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See links at bottom for the previous letters.
Office phones used to be simple. The phone systems in Lyle’s office cause chaos!
Have you ever noticed that some systems are solid, efficient, reliable, and prone to creating satisfying experiences until someone decides to improve them?
Our phone system at the university was installed during the golden age of the telephone—when there was only one, venerable, monolithic phone company. For decades, having a phone was like having hot and cold running water, a basic utility always at the ready. Even when the power would go out, the phones would work.
We got our first “improvement” a couple of years ago with a phone system called “Text-Lax.” As soon as one of the parties in a conversation finished speaking, both parties had to wait until the text of what had just been said scrolled across a little screen. If you tried to respond during the read-out, the other person couldn’t hear you.
The intent was to cut down on misunderstandings. Text-Lax might well have done that if it had been able to transcribe with any accuracy. During one conversation a colleague asked me where I had gotten my information. “Per the Rec Department,” I said. What scrolled across the screen was “Purr, the wreck, depart meant.” Go, wrecked cat, go.
At least with Text-Lax we could hear both parts of the conversation, even if the transcriptions were a joke. Our new system, PhoneCon Fusion, constantly reconnects callers in mid-conversation with someone else. Yesterday I called our receptionist at the front desk: “Maggie, I’m expecting a call from Sister Igleana Manna about her charity picking up some of our used equipment. If she calls please tell her that. . . .” At this point we were disconnected.
Then Maggie heard, “. . . my passion burns for her. My soul is in torment, my friend. What can I do? What can I do? I’d eat razor blades just to be near her. My friend, what can I do?”
Then I heard Maggie say, “Lyle, did you put too much hot sauce on your tacos again? And what’s with that accent? Sister Igleana is ancient! She’s a nun, for God’s sake. This friend thinks you should sit on those razor blades.”
Then I said what seemed appropriate for the situation, “Huh?” What did changing the time of a pick-up have to do with hot sauce and razor blades? Maggie sensed my confusion.
“Lyle, go close your door and put your head down on your desk for a half hour. You need some Sleepy Time.” Maggie has preschoolers.
After my nap everything did, indeed, seem much clearer until my boss called. He wanted me to give him a list of the correspondence courses I was working on. The conversation started out fine. I said, “I’ve just finished ECON 113, and I’m almost done with MATH 340. I’ll pick up PHIL 220 next.”
Then he heard, “You think I don’t know what you’ve been up to. You’re trying to eliminate my position to put more money in your budget. Well it won’t work. I’ve got some photos of you and that floozy I think your wife would find interesting.”
Then I heard the boss say, “Lyle, what are you talking about? First, why is your voice so funny? I’m not trying to get rid of you! As for any photos, we’ve worked together for a long time. Surely, we can work out a gentleman’s agreement.”
Then he heard, “I want a medium pepperoni, extra cheese, and a tossed salad with Thousand Island dressing.”
Then I heard, “Lyle, I’ll get back to you,” and he hung up. He seemed really confused. I thought of having Maggie call him and recommend Sleepy Time.
Later in the afternoon he came to my office and said, “Lyle, I’m concerned about those pictures you’re holding over me, so I’ve been wracking my brain trying to figure out that pizza thing. Are you trying to tell me that you want a mid-level executive position with an annual bonus and more vacation thrown in?”
I had no idea what he was talking about. What pictures? What pizza? What position?
I assured him that the most incriminating pictures I had of him were from the Christmas party two years ago, but he’d have to make me president of the university to get those pictures. Since he seemed to be in an awkward position, I decided that it was a perfect time to ask for a raise.
He wasn’t feeling all that awkward and said, “You wanted a thin crust, but you’re getting a thick crust, and if you keep it up you’ll be hand-tossed.” That pizza thing again.
The confusion wasn’t cleared up until we all compared notes at the end of the day. It won’t help with outside calls, but today we started using walkie-talkies when we call each other.
And the boss said no more pizza orders from work.
[Excerpt from: More Later: Lyle’s Letters from the University, Red Axe Books, UK, 2015. The book contains 42 letters.]