My Voice Mail Has Insufficient Postage

Copyright 1993 by Robert L. Gidley. All rights reserved.

My first published piece! (Well, okay, not my first published piece, but the first piece I actually got paid money for.) This appeared in The Seattle Times Pacific Magazine of Oct 24, 1993 (the cover story was about The Rocky Horror Picture Show). [They only bought first serial rights, so it's okay for me to put it here.] I still hate voice mail. Comments?

"You have reached the Flimflam Software voice mail support system. If you have our Flimflam Keen-o Screen Saver, press 1. If you want support for the Flimflam MangleMaster Text Processor, press 2."


"If you have version 1.0 of the MangleMaster, press 1. If you have version 57 of the MangleMaster, press 2."


"If you are having problems printing, press 1. If you are having problems with the MangleMaster reformatting your hard disk, press 2."


"If your computer made a funny little strangling noise right before this happened, press 1. If you made a funny little strangling noise right after this happened, press 2."


"We're sorry. We're closed right now. Please call back during regular working hours."

Voice mail is the new and efficient way for companies to avoid talking to customers. Instead of having a human being answer the phone and ask you what you want, you can use your touch-tone phone to answer questions.

The advantage to voice mail is that it gives customers something to do besides listening to music on hold. Like little mice, we can negotiate the voice mail maze, with the promise of cheese (an actual human being to answer your question) at the end.

As the voice mail craze grows, we're going to see it cropping up in more and more places.

"Thank you for calling 9-1-1. If you are calling regarding a fire, press 1. If this is about a burglary, press 2."


"If the burglar is inside your house, press 1. If the burglar is still outside the house, press 2."


"If the burglars are armed with pistols, press 1. If the burglars are armed with rifles, press 2. If the burglars are armed with large zucchinis, press 3. For information about our Crime of the Month, press 4."

By this time, I've given up and invited the burglars inside and showed them where the silverware and jewelry is. Burglars, at least, haven't forgotten the importance of personal service.

Another problem I have with voice mail is that I'm never given quite the right choices.

"If you would like sales information on our product line, press 1. If you are a wholesaler placing an order, press 2. If you are with a major branch of the government, press 3."

I, of course, am calling because my fax machine is broken, so I'm not sure what button I'm supposed to press. I pause for a moment, hoping that some additional option will appear ("If you are sick and tired of voice mail, press 9"), but none does.

So now I have to figure out which category to choose. I've already bought the damn thing, so I don't think I need sales information about it.

And if I were a wholesaler, I certainly wouldn't buy more of them. For a while, I debate about whether or not "voter" is a major branch of the government (personally, I usually feel more like the sap of the government), but decide that since my fax machine is not nuclear bomb-proof, I probably don't qualify.

What should I do? Finally, I decide to press both the 1 and the 2 at the same time. This tells the machine to do two things at once, which it has a difficult time dealing with (this is one of the few times I can actually empathize with the machine).

"If you—since you already—the information you want—enter your purchase—happy to be of service."

Voice mail wouldn't be nearly as annoying if it took you where you wanted to go. But after five minutes of selecting options and pressing telephone buttons, I always end up having a conversation like this:

"Joe speaking. Whadya want?"

"I want the part."

"What part?"

"The part that the voice mail put me here for."


"After answering all the voice mail questions, you should know that I have a 1982 Toyota Tercel (tan), with a bald left front tire, and that I need a right rear taillight for it."

"Oh yeah? Lemme check. (in background) Hey Charlie! We got any taillights? Got some for a Chevy? Close enough."

I have finally discovered a solution to the voice mail problem. Whenever I encounter a voice mail system, I start pressing 1's without listening to the messages. This speeds me on my way to a human being.

"Tire department, can I help you?"

"Yeah, I need a carburetor."

"Um, this is the tire department. How did you get here?"

"Your voice mail must be busted. Why don't you just run and check on a carburetor for me."

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Copyright 1993 by Robert L. Gidley. All rights reserved.