It was surprising that no one had thought of it before. The idea was to establish a hot line for people who were threatening to kill themselves, not for major reasons but for minor ones.
Zimsky, who founded the hot line, explained, "More and more people keep threatening to do away with themselves over matters that really aren't that important. Our hot line exists to talk them out of it. Here is a call. Listen on the earphone."
A hysterical woman's voice said, "If my meatloaf doesn't come out, I'm going to kill myself."
Zimsky replied, "You shouldn't kill yourself over a meatloaf."
The lady shot back, "That's easy enough for you to say. But I'm taking this to a potluck dinner, and if it turns out lousy everyone will know I made it. I'd rather go out the window than have a meatloaf that didn't work."
"You make a good case to do yourself in, but have you thought what something like this will do to your family?"
"It doesn't matter. They never did like meatloaf."
Zimsky went on, "You're assuming that the meatloaf is not going to work. Suppose it is the hit of the party, and everybody says this is the most delicious dish they ever had. Wouldn't it be terrible if you weren't around to hear them?"
The lady admitted, "I never thought of that. I have changed my mind. I want to live so every meatloaf I make will be better than the last one."
She hung up, and Zimsky turned to me, "That's more or less a typical call. The lady wanted to kill herself because she was certain that people would laugh at her meatloaf. But she was willing to be talked out of it."
The phone rang again and a young girl said, "I'm going to die if I don't lose five pounds before I go back to school."
Zimsky told her, "You're going to feel fat and unwanted, but you are not going to die."
"Oh, yes I am. Just before I left school in the spring I heard two boys refer to me as 'Butterball.' This summer I vowed to take off 10 pounds, but I've put on eight. I don't deserve to live."
"Ordinarily," Zimsky answered, "that would be true. But these are not ordinary times. People who never put on weight before are putting it on for no reason. You are not alone. You should not harm yourself because you want to eliminate weight from your body."
"What should I do if I don't want to die?" the girl asked.
Zimsky replied, "Cut out bread and desserts."
"You're a good counselor," I said to him.
"There are far more people threatening to take gas over minor matters than major ones," he responded.
Once again the phone rang. It was a man's voice. "I'm going to kill myself if my wife tells me one more time what my mother said to her at my brother Charley's birthday party."
Zimsky said, "It was that bad?"
"It was if you heard it as many times as I did. Apparently my mother told my wife that she didn't dress me well, and every time my mother saw me I looked down on my luck."
"That does sound heavy. But failing to meet dress codes should not be a cause for suicide."
"I am not concerned about the clothes. But I don't want to live in a world where I have to hear my wife tell me the story one more time."
"Nobody does," said Zimsky.