Thursday, June 24

Mr. Bell, are you listening? 

I detest answering machines. Absolutely. And I’ll never understand why they’re there in the first place. I mean, if the big idea is to shun some of those nincompoops out there, with no business to do in your life, why have them leave you messages? And if your hassle is that a dear one might ring while you’re away, why put the supposed through an episode of queasiness, compelling him or her to give an ad lib discourse, especially at the commanding of a stupid machine? Besides, what good’s caller id anyway, and why pay extra for it? I’m sure there are a gazillion other ways to ward unwanted callers off, and protect the poor known ones. At least I’ve heard of some.

I can get extremely edgy when leaving messages for people. The ‘beep’ to me is nothing less than a knell. And the darndest thing is being utterly helpless and entirely at the mercy of a soulless device, with no options whatsoever, to erase, modify or re-talk your message. Once said, it’s sealed, like in Pandora’s box. And the long wait for the return call nearly trounces me, almost always. And most often than not, it’s because I’m aware I’d sounded like a complete idiot, and also because I’m aware most people know I know I sound like one. And now that I’ve said so, let me offer something in my defense --- the real tele-cons that follow aren’t as bad, really.

Now just the other day I was assigned a voicemail-box at work and even as I choked at what was to follow, I could tell the flashing neon was daring me. I was required, as norm is, to tape an outgoing message. Honestly, I’d rather they gave me the pink slip than put me through the horror. Nonetheless, I tried to give it my best shot, but listening back, I can confidently vouch for the hideousness of the solo incantation, so much so that I’ve already alerted my friends and family of the repercussions of attempting to call me for when I’m away. Unless the big idea is to disown me, and now I just might learn when that happens.

First, I meant to try it the conventional way --- 'Hi, I’m such-and-such, such-and-such at the such-and-such department. Sorry, I’m away right now and hence unable to take your call. Please leave me your name, number and a detailed message after the beep and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.' But suddenly, something occurred to me --- won’t they know who they’re calling in the first place? So then I decided to go with just the latter half, 'Sorry, I’m away…' Wait. Aren’t I not taking the call since I’m not at my desk? Cut, cut. All I need to say is, 'if you’d like to leave me a message, I’ll return your call soon.' Unless, I just say, 'there’s the beep, and you know what to do!'

Now if you think that’s effortless, you haven’t heard me. After hours of rehearsing, taping, erasing, and re-taping, I finally managed to caw something out meekly. Days have passed since the ordeal, and I haven’t received a single message yet. But I’m hoping it’s more because I’ve remained glued to my seat and answered most calls, and less because callers presumed my phone had had a rat-attack. But then, ever since I’ve begun working on actuality-libretto for radio announcements we’re seeking to produce, I’ve been thinking --- perhaps I should start reviewing my status quo on this particular vocal exercise. Maybe if I tried harder, I’d sound more like I used to on the voice-overs I did whilst at the advertising agency, and less like a guinea pig that squeals and struggles to make its way out of the maze at the psychological research lab. Oh, and if you’re wondering how dissimilar it can be after all, whether voicing a readymade script, or cootchie-cooing a monologue into a silly telecommunications contraption, let me tell you, it’s a lot easier handling the ridicule of a bunch of humans than getting logged and timed by a cheeky little chip fitted into the mind’s eye of someone’s telephone.

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