When the apartment building next to his caught on fire a couple of Friday nights ago, Steve Britt of Northeast did what anybody would do. He picked up the phone and dialed 911.
The connection clicked in, as it usually does. But as Steve listened for ringing to begin, all he heard was a click. Then he heard a dial tone. Somehow, he had been disconnected.
Steve immediately redialed 911. This time the call went through. It was answered promptly, firefighters were dispatched and the fire was extinguished without serious damage.
But the first call to 911 stuck in Steve's craw all weekend. On Monday, he decided he should report it.
He called 911 again and asked to speak to a supervisor. After being transferred approximately 375,187 times, Steve was finally connected to an operator in the communications division of the D.C. police department.
He told her about the click and about the dial tone. He suggested that if this was a mechanical malfunction, as it certainly seemed to be, they might want to have it fixed, since lives depend on 911.
Her entire response was, "All right, then," in a snippy, can't-be-bothered tone of voice. Followed by another dial tone, as soon as she hung up.
Any comment, officials? Insp. William Anastos, commander of the communications division, had none on the attitude of his operator. However, he did say this about 911:
"There are problems on occasion. Nothing is infallible. There are 23 trunk lines coming in and there can be technical difficulties. With our system, we don't have the capability to monitor it."
Anastos said that if trouble occurs when a citizen is trying to call 911, he should do what Steve did: hang up and redial. "They should also report it to us as soon as possible," the inspector said. "Our supervisors are at 727-4231. Immediate action will be taken on it."
How about some action on the politeness of a certain operator, inspector? It doesn't have to be immediate. We'll settle for effective.
Well, I didn't think the joggers would take it lying down, and they haven't.
I wrote a few days ago that, like any other citizens, joggers should interrupt their appointed rounds and pick up any roadside trash they happen to see.
Joggers liked this idea about as much as they like hamstring pulls.
Carl McCassman of College Park, a jogger, liked it so much that he promises to spend an entire Saturday gathering trash. Then he will mail it to me, C.O.D. "Dump it over your head," Carl suggests.
Jane McCarthy of Chevy Chase, also a jogger, said she was actually glad that I wrote that particular column. "I'll know who to look for when I get to heaven," she writes. "A guy over in the corner with a sign around his neck that reads, SANCTIMONIOUS."
And then there was Ralph McDavid of Northwest, who says he jogs 50 miles a week. "If I didn't put it there, I ain't picking it up," Ralph writes. "If you'd put down your beer and potato chips long enough to get out there and jog a little, you'd agree with me."
I doubt it, Ralph. However, I will temper my rampant sanctimoniousness (and calorie consumption) to this extent. I will admit that many, many other humans are as ridiculously reluctant to pick up trash as joggers.
My favorite piece of evidence comes from a reader in Fairfax. She works in an industrial park on Hilltop Road, in a building with a lush front lawn. The other day, as she walked toward the front door, she noticed a Coke bottle sitting in the middle of the grass. But a workman was mowing the lawn, so she figured he'd pick it up and throw it away.
That night, when the woman came out, the lawn was neatly mowed. But the Coke bottle was still sitting right where it had been that morning.
Either the workman had mowed around the bottle, or, worse, he had picked it up, mowed the spot where it had been sitting, and put it back.
But back to joggers for a second.
A nonjogging ally has slipped me a recent Associated Press article. It was written by Dr. Srully Blotnick. The good doctor did a study of those of his patients who jog. He found that, as soon as they started jogging, the frequency with which they made love declined sharply.
So, joggers, with that in mind, you might think of the trash question this way:
If you're in the process of destroying your sex life, can picking up some trash in the process be so bad?
With that, friends and foes, I depart these trash-strewn premises for two weeks. Have a good rest-of-the-month. See you Aug. 5.