Suburban Soliloquy #55

Regarding Career Choices

While growing up in the Fifties, I was inspired by a visit to the American Museum of Natural History, where I discovered dinosaur fossils arranged as if they were alive. Monsters from the past towered over this small boy. How well I remember the Brontosaurus being run down by a pack of Allosauruses, their motion frozen in a three-dimensional x-ray one could walk around. I was awestruck and inspired. The Brontosaurus has had a name change since my childhood, Apatosaurus. The hall was closed during my last visit to the museum and I don't know if those stone skeletons have been newly arranged. They had rearranged the stony bones of Tyrannosaurus rex. When I was a kid, its skeleton stood upright and it was dragging its tail. A new understanding has evolved and the museum altered that original 1915 mounting to show Rex as a sleek, racing beast.

Once I was well versed in a dozen hard scientific names for these "terrible lizards", but my attention has wandered during forty years of exciting discoveries and further research in the field. There are new small boys memorizing the new names.

In the Fifties is also when Random House began publishing their "allabout books". The very first book in that series was Roy Chapman Andrews' All About Dinosaurs. Roy Chapman Andrews was explorer extraordinaire and leader of the Central Asiatic Expeditions in the 1920s. His account of the Gobi Desert and the finding of the first dinosaur eggs filled me and a thousand other kids with envy and a taste for adventure. What I didn't know at the time was Andrews' difficult dealings with the warlords and bureaucrats of a disintegrating China, and the truculent and paranoid Soviet communist who began to subjugate Mongolia. I wonder how he would have dealt with my customer.

It is a typical night that finds me working the graveyard shift in one of the many offices of AT&T, watching over some of the industry's telecommunication networks. The telephone rings for the umpteenth time. I hit the talk button and through my headset greet whoever is on the other end of the line. It is an irate customer demanding an E.T.R., which stands for Estimated Time of Repair. We have an obligation to try and give the customer an estimated time of repair because upper management has made this commitment on behalf of all of us, yet it is a trick that requires some telepathy.

In this particular case the trouble has been isolated to Southwestern Bell's portion of the circuit. Since it is some hour between midnight and dawn, most of the telecommunication industry is limping along on a skeleton crew. It will take an indeterminate amount of time to reach the appropriate person in Southwestern Bell who handles call-outs. How does one predict the length of time it will take that dispatcher at Southwestern Bell to locate an available technician? Is it possible to anticipate how far down the list the dispatcher will have to go, trying to reach by telephone each name in turn before they reach the one who is available? Here is where telepathy would pay off, since by knowing beforehand which technician on the list will be available, the dispatcher can call that technician first.

Southwestern Bell needs to hire more psychics. A psychic will know where a technician is. A psychic will know whether that technician is already on the road to another trouble or is at work in the telephone closet on the thirtieth floor of a different customer's conglomerate headquarters. In one intuitive flash it will come to a soothsayer exactly how long it will take that technician to finish their present job, jump into their van, and journey to that exact unmanned central office among the many from where the problem can be resolved. "Don't take such-and-such a route because there will be a jackknifed truck blocking three lanes in another twenty minutes," the dispatcher will advise their technician. Alas, Southwestern Bell has clearly missed the boat and failed to hire any telepathist to be dispatchers. When I call them for an E.T.R., they tell me they haven't yet been able to find an available technician.

There is a stream of hot words entering my left ear from my customer who tells me that is not good enough. I close my eyes and call upon my talent that helps me write fiction. I try to visualize a realistic story. It's not just finding a technician, and imagining the technician's length of travel in a part of the country I've never been, but I must also imagine the technician's search for the right documentation, then their explorations of the central office for the right floor, frame, and shelf. Nor does it end there. An estimated time of repair requires knowing the technician's level of skill and just how long the trial and error attempts at repair will take. Then if equipment needs to be replaced, how long will be the search for the new piece? I must also take into account if this trouble is intermittent. Any estimated time of repair includes waiting for the trouble to make its appearance. Adding the sums, inventing difficult moments and lucky breaks, and taking into account just how many times the customer will call demanding escalations, I throw all these calculations into a pot and stir. But escalations are particularly difficult.

Escalations require dropping the ongoing repair work to take the time to contact the appropriate level manager and then discuss the matter with them. It can take a long time to reach a manager who is dead asleep and who left their pager in the briefcase on the coffee table in the living room downstairs.

My irate customer wants me to force order on to the unpredictable universe in order to lull them with a sense of security. My customer needs to believe I am an omnipotent being. If however the technician en route gets a flat, if the faulty equipment refuses to cooperate when the technician arrives by running perfectly thus disguising any trouble, if a replacement for a broken piece of equipment is not immediately at hand, the customer does not think it is the universe that is out of kilter, but me personally. I'm the one the customer has trapped on the telephone. Having failed to control and predict destiny, the customer will either commend me to the devil or condemn me to my upper management.

So I tell the customer "three and a half to four hours". This is not prophecy, but how long I feel I can reasonably put the customer off. The customer will then call again, but who knows, maybe by that time the trouble might be fixed. Meanwhile, I will be able to get some work done, perhaps even on their problem.

I should have stayed with my decision at ten years of age to become a paleontologist.

Bruce Bentzman

This is the fifty-fifth in a series of regular reports from the life and times of Mr Bentzman. If you've any comments or suggestions, the writer would be pleased to hear from you.
Mr Bentzman's collection of poems, "Atheist Grace" is now available from Amazon, as are "The Short Stories of B.H.Bentzman"