If Alexander Graham Bell were still alive -- in which case I would demand reimbursement for all of the phone bills my daughters racked up when they were living at home -- he would call his assistant, Thomas Watson, to say, "Watson, come here, I need you to show me how to operate this stupid new telephone system."
But instead of talking with Watson, Bell would hear this recording: "I'm sorry, your call cannot be completed as dialed. Please check the number and try again."
So Bell would actually have to take a class to learn how to use his own invention.
That's what I had to do recently when we got new phones at work.
It used to be that all you had to know about the telephone was that you said "hello" when you picked it up and "goodbye" when you put it down.
Now, you practically have to be a Ph.D (phone doctor) to operate one.
A few years ago, when I became the last man in America to get a cell phone, one of my daughters had to program it for me and the other had to show me how to operate it because I couldn't comprehend the 134-page user guide.
But that was nothing compared to the new phone system in the office.
"I haven't heard this much swearing in the seven years I've been here," said Tommy, a contractor who was taking away the old phones, which were practically tin cans connected by strings compared to the new ones.
I wanted to say some bad words myself -- directly into the phone, if possible -- when I went to my training class and had to wait 20 minutes because the previous class, which was supposed to be 45 minutes, lasted more than an hour.
The people who walked out seemed dazed and confused. Nigel, the instructor, who had been giving classes all day, seemed tired. "Sorry," he said as half a dozen of us sat down in front of the new phones, "but my voice is a little scratchy."
"Sounds like a bad connection," I noted.
Nigel, a very nice guy, smiled wearily. Then he explained that we would be working on a system called Cisco Unified IP Phone 7942G, as opposed to another system called Cisco Unified IP Phone 7962G.
"If the two systems got together," I asked, "would they have a Cisco kid?" Then I sang a line from my own version of the War song: "Cisco kid's not a friend of mine."
As punishment, the phone in front of me refused to work.
"Press the help button," Nigel said.
It was one of 16 buttons on the phone, which also had a screen on which I could not, regrettably, watch something intellectual, like baseball or the Three Stooges.
Other buttons included the footstand button (what, no handstand button?) and the mute button (for mimes, I guess). As if to reciprocate, the phone was pressing my buttons.
"The soft keys are where the action is," Nigel said.
I pressed a soft key, the only thing about the phone that wasn't hard, and heard a woman's disembodied voice say, "Invalid entry." I pressed another key. She said it again.
"Shut up!" I shouted.
"You have to speak into the phone," said Nigel, who then had us practice calling each other. Daria, who sat next to me, called my number. I picked up the receiver and said, "I'm sorry, your call cannot be completed as dialed. Please check the number and try again."
The rest of the class went pretty smoothly, thanks to Nigel's patience and good humor. I wish I could say the same for the phones, which have been giving everybody trouble.
Fortunately, I didn't have any trouble recording my voice mail greeting: "Hi, this is Jerry Zezima. I'm either away from my desk or at my desk but fast asleep. Please leave a message and I'll get back to you."
Don't bet on it. I am now in Alexander Graham Hell. Watson, come here, I need you.
Stamford Advocate columnist Jerry Zezima is the author of "Leave It to Boomer." More info at www.jerryzezima.blogspot.com. E-mail: JerryZ111@optonline.net.
Copyright 2010 by Jerry Zezima