A day those 800 numbers weren't talking Toil: The day after Christmas you may be over-fed, but you're probably not overworked -- unless you're taking returns at the local mall.

December 27, 1997|By Laura Lippman

On the day after Christmas, my editor gave to me: a mandate to produce something, anything, for the next day's paper.

"But I'm the only non-retail employee in all of Baltimore who had to show up for work today!" I whined.

"Great Caesar's ghost!" he said. "Someone else must be working today, or doing something other than returning gifts. Allegedly, you're a journalist. Find them."

The fact that he was brandishing a knife at the time (he claimed it was just to slice the day-after-Christmas banana bread) made me decide to cooperate.

I went through my desk and my backpack, looking for inspiration. Suddenly, it hit me. What better day could there be to call all those toll-free information numbers on the various products in my life? You know the ones -- they're on your toothpaste, your deodorant, your crayons, inviting your questions and comments. (Yeah, I have my own box of Crayolas. Want to make something of it?)

Miraculously, I suddenly had questions and comments!

Question 1: What happens if the contents of my Aquafresh toothpaste tube reach a temperature above the 100 degrees warned against on the label?

Given that my bathroom is not air-conditioned, it is theoretically possible that the temperature of my toothpaste may indeed have reached the danger mark this past summer. I want to be prepared.

"Thank you for calling Smith Kline & Beecham Consumer Healthcare," a voice on voice-mail answers. "Thursday, Dec. 25, and Friday, Dec. 26, are company holidays. If you are experiencing a medical emergency now, please call your physician, local emergency facility or your local poison control center. If you have questions or comments about our products, please call back Monday, Dec. 29."

I make a note to call back Monday as suggested, if only to find out how many people in the throes of a medical emergency actually call Smith Kline & Beecham Consumer Healthcare before their doctor or 911.

Question 2: Why can't the fine folks at Crayola make a built-in sharpener in their big box of crayons that really works?

I dial 1-800-CRAYOLA. "Our office is closed at this time for the holiday," the disembodied voice says. "In the event of a medical emergency, please call your physician or poison control center."

Medical emergency? Um, doesn't it say non-toxic on the box? Maybe I've got Smith Kline & Beecham again by mistake.

Actually, I'm not so bummed about my inability to reach Crayola, because I've called the toll-free line before and found the answer to another burning question: What determines the never-changing arrangement of the crayons in the 64-Crayola box? (Nothing, in case you're interested.)

But the sharpener question bugs me. I mean, if Clinique can do it for their lip liner, why can't Crayola? Oh sure, the crayon gets sharper, but you lose that little ridge at the base

Question 3: I have bombed out at Smith Kline and Crayola. And now Procter & Gamble's 800 number isn't even operating.

Can Rumor Control, the Baltimore City number created to set the record straight on local gossip, set the record straight on whether anyone is actually working today?

After 40 rings, I hang up. I guess I'm free to continue spreading that rumor about how mixing unsharpened Crayolas and a sweaty tube of Aquafresh can cause a medical emergency.

Question 4: Actually not a question at all. I need to call J. Crew. (Hey, I'd placed the order on company time; I might as well cancel it the same way. What I do in the name of journalism.)

Call goes in at 10: 51. Ominous beeping noise. Continue to hold. Three minutes go by. I use this time to contemplate how nice the wool baseball caps would have been had I been able to get them, say, sometime before the summer solstice. I realize that Muzak, while annoying, does assure you that you're still on hold, while silence promises nothing.

Finally, an amiable operator -- a real person! -- comes on the line. Quickly and efficiently, she cancels the order, apologizes for my hatless state and wonders if she can do anything else for me today.

"Um, yes," I say, taking notes. "You can tell me if you're busy."

"Yes ma'am," she says emphatically. "We're very busy."

Hey, me too. Very, very busy. Already thinking of the places I can call the day after New Year's.

Pub Date: 12/27/97

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