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Silence on the phone

Food for Thought

There is something eerily askew about a phone call to the telephone company that does not require anyone to speak a single word at the actual time. This happen periodically when my land line develops an annoying hum that makes it impossible for me to understand a single word from someone who calls me. I can barely hear, let alone understand what they are saying, but they can apparently hear and understand me perfectly well.
This is not a new problem. It has happened several times in the past and, if I remember correctly, has something to do with moisture in the buried phone cables. It happens after unusually heavy or continuous rain and, while I could probably make an emergency call and get my message through enough to receive help, I can’t tell who is calling me, let alone figure out what it was they called me for in the first place. The best I can do is give them my cell phone number and ask them to call me back. (The only problem with my cell phone occurs when I fail to keep it adequately charged up. I can easily remedy that myself without having to call someone and wait for three days to get it repaired).
I suppose there is justification for using recorded messages for the many requests for repair service the telephone company receives every day, but the telephone was invented so that people could talk to each other, and reporting a problem doesn’t seem to involve that these days. I dial the repair service number and am greeted by a recorded voice asking me to press different numbers for several different questions. Some of the questions don’t quite cover my particular problem but I pick the closest answer and press the appropriate number, hoping that, somewhere along the line, a real person will manage to sort out the actual cause of the problem and do something about it.
At some point during this exchange of recorded messages and the beeps of the various numbers I press, I have the option of talking to a real person, but I’ve tried that before and find it an even more tedious process than simply pressing buttons. Even so, I think it might be more efficient for all concerned if I could remind them that this identical problem has occurred before on this line, and someone probably knows exactly where the problem lies and exactly what needs to be done about it.
A different recurring problem plagued us for years, one that could have been prevented by a chat with the serviceman, or by having the same person deal with it each time it happened. It seems that, whenever it was necessary to go into that metal post (box?) to service one of the other phones on our road, my phone ended up in need of repairs immediately afterward. After several repetitions of that little drama, someone figured out that wires had been switched. It seems that, way back when ours was the only phone here, some color-coded wires were inadvertently hooked up wrong. With no other phones to be concerned with, that discrepancy didn’t really matter. As more phones were added, repairers sometimes noticed the mismatched wires and “corrected” them. On one spectacular occasion, I could call out but people couldn’t call me. When my phone did ring, it was for a different number than mine. As it turned out, I’d been calling out on someone else’s line and was receiving their calls. Goodness knows who received the calls meant for me. Fortunately, someone who understood that you can’t always go by the book, realized what had been going on and got it all straightened out.
That reminds me of my dad’s experience as a would-be airplane mechanic during WWII. Although he was married with four children and beyond draft age, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Force because they were begging for aircraft mechanics and, being an expert auto mechanic, he figured that he could easily learn to work on airplanes. A son of immigrants, Dad was fiercely patriotic and anxious to serve and defend our country. He went through the rigorous basic training and was anticipating the crash course in aircraft mechanics when someone pointed out that he had a vision problem­– he had red/green color blindness. The repair manuals and parts were color-coded. He could not be an aircraft mechanic after all, although he could probably have figured out any engine that existed at that time and would have known how to fix anything that went wrong with it. He was given a discharge and sent home, much to my mother’s relief and my great joy. He spent the rest of the war patching up the town’s cars and trucks and keeping the community on wheels with scavenged spare parts and his uncanny ability to figure out what was wrong with an ailing car– without the need for color-coded wires and parts.