Humor

Touch-Tone Trauma

By Martin Asher

YOU HAVE REACHED THE ACME RUBBER DUCK COMPANY. IF YOU WISH TO SPEAK TO SOMEONE IN BILLING, PRESS 1. IF YOU WISH TO SPEAK TO SOMEONE IN COOING, PRESS 2. IF YOU WISH TO SPEAK TO SOMEONE IN THE OLD WING, PRESS 3. IF YOU DO NOT KNOW TO WHOM YOU WISH TO SPEAK, PRESS 4.

So I press 4 and the gender-confused voice, which sounds like Hal the Computer in 2001, says: THANK YOU. PLEASE WAIT DURING THE SILENCE.

What did it think I was going to do? Go elephant hunting?

WE ARE SORRY, SIR. BUT DUE TO YOUR UNAUTHORIZED UNWRAPPING OF A CRUNCH BAR DURING THE SILENCE, YOUR CALL WILL BE TERMINATED!

Then there's the spelling-test switchboard. I have a message to call a Mr. Kramer.

IF YOU DO NOT KNOW THE EXTENSION OF THE PARTY YOU WISH TO SPEAK WITH AND ARE CALLING FROM A TOUCH-TONE PHONE, PLEASE ENTER THE FIRST FOUR LETTERS OF THEIR NAME - NOW.

I enter K-r-a-m. THIS IS THE OFFICE OF MEL KRAMINSKY. I AM NOT AT MY DESK. IF YOU LEAVE A MESSAGE, I'LL GET BACK TO YOU.

"Sorry," I mutter. "Wrong number." Maybe he spells it K-r-e-m-e-r. That gets me Jill Kremsky. C-r-a-m gives me Harvey Cramston.

Such frustration, however, is heaven compared with tangling with a musical switchboard. I call to arrange an interview for a new job. My potential boss' secretary puts me on hold. I hear Linda Rondstadt wailing the lyrics to "You're No Good!"

Perhaps we should reserve the joy of communicating with electronic switchboards for their only true equal - the automated telemarketing machine, the thing that pulls you out of the bath to tell you: THIS IS AN IMPORTANT MARKET SURVEY. IF YOU ANSWER THE FOLLOWING QUESTIONS, IT WILL HELP US SERVE YOU MORE EFFICIENTLY. Both machines could flirt forever with endless push-button beeps, squawks and silences, punctuated by periodic blurts of Mozart and Madonna.

Is there anybody left who says hello?