Sunday, February 7, 2010

A Strange Thing Happened in Internet 1

A strange kind of thing happened in Internet the other day.

The story goes that my boss was on vacation and I was running the ship -- the ship being a three room office with five computers, a mini fridge, and a microwave.  A long time client called and asked for my boss. "She's away," I said, or something.

"Oh," came the reply. "No wonder she hasn't gotten back to me." 

A pause followed, and maybe a shuddered sigh (I could be incorporating that from a scene in a movie). Could I leave a message for her? She was calling  from the ICU and her husband was about to die. Her husband was "going," I wrote down. "Just wanted you to know." My temporal lobe took its time hacking ICU and dying husand. In the mean time that "oh crap" feeling was crawling its way up my spine from my ass crack. 

"And now the second thing," she said. And then she kind of laughed.  I guess she was laughing because (first)  she was telling a stranger that her husband was dying, and (second) a "second thing" followed that first thing.

"Can we send out some kind of email blast after it happens? To let people know," she said.

At this point I'd successfully processed she was about to be a widow and my empathy motor kicked in. She hadn't called JUST to let us in on her suffering. She also needed something from us, or me, more specifically. I was all compliance. 

"Of course, yes. I can help you with that. As soon as you get me the text I can send something right out," I said. Part of that empathy motor was a large bouncer roughly shoving the "Send it to whom?" question from the cantina of my brain. 

She laughed again. "Oh no! I'm not going to be in any place to write. The funeral home will have something. Maybe you can call and have them send whatever they write over to you."

"Oh of course. Sure!" I said. 

"Yes, that's a good idea, right?"

"It's perfect," I said. 

I wrote down the name of the funeral home and the number to call. We hung up. 

I'm not usually in the business of taking these kind of calls. My job description does not include the responsibility of communicating messages from soon-to-be-widows. Nor am I always so as steady on my feet -- stoic is the word maybe -- when faced with disturbing tasks as I had imagined myself in day dreams. However, my job description does not preclude these sorts of requests. Really I should be open to every possibility. I design websites and extend identities through the Internet. Here in Internet, protocol is fuzzy around the edges, and in some regions completely non-existent. 

I called the funeral home. A guy picked up, about my age. I told him what was up, but it must have come out something like: "Dude. Woman called. Husband going. I just work here. Seriously. You know, writing? You give it here, damn you! I gotta email stuff to people...help?" because he seemed confused. When he asked for a name I gratefully gave their last name and the wife's first.

"Do you have a first name of the deceased?" he asked. 

I couldn't remember. Had I ever learned his name? "No," I said finally. It dawned on me that he said diseased, and I felt compelled to correct him. "He's not diseased yet. They are in the ICU and he's about to. But she wanted me to call--"

"Right, I'll have to call you back," he said. And hung up.

I sat stupidly for a few moments. I waited as if he'd call back right at the moment I'd start doing something else and somehow I'd be failing the soon-to-be-widow. Then I saw my notes and where I had written down the husband's name. We'll call him Ryan. "Ryan is going, just wanted you to know."

I called again. When he picked up and realized who I was he wasn't happy. "I said I'd call you back. I've got a lot of phone calls coming in and its just me working here today, man. So you'll just have to wait and I'll call you back." 

"But I have his name!" I declared. As if it would change things.

"I'll call you back!" he said. Click.

He called back a few minutes later and apologized. 

"What's his name?" he asked. 

"Ryan," I said. 

The story played itself out. The next day there were a few messages from Ryan's wife. I called her back and got things squared away. Ryan was the co-owner of a local business with his wife. She wanted to send out an email to their clients to let them know of his passing. The message read: "We regret to inform you of the passing of dear friend and colleague," with a picture and the birth to death years. I think he was 76. 

 That night I went out in Philadelphia to a birthday party. I guess I must have felt like telling somebody because I tried telling the story as if it would be humorous. "So I got into an argument with a funeral home employee the other day," I said. 

The guy I said it to looked at me like I'd bit the head off a pidgeon and offered him the wing. "Oh yeah?" he said. 

"Yeah," I replied and then walked away properly rebuked. 

It's just one of those odd stories you want to tell but never know how to tell it. 

1 comment:

B.Graham said...

I find the number of stories I want to tell far outweigh the number of appropriate moments or words I can find to express them. It's hard to keep it in, though, isn't it?