The married woman I live with isn't going to like this. She owns 100 shares of AT&T stock and doesn't take kindly to criticism of her company.
However, I think there is need to let people know that I am having trouble with my office telephone.
It is a single instrument wired for two lines. I use one line for outgoing calls and reserve the other for incoming calls.
Naturally, everybody I call is out, away from his desk, in conference, at the White House, in intensive care, on annual leave, or otherwise unavailable at that moment.
So the incoming line is left open for callbacks. My outgoing calls are placed on the other line.
My office was moved recently. This was no big deal. In 34 years, I have been moved 36 times, passing the record of the late Jerry Kluttz, who was moved 35 times.
In this latest move, my outgoing line disappeared. Our man Paul McCarthy, who is in charge of everything that nobody else on the payroll understands, explained what happened.
"We have been paying out a lot of money for unnecessary phone lines," he said. "We're now replacing extra lines with an inexpensive beep signal. When you're talking on your line and somebody tries to get through to you, you hear a beep that the other party doesn't hear. You can ask the other party to 'hold' for a moment while you find out who is calling, and then you can call back. Cutting down on lines saves the company a lot of money."
Good man, McCarthy. I happen to own more than 100 shares of Washington Post stock. I like McCarthy's economic views.
So I agreed to the new "beep" system.
But I never heard a beep. Never.
One day I mentioned this to McCarthy. He said, "Oh, we removed all the beep lines. Our reporters were annoyed by the beeps, so I had to tell the phone company to remove all of them. I'll get you a second line so that you can go back to the system you used in the past."
Good man, McCarthy. You don't have to take a shillelagh to him to get action.
Unfortunately, weeks went by without either a beep or a second line. "Sorry," McCarthy said. "There's not a new number to be had in midtown regardless of how many shares of AT&T stock your wife owns. You're on the list. Be patient."
Be patient? I'm the most patient goldarn blankety-blank man in the whole goldarn *!%!3/4.!! office.
A week ago when I was hot on the trail of a good story, a source told me it would take him a few minutes to get the information I needed. I said, "All right, I will not budge from this chair until you call back."
The minutes turned to hours, and little puffs of steam began emerging from my ears. Still no callback.
Finally I dialed my source's number. He's an old pal with whom I waste no time on etiquette.
"Listen, you ugly old man," I said, "when you tell me you're going to call back in a few minutes, I'm old-fashioned enough to expect you to call back in a few minutes."
"Why you senile, gray-haired old goat," came the answer, "I've been calling you back every 15 minutes for the past two hours and you haven't answered your phone. Where the hell have you been?"
It was then I realized for the first time that my phone hadn't rung in days, and no light had illuminated any of the impressive buttons on it. Dozens of calls had come in, I later learned, and my callers had heard buzzing sounds that led them to believe my phone was ringing, but I had heard nothing.
After checking to make sure my problem wasn't merely a bell regulator that had been turned down, I sent an SOS to McCarthy, and he has been doing his level best ever since to get me a telephone that works. Unfortunately, his level best has not yet been good enough, and at this writing I am still in telephonic limbo. You cannot phone me unless you plan ahead.
You must write me a letter telling me the precise moment at which you will call, allow a week for the letter to be delivered, synchronize your watch with the Naval Observatory and then call at the appointed moment.
Although I will not hear the bell, I will pick up my receiver and we can have a nice chat.
If you get a busy signal, you will know that our watches were out of sync and I picked up the receiver a second before your call arrived. Write me another letter and perhaps we can get it all straightened out.