01/03/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

It's Official: A Recession (Really?)

When the phone rang, we were just hunkering down for another evening of ice packs and ibuprofen.
The guy on the other end of the call couldn't have been nicer, or more polite. The first thing he did was apologize for interrupting whatever it was we might have been doing; with so many calls to make, he explained, naturally some of them wouldn't get done until pretty late in the day.

"Naturally," I said.
Then after he was finished apologizing, and before he said anything else, he needed to confirm that we were actually who his records indicated we were -- the right name (middle initial included, of course), at the right address.

"Yes, and yes again," I told him. When all of that was finally out of the way, he gave me his own name and got down to business.

"We're with the National Bureau of Discomfort Research," he said, "and we're calling to let you know that you have a headache."

"Excuse me?"

"No, really -- we've checked and rechecked our data, and you definitely meet all our criteria for a headache. Just thought you'd want to know."

It took a few seconds for his words to sink in, mostly because my head was pounding so hard I could barely think straight. But eventually I caught the gist of it.

"You're calling to tell me I have a headache."

"Exactly," he said. "No two ways about it."

"I already know I have a headache."

This was absolutely true. There was this throbbing thing happening right behind my eyeballs, plus this burning thing trying to eat through the back of my skull. I'd been practically horizontal for days, in a room with all the lights off, popping painkillers by the fistful.

I said it again:
"I already know I have a headache."

"But not officially," he said. "You didn't have a headache officially. Now you do."

It was all about the data, he explained. At the National Bureau of Discomfort Research, they have teams of experts combing through every wince and every spasm, coast to coast. You may think you're hurting -- you may be totally convinced you're hurting -- but until you hear it from the folks at the National Bureau of Discomfort Research, it's only speculation.

"It doesn't really count," he explained.

"And now it counts."

"Absolutely! In fact, we're showing that this headache of yours is a real doozy. One of the worst we've seen in quite a while."

I hardly knew what to say. Part of it was the pain, which hadn't gotten a dot better during our little chat. And part of it was the surprise, the very idea that someone would --

"Do you want to know when it started?"

"Excuse me?"

"Your headache. Do you want to know when it started? With the data we have, we can narrow it down almost exactly."

"No, thanks," I said. "It's been weeks. Months. Who knows? Who -- "

"Last December," he said. "December of 2007."

"Thanks for sharing," I said.

"Most people appreciate the information."

And now that you've told me, I asked him, what exactly am I supposed to do with the information? With all his research and all his experts, I told him, surely he'd picked up a few miracle cures he'd be willing to pass along. Something quick and easy to get rid of my headache and get me back on my feet again.

"We don't do cures," he told me. "That's not our department."

I'm still waiting for the second call.

Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist. You can write to him at