The battles of business calls

   I make a fair amount of business telephone calls. That means I talk with quite a few receptionists, almost all of whom seem to hate me.
   Is it just me, or what? I try my best to be polite. I admit there are times when Iím caught off guard and Iíve spoken to them over my speakerphone. But I quickly pick up the handset before they can announce with great irritation that I sound like Iím talking in a tunnel.
   No, even when Iím prepared for then, handset ready, I am treated like mud. Iíve concluded itís all my fault. I seem to have been born with an irritating name.
   Practically every call I make, the scenario is repeated. The receptionist answers, and generally it is a female voice, sweet and chirpy.
   "Good morning, Sunrise Corporation, may I help you?" she will say cheerily, lulling me into overconfidence.
   "Good morning," I respond, careful to reciprocate the nice greeting. "Is Bob Traynor in, please?" (I never forget the "please").
   "Yes, he is. May I tell him whoís calling?"
   Hereís where I always screw up. Everything is going swimmingly and then I have to tell her my name. I sigh, knowing itís the end of our short but beautiful relationship.
   "Nick Hoppe."
   All sweetness leaves her voice. I can picture this lovely woman at her desk as her teeth enlarge into fangs and hair sprouts all over her body. The chirp has tuned into a growl.
   "WHO?" she snarls.
   I try it a little slower, my confidence shattered. "Nick Hoppe."
   By now sheís ripping through some raw, red meat, slumped over her phone, cursing those people who donít have normal names. Realizing her power, she simply gives me one.
   "Rick Hopkins?"
   I donít give up. This time I pause for five seconds or so between syllables. "Nick Ö.Hoppe"
   Sheís straining to hear, but the hair growth inside her ears is giving her trouble. Exasperated, ready to pounce for the kill, she lets it fly.
   "Dick Hoppe?"
   That does it. The war has begun in earnest. Dick is a very nice name, but with apologies to the Dicks in the world (you know who you are), I AM NOT A DICK.
   War is hell. I put her back on the speakerphone and stand eight feet away. Putting my handy four-foot poster mailing tube to my lips, I respond to the monsterís latest inaccuracy.
   "Thatís NICK, not DICK."
   Now she had it straight. "Oh, Iím sorry." She is returning to normal. "Iím having trouble understanding you. You sound like youíre in a tunnel."
   How observant. I put the poster tube down and pick up the handset again, the battle done. "So may I speak with Mr. Traynor, please?"
   "Of course." Our momentary truce is now over. It is time to resume sparring. "The name of your company?"
   I tell her and this time there is no trouble understanding my enunciation. She has accepted the fact that there are other names in the world besides Pete Smith, Frank Jones and Mary Wong. Now she is having trouble with the fact I am not IBM, Chrysler Corp. or Exxon.
   Her voice makes it very clear that she has never even heard of my obscure, inconsequential, piddling little company. What am I doing call Mr. Traynor? Most likely I am trying to sell him something he has no interest in buying. The last thing she needs is to let some guy with an irritating name from a backwoods company get through to her boss.
   The monster has receded, but the ice is forming. "May I know what this is regarding?" she asks suspiciously.
   I want to say a lot of things. I want to tell her Zbigniew Brzezinski had a tough name, but he was Secretary of State under President Carter. I want to tell her that the recognized company names werenít always recognized.
   In the end though, I only tell her what I know will not only win for me this latest battle but also result in my overwhelming victory in this greatest of wars.
   "Tell him," I say, matching her coldness icicle for icicle. "Iím returning his call."

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