Hi, just called to say you'll be very sorry if you can't come to the phone right now

January 11, 1996|By Kevin Cowherd

THE TELEPHONE abused instrument in modern society, a pathetic outlet for every would-be comic and third-rate lounge singer in existence.

What's truly amazing is that in the 10 years or so that these machines have been around, the recordings continue to be so bland and unimaginative.

Let's examine a typical recording step by step:

TA-DA-DA-DA-DA-DA-DA, DA-DA-DA-DA-DA-DA-DAHHH!

Look, friend. Let's get one thing straight right off the bat. When I call you, I don't want to hear "Reveille," OK. I don't want to hear "The William Tell Overture."

I don't want to hear the theme from "Barney and Friends" or anything by Burt Bacharach or Kenny G.

I'm a busy man, OK? I haven't got all day while you favor us with musical selections from the Big Band era to the present time.

I just want to leave a$ message.

HI, YOU'VE REACHED THE JONES'! THIS IS ASHLEY! AND THIS IS MY BABY BROTHER MIKEY! SAY HI, MIKEY!

Parents, when I hear kids roped into sounding off, Mouseketeer-style, at the beginning of these recordings, I am this close -- and I'm holding my thumb and index finger an inch apart -- to calling the nearest child-abuse hotline.

And if they drag me into court to testify, I'll say: "Your Honor, I did it for the kids. Because 20 years from now, I don't want to see them in some shrink's office, choking back sobs and saying: "Then, when I was 4, my mom and dad made me record this stupid message for our answering machine.

"Each one of us had to God this is so hard to talk about we had to, um, say our names in this perky voice like that little pain-in-the-neck Michelle on 'Full House.'

"Oh, it was awful! And that's what made me turn to heroin.'"

WE'RE SORRY WE CAN'T COME TO THE PHONE RIGHT NOW

I love this one. Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary defines sorry as "feeling sorrow or penitence." Sorrow is defined as "deep distress or regret (as over the loss of something loved)."

So what you're telling me is, you're in deep distress over the fact that you missed my call.

This implies that if I were to see you as you play back your messages, you'd be curled up in a fetal position, your tear-streaked face a mask of pain as you rocked back and forth sobbing: "I missed his call, I missed his call "

Somehow, this is hard for me to envision.

The only one I can see actually carrying on like that is my mother.

BUT AT THE SOUND OF THE BEEP

Look, I'm not 2 years old. I know how these answering machines work, OK?

You're not walking me through the reactor start-up sequence of a Trident submarine. These machines all have beeps, OK?

Now if you tell me your machine will record only after a voice-activated command of "What's the frequency, Kenneth?" well, OK, there's something I didn't know.

PLEASE LEAVE A BRIEF MESSAGE

Let's see if I have this straight.

I just endured two minutes of various John Philip Sousa marches, including a scratchy and thoroughly annoying rendition of "The Stars and Stripes Forever," followed by a goofy extended greeting from your two little preschool brats, followed by a totally insincere apology for you not taking my call in person, followed by a condescending primer on how to leave a message that shouldn't be left for a chimpanzee.

And you want me to be brief?

Sure, I'll be brief.

But, hey, before we get to my message, here's 90 seconds of music from "The Bridge On the River Kwai," the award-winning 1957 adaptation of the Pierre Bouelle novel about the battle of wills between a Japanese POW commander and a British colonel over the construction of a rail bridge.

After that, I'll be reciting a snippet from a Robert Frost poem, and then I'll be reading selected portions from a recently discovered Che Guevara manifesto.

After which we'll get to my message.

AND WE'LL BE SURE TO GET BACK TO YOU RIGHT AWAY!

You will? Fantastic! So I'm your No. 1 priority? All your other calls will have to wait while you return mine?

Boy, that's super! That's just OK, I'm just going to sit here by the phone and wait.

HAVE A GREAT DAY!

At the moment, I don't see how that's possible.

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