Civilization may march on, but when it comes to phone-answering machines, the question is whether the march is backward or forward. I vote backward -- especially after last week.

On consecutive days, I ran into three of the most obnoxious recording spiels ever set to tape.

Spiel 1 begins with the sound of breaking glass. You immediately think you've called in the middle of a family fight. Out of delicacy, you start to hang up. But then a recorded voice rasps:

"See? See what you made me do, you clod? See how frustrated you made me because you called when I was out? Leave a message after the tone."

Funny? I've heard funnier.

Spiel 2 is no better. This is the recording at the home of a single male friend who'd like the world to think he spends most of his life fending off wanton members of the opposite sex.

So what do you get when you don't get him? You get a recorded woman's voice, sultrier than a summer night in Louisiana. It says:

"Sorry that {my friend} can't come to the phone right now. He's being, well, he's being ver-r-r-y personally detained. Please leave a message after the beep." There follows a series of grunts and groans that redefine the word "gross."

Finally, Spiel 3. I'd publish the text if I could. But that's just the point.

"Hello," the tape begins. That's it for English. There follows an explosion of unintelligible, rapid-fire foreign words -- probably Arabic, possibly Greek. I don't speak either language, so I couldn't make head or tail of what the voice said. But that was intentional.

"Had enough?" the voice says, in English. "Me, too. Enough of people calling and trying to sell me things. If you're not doing that, leave a message. If you are doing that, go to hell."

I don't have any surplus love for telemarketers, either. But there's a big difference between ducking them politely and trying to mash their eardrums to pieces with 100-mile-an-hour Arabic.

I was telling a friend about these encounters with taped tripe when he offered a horrendous thought.

What if those aren't the worst?

What if other people have answering-machine spiels that are more hostile, more tasteless, more insulting and more absurd?

This, folks, is where you come in.

I hereby hold my nose and invite you to mail in details of the worst answering-machine spiels you've ever heard. I'll publish the worst of the worst, in an effort to (A) Amuse you and (B) Induce the owners of these recordings to repent.

Please mail your nominations to the address near the bottom of this column. And please include the phone numbers through which the horrible answering spiels can be reached. I want to hear them with my own (no longer tender) ears.

SEND A KID TO CAMP

Our 1987 Send a Kid to Camp program moved out of the planning stages today and into the woods.

Shortly after dawn, the first 300 of this year's campers departed for the three camps in Virginia where underprivileged kids in our community have gone for 40 years. This first group will spend two weeks learning the wonders of hiking, swimming and peanut butter sandwiches. On July 6, a second flight will take their places.

But what happens after that is still very much up in the air.

We had hoped that we would have $220,000 in hand by today. That's our goal this year, and it's the figure we'll need to attain to assure that four flights of campers (1,200 kids) will go to camp between now and mid-August.

As you can see from the arithmetic below, we are far short of $220,000.

So I'm forced to extend the campaign. We'll stay open here at Adding Machine Central until the end of July, if need be. The sooner we reach our goal, the better. But reaching it at all is Priority One.

As always, the people who will get us to the top of the mountain are you readers.

Send a Kid to Camp does not have hidden angels or hidden endowments. We depend on the generosity of the ordinary citizens of the Washington area -- people with a conscience, people with a heart, people who know this program and know the good it can do.

It will take $300 to send one kid to camp this summer, but we would be delighted to receive a gift of any size. It's a way to cast a vote for the future of this community. Thanks in advance.

TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE CAMPAIGN:

Make a check or money order payable to Send a Kid to Camp, and mail it to Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C., 20071.

HOW WE'RE DOING . . . .

In hand as of June 15: $59,133.11.

Our goal: $220,000.