M. Giant's
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Monday, August 26, 2002  

It happens at least once every workday. One of the phones on my desk rings. Somebody needs me. There’s not a second to lose. I zing my chair across the two feet of distance separating me from the phone. With a single, efficient motion, my hand snatches the handset off the cradle and snaps up to my ear.

I’d look pretty smooth if the handset weren’t clattering around on the floor right now.

When our phone system got “upgraded” a couple of months ago, everybody got new phones as well. The new phone consoles are ultramodern-looking, with snazzy round buttons and a matte charcoal finish. The handsets are sleek and stylish, the latest word in telecommunication ergonomics. Unfortunately, that word is “sucker.”

When I go to grab a phone, I want a phone that responds properly to being grabbed, in the sense of staying grabbed. I don’t want a phone into which decades of research and development have gone to enable it to fool my fingertips into thinking they’ve got a hold on it, when really it’s just executing—once again—its nefarious plan to deafen my caller by banging on the edge of my desk as it wriggles free of my grasp like a live greased carp. Sure, it looks plenty nice just sitting there innocently on my desk, but it deviously awaits every ring, seeing every attempt to pick it up as a new opportunity to rendezvous with its one true love, gravity.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking maybe I should try not to be so clumsy. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t exactly have the hands of a neurosurgeon. How many other people can say that they’ve ever managed to spill an entire can of Cherry Coke under the bottom shelf of a floor-level kitchen cabinet? That kind of accomplishment takes some doing. As did the cleanup. Sure, I could have just left it under there. I also could have emptied a teeming ant farm onto the linoleum. Same effect, in the long run.

And it’s not like I never dropped the old phone, either. I’m not claiming to have Spider-Man fingertips or anything. But with the old phones, it was an infrequent enough occurrence that people had the decency to laugh about it. Now they just sigh wearily, because it happens to them all the time too. It’s not just me. It’s the new phones. And everybody is having the same problem. I have no idea how many phone calls in this office begin like this:

* Ring *

[Click as handset comes off the hook]

[Faint whistling sound as handset hurtles uncontrollably through space]

[Eardrum-rupturing crack as handset ricochets off nearest piece of furniture at barely subsonic speed]

[More whistling]

[Thump as handset hits carpet]

[Faint creaking noise from the headset jack as the person being called uses the cord to reel it back up off the floor]

[Awkward pause]

“Sorry. I dropped the phone. Are you still there?”

“I’m sorry, what was that? I just dropped my phone.”

It’s bad enough for those of us who don’t have to type while on the phone, but if holding onto these handsets is like trying to hold onto handfuls of overcooked pasta drenched in olive oil, imagine what it’s like for the employees who can’t even use their hands. Until they recently got their new hands-free headsets, those poor people’s necks were disappearing from the effort of trying to stop their phones squirting out from between their faces and shoulders like a wet bar of Lifebuoy in a prison shower. They were starting to hunch over sideways all the time, and at the end of the day they’d be out in the parking lot wandering in wide, palsied circles. It was tragic.

I feel a little self-conscious complaining about new phones. It feels like it’s only a few steps away from whinging about not having a big black bakelite box on the wall with a crank on it that you turn and then bellow into the mouthpiece, “Clara, get Homer on the line for me right quick.” That wouldn’t be a defensible position for a guy in my line of work. But I do miss the old, clunky handsets because at least they didn’t force me to test my grip before I lifted them. I guess I’m some kind of Luddite because I don’t appreciate a phone that’s as easy to hold onto as a leaky balloon filled with motor oil.

But far be it from me to stand in the way of progress. Let’s hope my phone is a harbinger of a world filled with ungrippable everyday objects, and we can look forward to power tools with handles that shock the user, purse straps like epileptic salamanders, and steering wheels made entirely of butter. The future’s so bright, I’d be wearing shades if they didn’t keep slipping off my face.

* * *

Thanks to those of you have expressed concern about my health. How's my cold, you ask? Well, Trash and I got to share it over the weekend. We took turns medicating each other. Basically it was one long Nyquil-fueled fever dream. We're getting better, but let's hope we can bat it back and forth between us for the next couple of weeks.

posted by M. Giant 3:24 PM 0 comments


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