which doesn't exist. It did that for a while, then emitted a piercing beep which sounded like Tiny Tim screaming for his life.
    Now, it wouldn't be right to mention brand names here (Panasonic), because perhaps it's a fluke and I don't want to impugn any company's (Panasonic) fine name. I bought this machine because the phone part of the last super-duper telephone/ answering machine (Toshiba) wouldn't work anymore -- just like the one before that (AT&T).
    So I called the customer service line at this company (Panasonic), waited on hold, read "War and Peace" and then talked to one of the representatives. She asked me my zip code and then told me there was a convenient service center in the next state. A state where they are talking about a senator named Hillary.
    I said this wasn't acceptable since I was going out of town in a few days and wanted an answering machine that worked. She suggested I take it back to the store. I called the store, one of those big-box electropolises (Circuit City) and they told me I needed the receipt, the original box and the exchange period was only good for thirty days. The phone is two months old.
    Original box? I suppose there are people who keep all the boxes their stuff comes in, but they probably had to build an addition to their house. I threw the darn thing away. I expect warehouse space for original boxes will be a sought-after option in the House of the Future, just the way modern home-buyers want something called a "great room."
    So I called that company (Panasonic) back, re-read "War and Peace" and told them I couldn't take it back to the store. They referred me back to the service center. I demanded to speak with a higher-up.
    I did. I guess she wasn't higher-up enough. Or maybe I'm not higher-up enough. I asked that they send me, by overnight mail, a new machine and that I would pay the freight. I said I would be happy to send them back the old one. It's a good thing I live near the beach –– because the translation of what she told me was to go pound sand.
    I had no choices left. Because your call is important to me, I went out and bought a new answering machine. It's a cheapo- deepo model. But I'm still keeping the original box.


January 10, 2000