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But I Do Like Silence

August 2, 2014

Recently, I’ve made a few phone calls to a software support phone number for help nobody else could offer me. They alone held the keys to the progress I very much needed to make at those particular moments.

I avoid some “Contact Us” links on websites with the strength of a State Fair prize-winning bull. Phone trees leading to nowhere make me feel like a dupe. Worse of course are the call centers with employees tied to carefully written scripts and managed to set outcomes that make you start cursing Alexander Graham Bell and his clever invention. Comcast, for example. Calls to them are a nightmare.

But the customer service group at the software company is not like Comcast. They are pretty good. They are knowledgeable about the software, courteous and friendly. And the best part is, they don’t have a script or any intended outcome except to help me get on my way with my work.

There is one thing that gets to me, however. At the start of the call, I’m put into a computer script that tells me to engage with a “press 1, press 2…” process that leads to a database search for my account with them. It’s brief and only slightly annoying. But when I follow the instructions, I’m then told by the computer, “…while we look up your account, you will experience several moments of silence.”

Well of course, I won’t. I only experience a moment of silence. I could only experience “several moments of silence” if there were interludes of sound to break up the period of time before I was addressed by the computer or the friendly voice that succeeded it. But there are no intervening sounds – no Muzak, no advertisements telling how important my customer satisfaction it to them, nothing. Just silence.

I would experience moments of silence from their system if I called them twice, but a single session without a break doesn’t give me moments of silence.

I. A small quantity of something, esp. a very short period of time.
1. An indefinite (usually short) period of time, esp. one too brief for its duration to be significant; a point in time, an instant.
Oxford English Dictionary

If I thought the person picking up the phone of the $4.5 billion software company could get my message across to someone who could fix this, I’d tell them about it. For now, it’ll remain a topic of discussion here and when with others who will indulge me.

And while I’m at it, the other part of this that doesn’t seem quite right is the use of the phrase, “moment of silence” for these purposes. It seems to me that it’d be better to say, “a period of silence.” We usually think of a moment of silence as a period to shut up and meditate or pray, not to wait for a computer’s database search for an account number.

Just this week, on the seventieth anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising against the German Nazis, the Polish commemorated their ancestors with a seventy-second moment of silence. At 8:46 a.m. each September 11, many Americans take a moment of silence to remember the people who lost their lives at the hands of lunatics who on that day in 2001 turned airplanes into weapons. This past April, Barack Obama and many other Americans had a moment of silence to remember the people murdered at the Boston Marathon last year.

Out at the ballpark this year, the game and surrounding circus of concessions, advertisements, and manipulations of emotions have stopped for several moments of silence. Each of these moments are independent from one another and separated by time and lots of noise. They include remembrances for Tony Gwynn, Don Zimmer, Bob Turley, and Bob Welch, and on Memorial Day for the men and women who lost their lives while serving in our military.

We seemed to take part in a lot of moments of silence when the boys were in school. Open houses, parents’ meetings, field trips, and other gatherings were all opportunities for a moment of silence. These were routine in Waldorf School and then the Catholic High School.

Of course, moments of silence don’t come so easy in the public schools. When people in Alabama used the cover of a moment of silence for prayer in the school, the Supreme Court ruled in 1985 that it was nothing other than another attempt to bring religion into the schools. They were told to keep it at home.

I’m not sure how a true and independent moment of silence that each school child or teacher held to themselves would harm anyone. We all could use a little more quiet and reflection in this noisy world. But things don’t work out that way. Inevitably, religion will be the motivation for some and then all bets are off. Silence will turn into prayer and prayer includes fervor, animation and sounds that will encourage fellow believers to follow suit, but also create unease and cause tension with others. Everyone will rue the day the gates were opened.

I don’t remember praying in school. Of course, everyday we pledged our allegiance to the flag. Francis Bellamy, a Baptist minister, wrote the Pledge of Allegiance in 1892. He published it in a children’s magazine to mark the four hundredth anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s trip to America. The pledge was written to be spoken in fifteen seconds and was limited to twenty-two words:

I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Bellamy also wanted to include the words “equality” and “fraternity”, but was forced to pull them out because of the nationwide resistance to thinking of women and African-Americans in that way. By the time I was a school boy, the pledge was changed three times.

In 1923, in order to help everyone understood that when they were staring at an American flag reciting the pledge that they were supposed to be expressing loyalty to their birth country (there was heavy immigration into the U.S. from Europe at the time) the words “my Flag” were changed to “the Flag of the United States.” The third change was to make it even clearer, that the “United States” we were talking about were the “United States of America.”

The final edits to the Baptist’s minister’s original words was made in 1954. With the encouragement of Dwight Eisenhower, Congress sent legislation to Ike’s desk for a change to add “under God” to the pledge. Thus, each morning for every day I attended grade school, I stood at the side of my desk and recited with my classmates and teacher the following twenty-eight words. (There’s no way that it took us fifteen seconds. Closer to nine or ten, I think.)

I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Trib Humphrey 68

August 29, 1968

I don’t remember any moments of silence in grade school. Not even on the days the headlines of the morning papers told us that Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were shot. I had a very profitable morning paper route, holding the neighborhood franchise for the Chicago Tribune and the Sun Times. So before the school bell rang, I was always current with the sports scores and news about my favorite teams. To the extent possible for a young child, I also followed the news of the day. I saw plenty images of helicopters flying in Vietnam, American cities under siege and burning, and of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley bellowing about this or that.


June 5, 1968

I distinctly remember the dispirited feeling I had when the papers read that Robert Kennedy was shot. Of course, I couldn’t have known if he was the best presidential candidate for the times. But I had already learned that I hated the Vietnam War and had the sense that it would be someone like Kennedy who would put an end to it. Further, I was simply disgusted and confused about how this violence was so common. I hated the person who shot Kennedy and wondered why someone would do something like that.

I walked to school that day alone. I prayed that this was not really happening and if it did, that Kennedy would survive. I followed this with a moment of silence before I arrived to school. With just a very few days until the summer break, I stood at the side of my desk and said the pledge of allegiance once more. The next day, a young boy rolled the newspapers at dawn and set out on his bicycle once more.


today at the track
2 or 3 days after
the death of the
came this voice
over the speaker
asking us all to stand
and observe
a few moments
of silence. well,
that’s a tired
formula and
I don’t like it
but I do like
silence. so we
all stood: the
hookers and the
madmen and the
doomed. I was
set to be dis-
pleased but then
I looked up at the
TV screen
and there
standing silently
in the paddock
waiting to mount
stood the other jocks
along with
the officials and
the trainers:
quiet and thinking
of death and the
one gone,
they stood
in a semi-circle
the brave little
men in boots and
the legions of death
appeared and
vanished, the sun
blinked once
I thought of love
with its head ripped
still trying to
sing and
then the announcer
said, thank you
and we all went on about
our business.

– Charles Bukowski
the hookers, the madmen and the doomed

From → America, Life, Technology, War

  1. Classic Bukowski, isn’t it? Nice post as well!


  2. I so enjoy the way you expound on the bits that hit your mind. Of course, there are others out here that take a snippet from a recording heard while on hold, and take it all the way to the assassination of Robert Kennedy, but none that I know of who do it so well in blog form.

    Me personally, I press the point when recordings annoy me. I ask the human whose voice finally surfaces, to explain to me why the phone menu always asks me to enter my account number “to assist your customer representative,” and when that very representative comes on line the very first thing they ask for is for me to state my account number. I am polite, but I press it. “So, nowhere on your computer screen does it say my account number?” “No, ma’am.” “Can you please report to your management that customers are being forced to report identifying information that is purportedly to assist you representatives, but is instead being lost into the abyss, thus requiring you to ask for the information?” “Uh, ok. I’ll tell them.”

    I am certain that my method is equally effective as yours in which you choose to say nothing. 😉


  3. Hi Crystal. Thank you for the kind words. I have tried your approach with Comcast. I get passed from one person to the next and every time I need to give them the same basic information and also tell them the reason I am calling. Once, I asked one of them couldn’t they just look at their screen, so we can get on with it and was told that it wasn’t possible. I didn’t believe it. Still don’t.


  4. Well said. You’re right, but I can forgive that if they only meant there would be silence. Too often they interrupt it every 20 seconds or so to remind me to have my credit card ready.


  5. That’s right, Rebecca. Please have your credit card ready in order to “provide you better service” (and keep our call center employees moving at an unsustainable quick pace).


  6. Bruce … so much to contemplate in this post.
    the annoyance of phone support, the moment of silence from a non-prayer perspective, the pledge of allegiance and changes to it, and finally that poem.
    Just what I needed to get my brain going, along with my coffee, on my first day back to work after vacation.


    • It’s back to work with a large pack of vacation moments to carry you through the week and beyond. I hope it was as you liked, Laurie.


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