What Goes Around
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you for calling
The Dirt Company," she says. "Can you hold?" And before I have a chance
to get so much as a word in edgewise, she slams me into phone system
All of a sudden I'm
sitting here listening to the twinkly opening strains of "The Blue
that's OK. I
understand how it is. I have days like that myself, including the
one currently in progress. Besides: I figure that a few seconds on hold
won't kill me. I can sit here and enjoy another bite of my delicious
nutritious Slim-Fast Meal-On-The-Go Bar while I wait. I can finish
writing up these last couple of phone messages. I can polish the pencil
sharpener, maybe, or alphabetize my paper clips.
out I'm not
on hold for "a few seconds": I'm on hold for three and a half minutes,
according to the read-out on my console. By the time she finally comes
back to check on me, I've eaten my entire delicious nutritious
Slim-Fast Meal-On-The-Go Bar. (This, of course, is in direct violation
of The Receptionists' Code of Standards and Practices, Regulation 675,
Section F8, which clearly states Never
leave a caller on hold long enough for them to finish an entire
delicious nutritious Slim-Fast Meal-On-The-Go Bar.)
you for holding,"
she says. "How may I direct your call?" She has the tremulous,
slightly-befuddled voice of the elderly temp. I can practically smell
the Gold Bond Powder from 331 miles away.
is Secra in the
Oakland office," I say, attempting to sound kind yet authoritative.
"I need to speak to someone in the IT Department as soon as
determined not to be one of those callers who treats the
receptionist -- even a temporary receptionist who sounds like my
great-grandmother -- like an imbecile. Still, it's important that I
convey the extreme urgency of the situation. I explain to her that our
network connection is down, here in the Oakland office, and that unless
we get it up and running again in the next forty minutes we won't be
able to get our timesheets into the system. All I need to know is ...
interrupts. "My board is lit up. Please hold." And I am unceremoniously
dumped, once again, into the no-woman's-land of system hold ... and the
twinkly opening strains of "The Blue Danube."
feel the first vague
tickle of irritation. I've already left urgent voicemail messages for
everybody in the computer department this morning, but so far I haven't
gotten a call back. All I need to know is whether the IT guys are in
the L.A. office today, or whether I should be looking for them
elsewhere. (Like the golf course, maybe.) Just as I am about to hang up
and take a more creative approach to the problem -- whacking our server
box a few times with a hammer, for instance -- she suddenly pops back
on the line.
you for calling
The Dirt Company," she says pleasantly. "Can you hold please?"
I shout. "Please don't put me on hold again!"
it's too late: the
trapdoor has already sprung open beneath me. Once again I'm plummeting
down into the dark cold nothingness of involuntary hold ... and once
again the twinkly opening strains of "The Blue Danube" are there to
greet me. (Apparently this is one of those music-on-hold systems that
starts the musical selection at the beginning, every time you land on
hold. It's like déjà vu all over again ... and
again ... and again.) This time I'm on hold for two minutes and
fifty-seven seconds: long enough to pull the brown leaves off my
kalanchoe ... long enough to change my desktop wallpaper ... long
enough to start building up a really good head of steam. When she comes
back on the line finally, I've gone from mildy irritated to
she says hopefully. "I've got Sacra in Oakdale on the line for you."
"Nope, it's still
me," I reply slowly, with painful restraint. Temp or no temp --
Receptionists Code of Standards and Practices or no Receptionists Code
of Standards and Practices (Regulation 427-B, Section A: Never
become rude or impatient or snooty with a fellow Receptionist, no
matter HOW stoopid she is), I'm beginning to feel decidedly less
charitable towards this woman than
I did five minutes ago. If we don't finish timesheets today, it will be
*my* ass on the line. I've pretty much managed to screw up everything ELSE
while JoAnne has been on vacation these past few days: it would be nice
if I could at least resolve the timesheet crisis without further
meltdown. I decide it's time to take a firmer stance here.
through to Mike in the IT Department right away," I say to her.
in my voice apparently convinces her that I mean business,
because this time she doesn't put me on hold: she immediately transfers
me to Mike's extension. I hear the familiar beep and buzz of the
that it's the
growls a deep -- and unfamiliar -- male voice. (Is that a trace of an
Eastern European accent I hear? If so, then I've definitely
got the wrong extension: the Mike I'm looking for sounds more like
Arnold Horschack than Arnold Schwarzenegger.)
sorry," I stammer.
"I'm trying to reach Mike in the IT Department, but I think your
receptionist gave me the wrong extension. Can you please send me back
emits a low noise in
his throat -- it's clear that this has become a recurring problem in
that office, just lately -- and he transfers me without further
comment. I hear the main line ringing ... once, twice, three times ...
before she finally picks up.
you for calling
The Dirt Company," she says. "Can you hold please?"
is followed by a
single earsplitting beep, an abrupt *click* in my ear ...
and a dial tone.
I've been cut off.
a long moment all I
can do is sit and glare at the phone in disbelief. This is the most
dazzling display of switchboard ineptitude I've seen since ... well ...
since *I* was first learning how to run a switchboard, twentysome years
ago. If I were feeling a skosh less hormonal this morning -- or a skosh
less under the gun, or a skosh less sorry for myself, or a skosh less
like crawling into the supply closet and curling up behind the
generator and weeping for a couple of hours -- I might be laughing it
off. Who hasn't been accidentally hung up on, once in a while? As it
is, I have absolutely no *Humor Molecules* left in reserve. As a matter
of fact, I'm seriously considering calling the corporate office and
complaining to one of the administrative managers. If this woman can't
even connect me to the computer department in an emergency, how the
hell is she handling her other calls? And what kind of image is that
projecting to our clients? I know that my sense of outrage is out of
proportion to the situation -- that I'm projecting my own premenstrual
misery and frustration on this hapless nitwit -- but I don't care. I
want action! I want fur to fly! I want heads to roll!
just want to make sure
that it's not MY head.
as I'm about to
dial the corporate office to tattle on her, my second line lights
up. I answer it in my usual prompt, faux-I-give-a-shidt!
fashion. "This is Diana in Los
Angeles," announces the voice on the other end of the line.
god! Finally ... a
peer! A comrade! A fellow sojourner on the road of Executive Assitude!
I've never actually met Diana -- she works in the corporate office in
Los Angeles: I've only spoken to her on the phone a couple of times --
but I feel an unspoken kinship with her anyway. I've been in her shoes,
after all. I've done
I understand what it's like, being responsible for the care and feeding
of a mercurial CEO. In fact, I'm convinced that
someday Diana and I will be Dirt Company phone pals ... sharing tricks
of the trade, comparing notes, swapping horror stories. (I
see your cancelled company picnic and I raise you four cancelled
colonoscopy appointments and a dying dwarf schleffera.)
Diana!" I chirp.
"How are you?"
brushes my friendly
overture aside, like a Guernsey flicking at a mudfly with her tail.
is in charge of approving invoices while JoAnne is gone?" she asks in a
frosty voice, without preamble or pleasantries. No 'I'm
fine, thanks, and you?' No 'Did
you have a nice weekend?' No 'How's
the weather?' or 'Did
you see the big game?' or 'Have
you heard the one about the priest, the rabbi and The Main Nerdy
Geoscientist Guy?' If her voice
were any chilIier, I would need earmuffs just to listen to her.
explain to her --
carefully, courteously, using my very best *I May Answer The Phones
(But I DO
Have A Clue) tone of voice -- that approving invoices is one of the
tasks JoAnne felt could wait until she came back from vacation.
answer clearly does
not sit well with Diana. There is a pause -- a deliberate pause, I'm
sure, designed to convey Extreme Frowny-Facedness -- plus a
calculatedly irritated sniff. "Is there some kind of ... administrative
assistant or office
helper there that I can speak
to?" she asks finally. It is obvious from the way she says "administrative
assistant" and "office
helper" that she considers these
positions only a rung or two above primordial goo -- or receptionists
-- on the corporate evolutionary ladder.
"That would be me," I
pause -- this
one as dark and ominous as a thundercloud on Graduation Day -- and then
she sniffs again. "Put me through to Scott then," she snaps. The tone
in her voice is unmistakeable. I
don't care if you're the Administrative Assistant of Diddly-Poop.
transfer the call to the General Manager. For the fourth goddamn time
in less than a week, I'm fighting back tears at the office. "I've got
Diana in L.A. on the line for you," I tell him ... praying that he
doesn't hear my voice wobble. God knows he heard enough of that last
week. "She's upset about invoices, and I don't think I'm going to be
able to help her."
I've transferred the call to him, I flee
across the hall to the sanctity of the lunchroom to try and compose
myself. Someone has thoughtfully left an open package of Oreo Chocolate
Chip Mint Cookies on the lunchroom table, and as I help myself to four
or five or thirty-two of them, I cycle through an amazing gear-range of
emotions. I'm embarrassed. JoAnne
left me in charge when she went on vacation, and I've managed to
completely fudk things up. Everyone in this office must think I'm a big
weepy incompetent idiot. I'm
hurt -- So much for becoming
"Dirt Company phone pals" with Diana! -- and
I'm nervous. What if Diana
decides to complain about me to a higher-up ... just for kicks?
most of all: I'm
pissed. Who the fudk does she
think she is, talking to me like that?!? She doesn't know a thing about
me, or about my background, or about my abilities. She doesn't know the
hormonal nightmare I'm going through. She doesn't know how hard I'm
trying to keep things together. How dare she treat me like a ... like a
a hapless nitwit?
takes me about ten
minutes -- and a couple more handfuls of those Oreo Chocolate Chip Mint
cookies -- to pull myself together. (At least I'm making progress. Last
week it took me an entire lunch hour -- and most of a leftover birthday
cake -- to recover from Friday's big Boo-Hoo Moment, after The Main
Nerdy Geoscientist Guy complained about a report I typed.) The smart
part of me knows there really isn't much I can do about Diana's snotty
attitude. If I've learned anything at all, over the years, it's that
the only attitude you can change is your own. And obviously there isn't
anything I can do about The
Seventy-Two Hours From Hell
-- which, as of this writing, have now stretched into The
Two-Hundred-Eighty-Eight Hours From Hell -- except to wait for the dam
to burst ... wait for my overdue period to start so I can start taking
the cycle-regulators ... wait for the storm to pass and for the
shrieking noises in my head to die down ... wait for things to go back
they will. Soon.
In the meantime, the
timesheet problem isn't going to fix itself. I brush the cookie crumbs
from my sweater, dry my eyes, blow my nose and return to the front
desk. There, I resolutely dial the corporate office, one more time.
you for calling
The Dirt Company," she says. "Can you hold please?"
problem," I tell her, in the friendliest voice I can muster. And I
settle in for the
a good thing I
"The Blue Danube."
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