What happens when phone etiquette is unobserved.
RING THE CHANGES By Bev. Cooke
First published in Monday Magazine, Sept., 2004
Childrenís after school etiquette courses are all the rage right now. People whose business it is to know which fork to use with what course, how high to lift your pinky when drinking tea with the queen, and how to conduct yourself on the phone are in great demand.
I hope it becomes part of the regular school curriculum, with learning outcomes established by the boards of education and year end exams, and special summer sessions for the ones who canít quite get it. But not for the kids. Etiquette, especially phone etiquette, should be taught in schools because itís the teachers who need it.
Take the call I got the other day. I admit, I wasnít in the greatest of moods when it happened. Iíd spent far too much of the morning trying to get one piece of computer hardware to talk to another, ending up in the dust-bunny inhabited region under my desk checking a snarl of cables and wires.
I had less than an hour left to get a shower, sew a button, iron my shirt, and pick up my partner for a very important interview.
That, of course, was when the phone rang. A deep male voice, exuding height, breadth of chest and shoulder with overtones of 'I am in control and you will do exactly as you are told' - a cop voice in other words - said, "Ms. Cooke?"
"Yes," I replied.
"We have your son."
Thatís all. We have your son.
"Ohmigod what do they think he did? What did he do?" I thought, envisioning my fourteen year old son and the light of my life shrunk to the size of an eight year old (a short eight year old) in the centre of a circle of black garbed, Kevlar padded, ninja masked giants brandishing the GNPís worth of firearms and armament. All of it pointed directly at my helpless, terrified boy.
The voice spoke again. "He's been hit."
There was another pause. My grip went cold on the phone. Visions of wailing ambulances tearing up and laying rubber, a big Mack truck with blood splattered liberally on fenders, headlights and asphalt, gawking crowds, big blue uniformed men blocking six lanes of the road and directing traffic. Paramedics gathered around, working frantically on the prone, broken body of my son.
Once again, the voice spoke. "By a softball in gym class."
He stopped again.
Baseball? Gym class? This isnít a cop Ė itís a teacher! Itís the school calling. Oh god Ė Harold, lying on the green grass on first base, head broken like the melon in the helmet advertisements; concussion, spinal damage, my bright son reduced to a vegetable, staring vacantly into space while I spoon pabulum into him and change his diapers until I die of old age.
"His thumb is all swollen and bent out of shape."
His thumb. He got hit on the thumb by a baseball. Before I can say anything the voice continues, "Hereís your son."
"I shouldnít have tried to stop a line drive without a glove," says Harold, the sometimes less than intelligent star of his own permanently running action-adventure-sports-hero movie.
After repeating the lecture heís heard since T-ball about baseball gloves and line drives I asked, "Who talked to me?"
"Oh, thatís Mr. Meander," says Harold. "Thatís just the way he is Ė donít let it get to you."
'Donít let it get to me.' I spent the first thirty seconds of the phone call in a high-adrenaline state, imagining the disasters that could have befallen my bright and lovable boy, with no clue whose talking to me, or what authority they have, except for the deep, 'I know and control it all' voice, and Iím not supposed to let it get to me. Iím just supposed to slough it all off (what do you do with all that excess gunk running around your system anyway, if you canít yell at someone?) and pretend this is a normal, everyday conversation.
My son was fine. After a quick trip to the doctor, an x-ray, and an afternoon with an ice pack you couldnít tell heíd been injured. Thanks to a cooperative spouse who left work to attend to the x-rays and doctorís visit, I made the interview and got the okay on two contracts more than weíd anticipated.
Mr. Meander, however, isnít going to be so fortunate, because Iíve figured out what you do with all that gunk running around your system. Hereís what I envision:
"We have your spouse."
"She/Heís been hit."
"By a door at work."
"His/her cell phone is all smashed and bent out of shape."