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The other day I was at an office I go to occasionally, attending to a few very important things, when the new office copier started making a high-pitched unidentifiable noise, that made my ear drums ring as if I'd been using a dentist's drill for a Q-tip. I turned to one of the secretaries and said, "What's that awful noise?"
"Oh, that's one of the 'sensors' on our new copy machine," she said in that calm and controlled voice that office secretaries are trained from birth to use. She said it's been going off "a lot" ever since it arrived.
She couldn't remember what it was the sensor 'sensed' and agreed it was annoying but she didn't think it was too serious. She said she's ask one of the tech guys to try and "fix it."
An engineer soon arrived on the scene and quickly pushed one of the many buttons the machine offered and that stopped the noise cold.
As I walked around the office for the next few hours, I became aware of all the genuinely irritating sounds that fill work places there days - all the annoying high-tech sounds that are routinely produced by our age's clever, all-digital, electronic office gizmos. Here and there I heard them throughout the morning as I moved from one place to anther in the hermetically sealed and sound-proofed office I work in.
As I attended to things - listening to one shrill, peevish machine sound after another - I began to think of all the great old natural sounds that are never hear anymore in today's highly efficient tweaked and twittered offices we now work in these days.
When I was a kid I would often go with my father on afternoons when he would drive around town on various errands. We'd often begin with a stop at Tucker''s Insurance office on Main Street.
Tucker's was a located in a grand old Victorian house. It was a statelly, high-ceilinged office that was filled with ponderous oak chairs and desks. Never was heard the word ergonomics (whatever that is) and never was seen the slick streamlined torture devices that serve as chairs in today's "edgy" offices.
The Mr. Tucker's office also had quietly-busy and highly efficient secretaries that got all their work done without a high-pitched digital device in sight.
The walls in this office were covered with large paintings of beautiful Maine-built schooners under full sail. All were built in nearby boatyards and most had been insured by Mr. Tucker's father and grandfather. There were also several framed photographs of portly men with huge mustaches who stared down at me and dared me to crack a smile, which I couldn't help but do.
I didn't know what it was like to work in an office like that but I always enjoyed sitting in one of their large oak chairs by one of the huge windows. As I sat, I'd alternate between looking around the office and looking through a particularly educational National Geographic, as I waited for my father and Mr. Tucker to finish what I assumed was very important business.
The office had a beautiful old Seth Thomas clock on the wall and the office was so quiet that you could hear every tick of that clock all the way across the large room. The only other sounds were the low muffled voices of Dad and Mr. Tucker talking behind the heavy oak door. There was also the occasional rustling of what must have been important papers on the desks of the quiet but very busy secretaries.
Occasionally the telephone would ring - that classic old non-digital telephone ring we remember - and one of the secretaries would answer.
I would sit and listen to the secretary's end of the conversation and try and imagine what they were talking about on the other end. Most times I'd soon lose interest and go back to my provocative but educational magazine.
Sometimes I'd figure out she was talking to someone I knew and would become more interested in what she was saying. It was never that interesting. I learned that Insurance office talk never is.
On warm days when some of the large office windows were open I could hear the usual noises on Maine Street. Sometimes the conversations of people outside the window would compete with the one-way conversation of the quietly-busy secretary on the telephone.
Eventually Dad and Mr. Willy would come out of their closed-door meeting after finishing their important business and we'd go on our way.
As I thought of those days and compared then with today's irritating office sounds I concluded that our high-tech, high-speed completely digitaal office machines might be useful - but just barely, I'd say.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly throughout
New England. Contact John at or 899-1868.
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