Sunday, December 02, 2007

Pass It Forward

A friend writes that:

Sometimes something happens that makes you momentarily wish you blogged. Here goes:

Our department's academic adviser has been out for the past 10 days helping her seriously ill mom in another state, and I took over her duties.

A couple of days into it, a call to the adviser's line was forwarded to me.

"X," I said, per usual.

"Why am I speaking to you when I specifically asked for Irma Z?" the caller said, with a boatload of annoyance. "Did I not make myself clear?"

"Well," I said, using terms I rarely apply to myself unless seriously provoked, usually by clueless young people, which she was not, "this is Dr. X, the department chairman. Irma is away on leave and I am filling in for her. How can I help you?"

"You can help me," she said archly, "by just telling me when she will be back."

At that point a number of tempting possibilities ran through my mind. I finally settled for "Monday." But I delivered it with a boatload of terseness, I want you to know. After which, she hung up.

When I complained to a colleague about this little exchange, he suggested a far better response, should the situation ever repeat itself:

"Now that you've asked, I must tell you that the leave was to finish a series of operations. Before that, I was Irma, and I can assure you she will never be back."

There's something the French call esprit d'escalier, the wit of the staircase, referring to those things you wished you said. This is, indeed, an example. And it is also a powerful argument for blogging, our own little special staircase.

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