The Next Voice You Hear
don't remember the phone number anymore. Isn't that funny?
There was a time -- not all that long ago, either -- when I must have typed or dialed or recited this number at least
43,897,621 times per day. Now I have to look it up in my Day-Timer
before I dial, and even so, even seeing it in my address book in my
own neat careful handwriting, it still doesn't look right. Is it
possible that I've written it down wrong? I open up my Outlook contacts
directory and scroll down to the "T" section -- T" for "Totem Pole
Company" -- to check the number in my Day-Timer against the number on
Nope. It's definitely the correct phone number. It just looks
wrong, for some reason. I suppose the fact that I haven't dialed it in
nearly three years has something to do with it.
(Then again, I still remember my childhood telephone number, and I haven't dialed THAT number
recently either. We remember what we want to remember, I guess.)
last time I dialed the Totem Pole Company number was in the fall of
2001 ... shortly after I'd
parted ways with Franz & Co. and fled to
the relative sanity of The Dirt Company. There was a glitch in
transferring my 401K, as I recall, and I needed to discuss the issue
with my old pal, The Human Resources Director Person. These days, I
still talk to people from The Totem Pole Company on a fairly regular
basis ... although now I'm merely acting as the go-between. The Dirt
Company and The Totem Pole Company team on engineering projects
occasionally, which means that there is regular back-and-forth between
our nerdy geotechs and their nerdy geotechs ... our snippy accounting
people and their snippy accounting people ... our frantic
overcaffeinated Business Department and their frantic overcaffeinated
Business Department. (I even spoke to Franz once, briefly: he called to
decline an invitation to the Mold Seminar.) In fact, it was Jane The
Business Director who suggested I make this call tonight. "I think
you'll get a kick out of it," she said.
dial the number quickly, before I have a chance to change my mind.
memories of the three years I spent at The TP Company -- unlike my
memories of labor, my memories of ninth grade, my memories of the early
days of my first marriage -- have not mellowed with
time. I don't look back nostalgically at my Totem Pole days and think Gosh, maybe I shouldn't have been so hasty about giving up that moldy
window office. The fact is that I
thank god and karma every single day that I don't work in that loony
bin anymore: looking back, I'm amazed that I lasted as long as I did.
Even when things are lousy at my current job -- and when things are
lousy at my current job, it's usually because *I* am making them lousy,
not because someone else is making them lousy for
me -- it doesn't begin to match the level of misery and dysfunction I
endured at The Totem Pole, especially during the years I worked
directly for Franz. I'm fully convinced that if I had stayed at The TPC
even one millisecond longer, somebody would have
gone head-first out that fourth floor window.
(And *somebody* would be sitting next to Mark Geragos in a courtroom
today, pleading temporary dwarf-schleffera-induced insanity.)
phone rings in my ear -- once, twice, three times -- and then switches
over to the automated operator. I have deliberately waited until after
5 p.m. to call, ensuring that I will not be forced to speak to an
actual human being.
automated operator is who I'm interested in, anyway.
she says, in her practiced, smooth-as-Yoplait-Custard-Style automated
voice. You've reached The Totem Pole Company. Our regular
business hours are Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. If
you've reached this message during regular business hours ...
shidt. Jane was right: it IS
my voice on the voicemail greeting.
don't know whether to be flattered ... or weirded-out. On the one hand,
it's nice to know they think so highly of my *dulcet tones* that
they've preserved them on their voicemail system, all these years.
(Although a more likely scenario is that they've just never gotten
around to re-recording the message. I'll bet they've still got the same
toner-guzzling POS photocopier, too.) On the other hand, there is an
undeniable ick factor involved. It's sort of like finding out that your
ex-boyfriend is still carrying those Polaroids around in his wallet,
six years after you broke up. You may have both moved on to better
things since the break-up. Your lives may have gone in totally
he can still look at you naked, any time he feels like it.
If you know your party's extension, you may dial it now: otherwise,
please dial zero and an operator will assist you ...
remember the day I recorded that message. I hadn't been at The Totem
Pole Company very long, at that point -- I hadn't been in California
very long, for that matter, or sober very long, or living with David
very long -- and I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the changes in
my life. The job, especially. I'd worked in offices before, but this was a BIG office, in a BIG building, in a BIG city. (Or at
least it seemed big, compared to Oregon City.) I remember that The Human Resources Director Person
sat me down at the main telephone console, that morning, and asked if I
would mind recording a new greeting for the voicemail system.
such a nice phone voice," she said.
Other managers would probably have
handed me a prepared script to read and then stood at my shoulder
while I recorded it, just to make sure I wasn't chewing gum, to make
sure I didn't drop my consonants, to make sure I pronounced the CEO's
name correctly. But The Human Resources Director Person told me to
"wing it" ... and then she walked away and left me alone. (I loved her
for that.) Listening now to my six-years-ago voice, I hear no trace of
the nervousness I know I must have been feeling that morning. All I
hear is the calm, brave, perfectly-modulated voice of a woman who has
just changed every single thing about her life ... and who remains
blissfully unaware that things are actually going to get a whole lot
worse before they get better. At least, where her job is concerned.
you for calling The Totem Pole Company, and have a
nice day. *BEEP*
disconnect without leaving a message -- offering up a silent apology to
the receptionist who will have to listen to my hang-up in her ear,
tomorrow morning -- and then I sit here for a moment, thinking. Funny
how much of ourselves we leave behind, isn't it? We may believe we're
taking it all with us when we quit a job -- we may pack up our coffee
mugs and our Dilbert calendars, we may clean out our file cabinets and
our desk drawers, we may delete all of our personal e-mail and wipe all
the incriminating cookies from our hard drive ... but we always leave something
behind, whether we mean to or not. Which, for me
at least, begs the question: where else have I left my voice behind,
without even knowing it? What other former workplaces still feature the
smooth *dulcet tones* of Secra on their welcoming voicemail systems?
Perhaps it's time to place a sneaky after-hours call to The Knife
Factory ... not to mention The Tuna Label Manufacturer, The Doomed
Newspaper, Betty Barfy's real estate office, the health club collection
agency, the phone installation company ... any place I may have left a
little auditory piece of *me* behind.
can remember the phone numbers, that is.
to throw a rock?