Absence Makes the Phones Ring Longer

Heavy traffic, litter and scarce housing are not the only discouraging signs of our soaring population.

Have you tried to get your doctor on the phone lately?

James Levine complains about busy telephone numbers that play music while they have you on hold.

“Who was the genius (who thought that up)? If there’s anything more annoying than being kept on hold without further human contact for a length of time it’s being made a captive audience for a musical tranquilizer.”


He adds: “While I’m in a curmudgeon mood, I’d also like to know why women paint that blue eyeshade stuff on their eyelids? It certainly doesn’t beautify them and only imparts a heavy touch of artificiality.”

I must say that why women use blue eye shadow is irrelevant to this essay, and I have no intention of trying to explain it. As for being put on hold to music, I have had some experience with that and I have some opinions.

For a while my doctor tried that method. When I called his office a recorded voice would tell me that my call would be taken in due time; then I heard music.

Usually, when this method is used, the music is recorded. It goes on and on. Mancini or Bacharach or something equally melodious and mild; as Levine says, tranquilizing.

That sort of music isn’t hard to take, but after a few minutes you tend to get drowsy; then you come suddenly awake and begin to resent the fact that you’ve been listening to it for five minutes. You yearn for a human voice.

I believe my doctor’s office hooked me up with a radio station, rather than recorded music; so at least periodically I heard a human voice, usually reading a commercial; even though it wasn’t one of the doctor’s assistants, I felt that I hadn’t fallen completely off the Earth.

Perhaps too many patients complained. Now the phone just rings busy. I have called as many as a dozen times with the same results. Busy. Busy. Busy. Sooner or later, incredibly, a live voice answers, and I am through. The doctor, however, is usually too busy to talk to me.

I suggest that the answering machine give you a number when you call, and keep you posted as to where you are. “You are No. 13 on our waiting list. Please be patient. . . . You are now No. 12 on our waiting list. Please be patient. . . .

That way you will feel that you are getting somewhere, and the tension of knowing that your number is growing smaller will keep you awake, not to mention sane.

Gladwin Hill complains that in the past few days he has made 27 phone calls to various enterprises and organizations, and in 90% of the cases the response was, “He’s not at his desk right now.” Or, to keep the gender tidy, “She’s not at her desk.”

Hill wonders where all those people are when they’re not at their desks. “If people aren’t going to be at their desks any more than they seem to be, we must have, in this country, billions of dollars tied up in desks which don’t seem to be serving the function they were bought for. This represents a great economic drain. . . .”

I know what he means. I have been told that someone was not at his desk (or her desk) but that if I would leave my number they (let’s drop this he or she nonsense) would call back. Then the person would call back a day or two later.

Does that mean that they were not at their desk for a whole day or two? If that is customary, then Hill is right; we have a great economic drain going on.

I can understand being away from one’s desk for a few minutes. One has gone to the men’s room; one has gone to the women’s room to apply eye shadow; one is harassing a fellow employee at their desk. One has ducked out for a beer. One has gone to the smoking lounge for a cigarette. Or even for an hour or two. One is out to lunch.

Nevertheless, I agree with Hill that there is altogether too much absence from desks, and if people would stay where they’re supposed to be, our gross national product would undoubtedly go up.

Also, there would be less eye shadow.