Last Call 

If you'd like to pillory the inventor of voice mail, press "pound" now.

But, for the sake of fairness, I hope that when he arrives at the pearly gates, instead of finding St. Peter there he finds a telephone bolted to the wall, and not a soul in sight.

When, out of curiosity, he lifts the receiver to the telephone bolted to the wall at the pearly gates, I hope this is what he hears:

"If you speak English, press 1, then press the 'pound' sign.

"Si usted habla Espanol, prensa dos, entonces presione la muestra de la 'libra.'


"St. Peter is not available to take your call.

"If you would like to speak with another customer-service representative, and you know his or her name or personal extension, please press the first four letters of the name or the four-digit personal extension, then press 'pound,' then 'star,' then 'pound-star-pound-pound-star-pound.'

"If you would like to be connected to St. Peter's voice mail, press 'star-pound-star-star.'

Beep! Boink! Beep-beep!

"Hello, this is St. Peter. Your call is very important to me. But I'm not available to take your call right now. Please pay careful attention to the following menu:

"If you would like to enter heaven, press 'pound.'

"If you would like to save yourself with a last-minute confession or act of contrition, press 'star.'

"If you think you can explain the multiple sins of commission and omission from your latest IRS 1040A federal income-tax form, press 'pound-star-pound.'

"If your ex-spouse has arrived ahead of you, and you want to tell your side of the story before you are shipped off to that other place, press 'star-pound-star.'

"If you are Gordon Matthews, the inventor of voice mail, please stay on the line and a customer-service representative will be with you in the order in which you called. Presently, you are caller number ... nine billion, four-hundred eighty-seven million, six hundred sixty-six thousand, seven hundred and fifty-one …"

Poor Gordon. The guy was just trying to help. Legend has it that he invented voice mail after realizing that a batch of those pink phone-message slips had been pushed off his desk and into the wastebasket.

Gordon thought voice mail would be more efficient. He was a clever engineer who earned more than 35 U.S. and foreign patents. The man knew something about efficiency.

But with voice mail, instead of efficiency, he brought us global exasperation.

Now, everywhere on the planet where you pick up a telephone, you're likely to be connected to that same horrid woman with the nasal Nurse Ratched voice, who nanny-scolds you with, "I do not understand this command. Please try again."

I wouldn't deny heaven to Gordon Matthews, were it in my power, but the woman behind that voice? I'd trade her to Satan for a stale pack of Nabs.

So, bon voyage, Friend Gordon. We forgive you, and we wish you an eternity of peace.

And thanks to you, Gordon, we understand the true meaning of eternity: It is approximately the time we have spent trying to work our way through the voice-mail menu at the Internal Revenue Service.

So if you're up there, Gordon, press "pound"



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