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Friday, April 3, 2009

Three Telephone Tales

Regular readers know that for a couple of years when my son was a tot I was a reporter for a mid-size newspaper in another state. For everyone’s protection, I won’t name the paper or the state. The job certainly had its stresses, but it was one of the most interesting work experiences I’ve had. I made some wonderful friends and, had circumstances been different, I might have stayed longer in the news biz.

I never got to yell, “Stop the presses!” But we had some very interesting times in the course of putting out a newspaper seven days a week. Here are three vignettes from that time that prove the telephone isn’t always our friend.

Wrong Number

For most of the time I worked at the paper, my days off were Wednesday and Sunday which meant I had to work Saturday nights. The shift lasted from around 3 p.m. until midnight-ish depending on what was going on. On that particular night, we had written a story with some police department connection. I don’t remember what it was, but, before we could close out that story, I needed to call the PD one more time to see if there had been any changes.

The switchboard closed late afternoon on Saturdays so, after hours, we had to catch incoming calls on one of two large consoles in the newsroom. One was at the news editor’s station and the other was in sports on the opposite side of the newsroom. We could make outgoing calls from our desks, but we had to go for one of the consoles to grab calls coming in to the paper.

As the clock closed in on midnight, it was time to call the PD and wrap things up. I started punching in the number for the watch commander but, as I was completing it, the newspaper telephone started buzzing. I slammed my phone down before anyone could pick up and bolted to the nearest console where I pressed the blinking light and grabbed the hand set. Silence. No one there. Well, okey dokey. Let’s try that again.

Back to my desk. I lifted my telephone and once again started dialing the PD’s number. As soon as I hit the last digit, the @%)* console started ringing again. For Pete’s sake! Slam my phone down. Grumble loudly as I make the dash again, and -- as I sweetly answered the phone – I once again heard silence. As I recall, I had a few words to say to anyone who might be listening about this fool prankster. And it might have been about then that my editor asked if I had the info from the police department. That didn’t help my mood.

I returned to my desk, took a deep breath and, for the third time, started dialing the number for the police department. And – again – as I hit the last number – the house phone started ringing. I slammed down my phone’s receiver and sprinted to the console, accompanying my jaunt with loud, impolite words.

You know what happened next. As I grabbed the handset, punched the blinking light and was met yet again with the sounds of silence, another light went on. In my little pea brain. The telephone number of the PD was just one digit off from the newspaper’s number. Yes, oh yes, I had been dialing OUR telephone number forcing myself to ran around like a crazy person.

It was late. That’s all I can say.

This Call’s For You

It was another Saturday. I was at my desk engrossed in work when my train of thought was interrupted by the buzz of the house phone. For no other reason than I was pointed in that direction, I got up and moved quickly toward the console in sports.

My vision was pretty darn good at that time, but I did have significantly restricted peripheral vision. It was a lot like looking at life through a cardboard roll that holds wrapping paper. The end result was that, if I wasn’t looking directly at an object, it didn’t exist for me.

While I made the short hop to the sports telephone console, my sight was focused on the panel where the light would be blinking. I arrived. There was the blinking light. I punched it with my right index finger as my gaze moved to the left and my left hand began reaching for the receiver – which was missing. Instantly perplexed and anxious to answer the line I’d just punched, I continued looking left, eyes following the curly telephone cord. And saw that it led to the receiver that was being held by my friend Rae Ann who was looking at me, mouth agape, with extraordinary surprise. She had been in the midst of a phone call and I’d cut her off without even a fare-thee-well.

Our eyes locked for one of those E.T.-Elliott moments and there was nothing else to do except gently take the receiver from her hand and answer the incoming call. I confess that it took a few minutes for my perceived rudeness to turn into laughter.

Maybe I shouldn’t be allowed around telephones.

It’s Not Just Me

Yes, Saturdays were crazier than weekdays and the telephone situation was partly to blame. There’s a teeny possibility that we overworked reporters might also have contributed to the occasional hysteria.

When the house phone rang on another Saturday, I was determined to be a slow responder. Perhaps I do learn from experience. Besides, Rae Ann was at her desk further back in the newsroom and was much closer to the news editor’s console.

She yelled out that she would get it. I did, however, swivel in my chair to see if I was needed. I don’t know how she had been sitting, but as she turned and slammed her feet to the floor to rise and take the few, quick steps to the phone, Rae Ann managed to jam one of her feet into the wastebasket next to the desk.

Undaunted, she continued toward the console with a step-clomp, step-clomp that would have made “I Love Lucy” proud. Needless to say, the rest of us were collapsing with laughter. Tears were being shed. Like a real pro, Rae Ann got to the phone, answered it and managed the call with little evidence of either pain or giggle attack.

Ahh, those were the days.

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