Telephone a mixed blessing

Telephone a mixed blessing

Sep 01, 2001

I've said it before and I'll say it again. He was the greatest practical joker that ever lived. With just a few pieces of wire and a homemade battery, he has managed to cause more confusion than even the most sophisticated of computer viruses. I am referring, of course, to that madcap funster, Alexander Graham Bell.

His inspiration came in the early 1870s. America was healing from the Civil War. The Indian Wars were raging in the west, and Alex Bell's dog, Watson, was 12 years old. (That's right. In spite of what you may have heard to the contrary, Watson was the Bell family pooch.)

Watson's veterinarian, Dr. Chortle, was a close friend of Alex's. Between the two of them, they came up with some of the world's most classic gags. It is a little known fact that Dr. Chortle invented the whoopee cushion and the dribble glass. Not to be outdone, Alex designed the first handshake buzzer and the original prototype for an ice cube with a fly in it.

Both men enjoyed the joke invention rivalry which they shared until the day Dr. Chortle unveiled his masterpiece, fake dog poop. Alex was overcome with jealousy. Their friendly relationship turned sour. In order to get even with his former friend, as well as all the rest of the world's veterinarians, Alex invented the telephone. Never again would a veterinarian have an uninterrupted day to sit around inventing jokes. The telephone would see to that.

Now, over a century later, his plan is still working beautifully. Just yesterday, he got me three times. The first was when Mrs. Muffle called about her Dachshund, Hunch. I couldn't understand a word she said. Her voice was so soft that it was barely more than a whisper. Luckily, our office telephone has a volume control so I was able to turn her up.

"Hello, Doctor, she said. "This is Mrs. Muffle. Can you hear me OK? I have to whisper so Hunch doesn't hear me. If he knows I'm calling the vet, he'll pee on the rug."

She had a long list of questions which consumed 12 minutes that I really couldn't spare. Humoring her, I suggested that she call from a pay phone next time. That would ensure security from an eavesdropping pup.

My next call was from Mr. Decibel. If he was a factory, he would be cited for noise pollution. His voice is louder than a rock concert. He probably doesn't need a phone for conversations of less than two miles distance, but he uses one anyway. I put the phone to my ear without realizing that the volume was still turned up from Mrs. Muffle's call. I was knocked senseless. My hearing took two hours to return fully. Alex Bell undoubtedly chuckled in his grave.

After recuperating, I was given a message to call Mr. Macho about his dog, Pansy. But when I called the Macho home number, I was surprised to hear a man answer, "Kelly's Bar. May I help you?" I explained that I wanted the Macho house and must have dialed the wrong number.

"Oh, no, you got the right place," he said. "Macho spends a lot of time here so he used the call forwarding on his home phone to get his calls transferred to us. I'll get him for you."

A moment later, I heard the same voice yell, "Hey, Macho! You got a dog named Pansy? Your vet's on the phone."

I could hear the bar patrons burst into laughter. Comments such as, "Pansy? What's the matter, Macho, was the name Buttercup already taken?" and "What happened, did the dog wee wee on one of your lace doilies?"

When he got to the phone, his voice was a little louder than necessary.

"Thanks for calling, Doctor. We've been concerned about Panther, you know, our Pit Bull. He's been getting very aggressive lately."

I knew that the call was supposed to be about Pansy, the puffy Poodle.

Apparently, Mr. Macho was trying to save face with his friends by pretending to own Panther, the pugnacious Pit Bull. I played along. It was fun, but it wasted more time and therefore, Alex got me again.

Because of instances such as these, I have always viewed the telephone as a mixed blessing. It is a necessary evil and, as I have said, the greatest practical joke of all time. There is no use complaining, however, because I suppose it is here to stay. By the way, this column is rated PG. If I gave you my opinion of people who put me on hold while they answer their call waiting I would have to rate it an R.

Dr. Obenski owns the Allentown Clinic for Cats in Allentown, Pa.