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The other day I had to make phone call to what I assumed was a homegrown Maine business. All I wanted to do was ask what I assumed were a few 'routine' questions. How could I have known that I was about to enter one of the most inhumane telephone torture chambers I'd ever experienced; a tele-cell of horrors so diabolical in its design and 'execution' I later learned that Saddam himself once considered using the same system in his palaces but judged it too cruel and inhumane a device to use on his fellow Iraqis.
My whole awful experience has left permanent scars on my psyche as well as several ugly calluses on both ear lobes. It was awful.
It all began so innocently.
I picked up the phone one morning to call a business. After dialing the number I heard a few rings and then a recorded voice answered, saying: You have reached the offices of Annoying Enterprises. Your call is important to us...
Let me stop here for a minute to say something that is probably obvious to all, but I'll repeat it anyway so we'll never forget it. When a company has the gall, the nerve, the chutzpah to use a sterile recording device to answer their phone and that recording device begins with the sinister phrase 'Your call is important to us...' you know you're in for a long, ugly siege and you're not going have a 'nice day.'
Important, indeed!
One of the most evil aspects of these tele-systems is that - rather than trying to make them more user-friendly - their designers insist on doing everything possible to make them even more tedious and frustrating, more diabolical, time-consuming and destructive.
A while back some of us clever callers learned that - when confronted with an impersonal telephone recording - we could cut the message off at the pass by quickly hitting '0' and getting transferred to an operator - a real live person. Of course, the person you were transferred to was most often a 'temp' or a 'trainee' who was lucky to know where he or she was working that day let alone having any useful information that would permit them to help you with your 'routine' question. But as useless as these people may be it's still nice to get a living, breathing human being all the same. Well, this serious design flaw in the gizmo was soon detected by the diabolical system designers and quickly corrected so as to put an end to that live human being foolishness.
Callers, it was felt, should be forced to endure the entire 'menu' of choices - a menu that is often so long and complex that by the end you have forgotten most of your 'choices' and must enter a number to begin the whole thing again.
Now, if you should - in desperation - hit '0' during this 'menu' reading you are told that you have entered a wrong number and should just sit and wait until the monotonous machine is through with its business; until the machine gets to the end of its long, complicated list of choices. Then and only then will you be allowed to make your 'choice.'
The more elitist systems will make you feel more unworthy by saying something like: If you know your party's extension (which you never do) you can dial it at any time. The rest of you suckers will just have to remain trapped in here until I'm through.
Other systems sometimes tell you that you can punch in the first few letters of your party's last name. I'm now convinced that instruction is just something to keep us busy and distracted because I've never gotten anyone's extension by punching in a few stupid letters of someone's last name. Have you?
After several hours in this voice mail prison I was so angry and exhausted and my ear lobes were so damaged. That I hung up in disgust and decided to call a personal injury lawyer. In fact I'm on hold right now waiting to talk to an associate.
It shouldn't be too long now because the woman on the tape said my call is important to them and they wouldn’t lie on a lawyer’s tape, would they?

John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly throughout
New England. Contact John at or 899-1868.
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