RECENTLY I had a disturbing telephone conversation with a woman who seemed fairly intelligent at first, although this proved to be a clever ruse.
Our conversation went something like this:
Me: "Hi, Mrs. Throckmorton. Is your husband home please?"
Woman: "I'm sorry, he isn't."
Me: "Could I leave a message for him?"
Woman: "Uh . . . sure."
Me: "This is Kevin Cowherd calling. The last name is C-O-W-H-E-R-D."
Woman: "Uh . . . 'kay."
Me: "I'm with the Baltimore Evening Sun newspaper. The number is 301-555-6000. Ext. 5555. Got that?"
Woman: "Got what?"
Me: "The message."
Woman: "Oh. Hold on a minute. Let me get a pencil."
One reason the conversation was so disturbing is that there is every reason to believe that this woman (in her 30s, judging by her voice) is licensed to operate a motor vehicle.
Which means she could be careening down a highway right now posing a tremendous risk to other motorists, her mind as blissfully serene and blank as it was during our telephone conversation.
Thankfully, I know where the woman works and can avoid that particular stretch of town and its road system.
But you poor people . . . you don't know her identity and therefore are not nearly as fortunate.
You have to live in mortal fear that this woman -- a woman, let me emphasize again, who CANNOT TAKE A SIMPLE TELEPHONE MESSAGE -- could be driving directly behind you someday.
And if she cannot take a simple phone message, what guarantee there that she'll have the presence of mind to hit the brakes on her Toyota Camry when it comes barreling behind your car just as you slow for a traffic light?
I feel sorry for you people. I really do.
Here is a woman who clearly should be under 24-hour observation and not allowed to drive anything more complicated than a Schwinn 3-speed.
And yet she is probably granted many of the same rights and privileges as normal people with normal-sized brains.
Frightening, isn't it? You betcha. And people wonder why this country is going to hell in a handbasket.
What is especially chilling about the above conversation, of course, is that this woman is by no means the only person seemingly incapable of taking a simple phone message.
For those of you who are similarly impaired, let us go over the proper procedure, which should have been covered years ago by your parents if only they had been unselfish enough to give up one night of bowling.
The first thing that should happen when a caller asks to leave a message is this: Your brain should send a message to your hand, asking your hand to pick up a piece of paper and a pencil.
Now, about the paper and pencil. For best results, the paper and pencil should be located as close to the telephone as possible.
If the paper and pencil are located in another room, for instance, you will be required to ask the caller to "hold on" while you fetch the writing materials. This will irritate the caller to such a degree that he or she will often show up outside your home in the dead of night to poison your dog or pour kerosene on your lawn.
Now this next part is important: Don't tell the caller you're ready to take the message until you're actually ready to take the message.
This should be when your mind is fully clear and alert -- you can finish watching "Jeopardy" later -- and your pencil is poised over the piece of paper.
When all these elements are in place, you should say to the caller in a pleasant voice: "Okey-dokey, what's the message?"
This lets the caller know that you are ready to proceed, and that he will not end up repeating the message three or four times to some drooling nitwit (sorry) with a crayon who can't seem to get his or her act together.
As this column draws to a close, it seems that I am under a good deal of pressure to identify the dim-witted woman mentioned in the first few paragraphs, so that others may also avoid her haunts and possibly add years to their lives.
Very well, her name is Mrs. Norma Theresa Throckmorton of Laurel, Md., although I'm sure the editors of this newspaper will delete her name and address for fear of a possible lawsuit.
Although I'd be more worried about her driving.