THE BLOG

Who May I Ask Is Calling?

07/03/2014 09:44 pm ET | Updated Sep 02, 2014

2014-07-03-Panmunjom_site_of_armistice_negotiations.jpg

The Times ran a piece about life in the guardhouse at Panmunjom ("High Tension and a Cold Shoulder at Border of Two Koreas," NYT, 6/26/14). One Lt. Cmdr. Daniel McShane is described as using a bullhorn and interpreter to pass a message on to "his North Korean counterpart." North Korea may be a backward country but they do have telephones. But The Times piece describes how:

"...for more than a year, that has been the way Commander McShane, an American naval officer attached to the United Nations Command here, has been forced to carry out out one of his main duties -- conveying messages to the North Koreans."

The reason is that the North Koreans have stopped answering the phone. The Times quotes Commander McShane as saying, "We try them four times a day. It rings, but no one answers." It may seem rather primitive. A lover who is quarreling and wants to make a point to his significant other might partake of this kind of silent scorn and almost all veteran writers who came of age before the advent of the internet can recall editors not answering or failing to return phone calls. If truth be known most editors at publishing houses and literary journals, whose experience of demanding authors has created an adversarial view (which makes them think of writers as vermin), behave worse than the North Koreans. But anyone who has ever waited for a call that seems like it's never going to come can identify with the plight of Lt. Comdr. McShane and his cohorts. You can almost picture the room in which the phone is ringing and see the stony faces of those for whom the call is intended. You can even imagine them putting their fingers in their ears. However, everyone maintains that impossible dream that the girl will have changed her mind or that the editor will have read something and decided you're a genius.

So maybe one day McShane will call and on the other end a sweet woman's voice with a slight Asian accent will answer. "President Kim Jong-un's office." Thinking about his prospects for promotion and remembering the childhood experience of hitting a homer with bases loaded, McShane will ask "Is President Kim Jong-un in?" "And who may I ask is calling," the sweet voice will ask. "Tell him Lt. Commander McShane from the United Nations Command Security Battalion Joint Security Area." And in this Walter Mitty moment, McShane will imagine himself waiting for what seems like an interminable period of time before the sweet voice comes on and tells him. "Please hold for President Kim Jong-un."

Photo: Panmunjom in 1951

This was originally posted to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy's blog of rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture