Friday, August 22, 2008

The perfect phone message

I’ve foisted yet another example on my wife about why being married to me is no day at the beach.

Sure, there’s upsides to being my Mrs. Rodell. I’m good for giggles, take her on nice trips, help around the house, am good with the kids, smell nice, am devastatingly handsome . . . modest.

But, yep, there’s baggage. For now, let’s skip the biggies (no ambition, impatient, excessive thirst for bar products) and go to the infuriating little ones, the straws that strain the camel’s back (and, yes, I’m aware equating her with a camel can be misread by people unfamiliar with her beauty so add “sloppy analogizyer” to the baggage list).

Take my latest instructions about the phone message. I have a real thing about idiot phone messages -- and hers was not one of them. Most phone messages prattle on and on with so many unnecessary and detailed instructions that it seems like we’re all being taught how to defuse live bombs, not leave a message.

We just got a new phone system and she innocently recorded something perfectly utilitarian. “Hi, you’ve reached the Rodells. We’re not home right now. Please leave a message and we’ll call you right back.”

Nine out of 10 times, that message will convey at least two outrageous lies and is scattered with insults to the poor caller. Let’s break it down:

“Hi, you’ve reached the Rodells.” Well, no they haven’t. They’ve failed to reach the Rodells. This is a busy world and these five words eat up time. Most people know who they’re calling. Still, it’s a small matter so let’s move on.

“We’re not home right now.” Oh, yes we are. In fact, we’re standing there staring at the Caller ID -- or as I call it, the “In-Law Detector” -- and thinking when it’ll be convenient for us to call you back or if we ever will. My mind’s running through questions like, “Do I owe this woman money? Does she owe me money? Will there be any selfish benefit for me to ever bother returning her phone call?” It’s impossible for me to convey just how much heartfelt affection I have for the Caller ID function.

“Please leave a message . . .” This one always gets me. It’s redundantly unnecessary. Every single person capable of hearing and speech knows instantly what to do when they reach a recording. Phone machines have been in widespread use for more than 15 years now. We all know the drill.

“ . . . and we’ll get right back to you.” Another outrageous falsehood. We’ll get back to you when we’re damn good and ready.

The perfect phone message is simply, “Go!” It’s lets the callers know they’ve gotten through and they can commence with their business.

But that’s a bit abrupt. That’s why the previous phone message, the one I composed, was splashed with sunshine. “Hi! This is Chris. That’s Val. That’s Josie. That’s Lucinda. Have a splendid day!”

Try and improve on it. You can’t. It paints a Rockwellian picture of a happy family, gives the full family roster and ends with a rosy salutation.

Really, if people weren’t so busy, I’d love to elaborate on the ending with “and we hope you have a wonderful day, and that every day after this gets better and better until your life is complicated by a jackpot winning Powerball ticket!”

That’s a message that would put even the grumpiest bank manager in a sunny mood.

And that’s what I’m all about. I’m out to make every single person on the planet's life a little bit better, a little more hopeful, a little more happy.

I’m sure Val will argue that last point pretty convincingly, though.

This has been Chris wishing you a really great day.

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