Posted in hurricane, receptionist ramblings, weather


Today I worked the switchboard at the church I work for. The phone rang off the hook ALL day long as I fielded calls from people who genuinely want to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina. They were not my problem. Dealing with compassionate, giving people is not draining, even if the calls are pouring in faster than I can answer them.

The calls I received from people who wished to vent about various things that have gone wrong during the aftermath of the devastation in New Orleans and the people who were just generally annoying… those calls wore me out today. I will give you a sampling of some of the calls I received.


Caller: We’re from out of state and we want to know how we can help.
Me: You can donate money to the Red Cross or Salvation Army or volunteer at the nearest chapters of those organizations.
Caller: Yes, but we prefer to volunteer outside the bureaucracy.
Me: What do you mean by that sir?
Caller: Well, we don’t want to get caught up in the political struggle of the bureaucracy. We want to help people… directly.
Me: Then you would travel here?
Caller: No.
Me: Then…
Caller: Are you a black church?

Huh?! And that has to do with…

Me: Not particularly.
Caller: Oh, because we figured the black churches would be the most involved (I assumed he was implying that the black churches would be most involved because most of the evacuees in the Astrodome are of the same race… because I can’t think of any other ignorant reason to say something like that).

At this point I took a deep breath and prayed that God would keep me from losing my job if I said what was going through my mind.

Me: Sir, all churches, regardless of race or denomination, are directly involved in the relief efforts here, but you should also know that for the most part the Red Cross is in charge of the relief efforts at the Astrodome and the churches, regardless of race or denomination, are working with the Red Cross.
Caller: Oh. Ok.

Sadly, there’s more.

I had people call from all over the country, obviously parked in front of their tv’s viewing the devastation from far, far away. This is a sampling of what was said to me.


Caller: I am in Chicago. I am watching CNN. Why isn’t anyone from your church feeding the people outside the Astrodome? (At one point this morning, 11,000 people were waiting outside waiting for placement).
Me: Because, Ma’am, the Red Cross is in charge and they have not asked us, as an organization, to do so.
Caller: Where are the Baptist Men? (Denominational Organization that works with the Red Cross to feed people during disasters and has been doing so for years). I’m ashamed to be a Baptist!
Me: Ma’am, the Men’s organization has been in Louisiana since early this week feeding people there and just because the news isn’t talking about it and they are showing it on tv, doesn’t mean it’s not happening.
Caller: Oh. Well…
And, as I am about ready to explode, wishing I could slap this woman, I said: So what is your local Red Cross or Baptist organization doing to help with the disaster?
Caller: Uh…. I guess I should find out.

My point exactly.


I received calls from Idaho, Nebraska and Minnesota (who knew about the church specifically) with various complaints about the church not being a shelter during such a difficult time. I said, “The Red Cross has not activated us at this time,” more than I needed to today.

Caller: Why aren’t you a shelter?
Me: The Red Cross has strict guidelines about what buildings pass for shelters and we are way down the list.
Caller: But you have that big gym…
Me: Yes, and it has windows in the roof, and per Red Cross guidelines, shelters must be set up in places with no windows. Our church, unfortunately for this situation, is covered in windows. We also have a school and daycare facility and they fill most of our available rooms during the day. We have few rooms approved for a shelter and I’m certain we are far down the list as possible shelters. Did you want anything else?
Caller: Uh…

And, the best example I can think of that just really made me the angriest was this call:


Caller: So, what evangelistic efforts are going on in the Astrodome today? Why isn’t anyone down there telling people about Jesus?!
(deep breath)
Me: Well, Ma’am, a hungry man doesn’t hear anything but his stomach growling, nor does a thirsty man hear anything but the sound of his raspy throat.
Caller: Huh?
Me: Ma’am, I’m certain that the spiritual needs of these people will be tended to at some point, but the purpose of the shelter is to meet their most basic needs. Food. Water. Clothes. Hot shower. Sleep. I would assume that after those needs have been met, the people will be more open to evangelistic efforts.
Caller: Oh. I guess I hadn’t thought of it that way.

God help me, I made it through the day without losing my mind… and this is only the tip of the iceberg of what I heard today. Fortunately, more sane, loving, compassionate people called than the ignorant people.

I am in Houston. Let me tell you what is going on. BASIC needs are being met, albeit much slower than needed. Money is needed. Clothes are needed. Hands/Volunteers are needed. Patience is needed. Leave your criticism where it belongs (in your head) and DO something instead… or shut up and write a check to the bureaucracy that can help people the most.

There. My rant is finished.

Posted in receptionist ramblings


You know, I know better than to eat salad that a) I didn’t prepare myself or b) isn’t kept cold at all times. Bad Shae. Bad.


Friday… ah yes, Friday… well, since it was Friday, I don’t know why I was surprised when they showed up at my desk. The especially odd and dangerous walk-ins always find their way to my desk on Fridays. I’ll call my most recent walk-ins Fred and George.

Fred, a recent prison parolee (he showed me his card), comes in and leans on my desk. George has already made himself comfy on the couch and uses the phone while Fred tries to tell me his “story.” I don’t say that to be cold or uncaring, I just wish people didn’t think that they need an elaborate story to get help. In fact, the more elaborate the story, the less credibility they sometimes have. If help is really needed, first, ask for help and keep the explanation very short…like, “I need help with rent,” and leave it at that. I’m less apt to believe a person who feels it necessary to stand there and tell me some story that is totally improbable and gets more unbelieveable as the layers of the story are added.

For example (taken from real conversations I’ve had), after the second or third time they’ve been on disability while their husband’s been laid off after after 10 strokes, 5 various organ transplants (in the same person, including the appendix) and/or numerous prescriptions needed for their fibleroid catatonial leuchosis (a combination of all the false diseases some of these people have told me they’re besieged with), well, let’s just say where I work you do not get extra points or money for “creativity.”

Granted, there are many people who come in who genuinely need help. They tell me that they need help, I point them in the direction of our benevolence office which is well equipped to help, and they get help without needing their 5 various organ transplants story. Those people can come see me any time.

Back to Fred. Fred is telling me his story (which was nowhere close to making sense) and the phone was ringing off the hook, so I stopped him and asked him, “what do you need?”

He wanted money, of course. To protect me and the other people in the building, we are not allowed to give out money and we have a place offsite for benevolence (it’s with the food pantry and clothes closet). I explained to Fred this fact several times, but he didn’t seem to get it. The more I said, “no one in this building is going to give you money,” the more he disconnected from what I was saying.

I consider myself very intuitive. At this point, I should have called security, but I was distracted — so distracted that 3 callers in a row received wrong service time information, etc. Why was I distracted? The more disconnected Fred became, the more he stuck his finger up his nose and wiped his findings on the counter of my desk. (Jene’ says that the display of bodily fluids in public is a sign of a deranged person). I explained to Fred again that NO ONE in the building was going to give them money, but I could send them down to the cafeteria to get a sandwich. George hopped up off the couch and agreed. They left and I immediately pulled out a clorox swipe and went to work on the counter, totally forgetting to call security at that point. Jene’ said my intuition was screaming at me at this point and I didn’t listen. She was right. Boogeys distracted me from my intuition. UGH

Well, Fred & George never made it down to the cafeteria. Eventually Officer W had to escort him and his friend out of the building because they were panhandling in the church. W said that they asked every single person they came in contact with for money. Officer W sent them out to the bus stop, and he kept an eye on them, because he was listening to his intuition. He saw George expose himself to 2 women at the bus stop (using the trash can as a latrine — more bodily fluids in public).

Officer W sprang into action. He called for backup and they chased down the bus Fred & George got on and W was so excited — “It was like cops!!” he told me. He got to make the arrest. I know all this because he came back to let me know those two would not be coming back… and after one of the angels from housekeeping disinfected my desk, I felt even better.

It was a bizzare day. Even more bizarre to realize I could be distracted from my screaming intuition over some boogeys…

Posted in receptionist ramblings


I cannot say what her real name is, so I’ll call her Sadie. Sadie calls the switchboard periodically — in fact for a while she called us once a week to tell us some wild story. She’s been banned from the church because she used to charge the pulpit during sermons, screaming and calling the pastor names. We’re not really sure how she gets use of a phone (she’s not supposed to have one where she lives), but occasionally she rings us to liven up our day.

The last time I heard from her, she told me that virgins have supernatural power (and nobody told me!) and that she was afraid she was going to kill the drunk man who comes to visit her the next time he came over… because she has this supernatural power and he doesn’t know it. Ok…

Last week she called and said, “The pastor said Sunday that smoking in the house of God is evil,” and she wanted to come arrest the person smoking in the house of God. I told her that I was fairly certain that nobody had been smoking in the building (except for my smoking popcorn incident), and she laughed and said, “oh this was years ago, but I want to arrest him for smoking in the house of God.”

Then she says that she wants to put on a police uniform and arrest whoever it is she thinks is smoking in the church…and if we would please hire her as a security guard she’d be happy to do the job.

“Please keep me in mind,” she says.

Oh yeah, I will.

I go home and tell my roommie about Sadie’s latest call and she says, “that’s odd, there was an episode of The West Wing last week where the president smoked a cigarette in a church and it caused a big ruckus.”

If Sadie is indeed watching The West Wing, then the man she wants to arrest is Martin Sheen.

I’ve watched the last few episodes of The West Wing, just in case she calls again. Any advantage or small clue I can have in these conversations is helpful.

And how is life in your world?

Posted in receptionist ramblings


I’m sure I speak for receptionists everywhere. You know who we are. We have those earphone thingys jammed in our ears and the microphone thingys make us look as if we should jump up on stage at any moment and start singing. We are the switchboard operators, the person you call to get transferred to the person with whom you actually wish to speak because you forgot their direct dial number and the switchboard number is just easier to remember. Hey, that’s why we’re there.

I came up with this list today because I get frustrated with people who don’t know how to behave on the phone and this venting just helped somehow. Some are serious, some are funny, and ALL have happened to me! (But not all have happened at the church where I work) The moral of the story is: Be nice to the person you’re calling. Avoid the following and you are likely to get transferred to the person/department you actually want instead of a random recording.

X) When you call while you’re getting out of your car please (I’m begging you) first remove your keys from the ignition… I can hear that beep, too, and because I have an earphone thingy jammed into my ear, it’s usually louder than you think.

X) If your kids are screaming in your ear… they’re screaming into mine, too, and see above about the earphone thingy.

X) Please, please, please, turn down your radio before you make your call… and see above about the earphone thingy.

X) Don’t continue a conversation with someone else while you are waiting for me to answer. Chances are, you’ll still be talking when I answer and when I start talking you won’t hear me. Thus confusion ensues for you and frustration ensues for me.

X) If you’re in your car and it’s raining really hard… not only should you NOT be using your phone and driving… I won’t be able to hear you over the pounding rain. Remember, when you call me, I have that earphone thingy jammed in my ear… blah, blah, blah.

X) Speaker phones are really annoying and you sound like you are at the end of a tunnel and probably drunk.

X) Know what, who, why and what you are calling for before you dial my number. Be concise and to the point. I do not need your life’s story. I do not need to know that you knew so and so on staff when they were in college, that your dog just did a no no on the floor, or how many cuss words you know. All I require are the reasons you called for in the first place. The four people after you waiting for me to answer their call don’t want to know your life story either.

X) For most companies who have multi-line phone systems, the company’s main number is likely the one that will show up on caller ID. If the person who called did not leave a message, please don’t call the number and ask who called you from that number. The receptionist will not know and since the person didn’t leave a message, you are wasting everyone’s time. Yelling at the receptionist for not knowing which person on a staff of 250 called you will not help. If it really means that much to you, call Dionne and her psychic friends and then call me back.

X) Please… try to finish chewing before I answer and please wait to clear your throat until you hear the hold music. Earphone thingy jammed in my ear…you know the rest.

X) Please, please, please understand that Mr. Gehpaidtumutch is not sitting at his desk waiting for you to call him and neither is his secretary Yesther Fakke. People do get up to go to the bathroom. They have meetings. They eat lunch. They talk to other people on the phone. Get over it. Voice mail is your friend. Leave a message there. Embrace the technology.

X) I’m begging you… make sure you know you are dialing a fax machine before you push the go button. The blood running out of my ear after receiving a fax call is just not attractive. Remember, most receptionists have that earphone thingy…

X) Please don’t wait for me to answer and then hang up in my ear if you think I’ve taken too long to answer the phone then call back 10 seconds later to prove your point.

X) Lo siento no habla Espanol and I haven’t learned it since the last time you called.

And, while I’m at it, let me add some of the odd calls I’ve gotten since being a receptionist at a rather large church. You learn a lot from people on a certain “wavelength.” For example:

Virgins have supernatural power. One lady (who calls often and more than one of these are hers) called and said that she needed prayer because she was a virgin and she wanted to have children someday and that wasn’t going to happen if she went to jail… because… the knife only missed the bad drunk man by inches and the knife was still stuck in the door. She was afraid because virgins have supernatural power and she would probably hurt him eventually and therefore never have children. (Don’t worry, this woman is institutionalized and isn’t where she can actually hurts people… the thing is… we’re not sure how she gets to a phone).

God knows where the Windows XP recovery disk is and I should ask him and report back. A lady called and asked me to pray and ask God to help her find the Windows XP recovery disk she had misplaced. She said I should ask God where is was and get back to her when he told me. Then she hung up without giving me her phone number. Of course, God hasn’t told me where it is yet, so I guess having the number wouldn’t help.

George W. Bush is a Nazi. After all, his book was next to the one with the swastika on it at Borders.

What, are we neutral now? The moral of the story is… don’t fly white wedding flags during a war. There was a major wedding at the church the weekend after the Iraqi War started. One of the things that you can do is fly white flags down the main sidewalk as a part of your wedding decor. I’m not kidding, more than one person called and asked if the church had taken a neutral position on the war and they were outraged. Even after I explained the whole wedding bit these people were not satisfied. Finally I just said they were for lent and people shut up. Baptists don’t do lent, but apparently a spiritual explanation is better than a nupital one.

Censor, in a Way (35 Across) One morning, a little old man sitting at a table doing crosswords with his friends at Wal-Mart called me and asked me a crossword question — after all, receptionists apparently know everything.

I could go on and on… I have so many stories. Perhaps someday I should write The Receptionist Diaries or something…