Irritations of Modern Life

15: Call Waiting
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The Independent Culture
SUNDAY MORNING. Early. My sister calls from New York and emits a great whoop of delight on finding me, gummy and hoarse with sleep, at home. It's 4am in New York, but she has just come off stage and is dying to tell me about it. As she talks, the words start to drop out of her sentences: "It was fan stic, we were rea well rehearsed. Was the best g we've done. Loads of ple."

For a few moments she talks bravely on. We both pretend there's nothing wrong. I begin to wonder how long she can hold out. She's never been known to resist a ringing telephone. So when she's already on the phone and gets a signal that there's another person waiting to speak to her, it represents an irresistible lure.

Meanwhile, I am waiting to see whether she will let the other person get the message that Woken Up Sister, Long Distance, takes priority.

Desperation is creeping into her voice. "The A R man came from ners."

Finally she cracks. "I'm sorr I'll just see that is." She is gone, and I am left waiting. Will she choose me or them? Then she's back on the line. I made the grade. The insistent Call Waiting bleep is like a party guest who stands by your elbow, refusing to go away until you have acknowledged or introduced them into your conversation. In fact, it's like a party guest whose name you have forgotten, introducing an element of helpless panic into your conversation.

As a caller, when you hear that soothing, authoritative woman intoning "The Other Person Knows You Are Waiting", you have a choice to make. Will they consider you worth interrupting their conversation for? How long should you wait, imagining them muttering about the interruption, before you go?

When my sister finally interrupts her conversation to check out the call, will she disguise her disappointment that it wasn't the A&R man?

Clare Longrigg