Last week was the first installment of “That Guy,” my weekly series identifying the gutter people who crawl up from the sewer puddles of humanity to plague those of us living in decency. My first piece broke down the crimes of The Practice Green Terrorist, a selfish, obnoxious creature who exists solely to let everyone know just how big of a golf guy he is. This week I want to examine a that guy we’ve all encountered. His environment could not be farther away from The Practice Green Terrorist’s, but his purpose is the same, to steal as much of your time and patience as he can while he holds you hostage in his telethon of terror. He lurks wherever an obnoxious ring is answered, wherever urgency and multitasking are necessary. He is, the unprepared phone caller.
You would think by now we’d all have a grasp on what it takes to make an efficient phone call. After all, as a species we’ve been vocally communicating with each other for thousands of years. On top of that, societal development has reached a point where it’s normal and honestly even expected for a child to be able to operate the basic functions of a smart phone before they can read. Yet despite all these evolutionary advantages, there are still people in 2018, the same year mad billionaire rocket hobbyists are holding discussions of planetary colonies, that cannot conduct a phone call. They know the mechanics, they can physically pick up a phone and type in the correct sequence of numbers to get their desired line ringing; but as soon as they hear another human voice, they’re screwed. They clam up worse than the president of the AV club trying to ask the head cheerleader to prom.
Why? It’s not like this phone call is unexpected. They’re the instigators. They’re not the ones caught off guard and having to react and improvise to the off topic word vomit pouring into their ears. They had their entire life to prepare for this conversation, what went wrong? Is it a case of unexpected reception? Did they think the call would never actually go through, that it would forever remain a one way conversation. Is there some larger Freudian control connection at play, something triggering a part of their psyche that immobilizes them if they have to relinquish conversational totality?
Whatever his motivation, the unprepared phone caller is unmatched in his ability to spike the stress levels of whomever he has just audio kidnapped. His wandering diction paired with a complete lack of awareness of time or urgency makes for a perfectly high stress cocktail. Have someone on the other line? Hope they brought a magazine, unprepared phone caller is only 1/3 of the way through the list of questions his snail’s pace brain has just concocted. Unprepared phone caller catch you in the midst of a task? Bookmark it for tomorrow, your calendar just got filled with an undetermined amount of dogged rambling.
That’s probably the most frustrating trait of unprepared phone caller. As pointless and incoherent as his conversation is, he is Napoleonic in his determination to see it through to the very end. Each attempt to cut the call short or redirect him to a more efficient script is railroaded with frustration and offense. How dare you suggest you have something you need to address? Are you so busy you can’t tend to his simultaneously obviously ambiguous concerns? There’s no need for you to be rude, he’s merely trying to have a conversation after all.
Instead of wasting all of our time in school reenacting Good Will Hunting by solving for A-L, how about we do society a favor and add conversational etiquette to the curriculum. Sure it’s not as flashy as being able to determine how many Kelvins a molten piece of aluminum foil is, but it’ll go a long way to ending the plague of listless phone calls. Hell you could even piggyback it off the Spelling Bee and hold competitions to see which student can articulate themselves in the shortest amount of time possible. Judge them on clarity of conversation plus time and determine a winner. National champion gets presented the latest iPhone because only they have been objectively determined to be worthy of wielding such power.
Maybe we won’t have to suffer for much longer. Maybe efficient phone conversation is like the discovery of indoor plumbing. You don’t really realize how bad you had it until the alternative is offered to you. Maybe it’s also like indoor plumbing in that it’s going to take far longer to alleviate this human indecency than it ever should. As with everything, the first step to solving a problem is acknowledging its existence. Spread this piece to all the loose cannon phone callers in your life, make them aware that if they want to talk something to death, that’s why God invented the parakeet. For everything else, keep it short stupid. This isn’t the annual guilty phone call to Grandma. Get in, get across what you need to communicate, and get out so you and the person you’re forcing into a conversation can both get back to your completely unrelated lives.