On Hold for an Eternity

When Heaven and Earth are away from their desks

Illustration by Brad Fitzpatrick

Our old friend Willie Wordsworth wrote, “The World Is Too Much With Us.” Fat lot he knew! In our time, the world is too much against us. Even the small, supposedly backward towns off the main highway of progress have adopted modern, progressive, highfalutin, high-tech, big-city ways.

I recently dialed the number 487-2500 and I heard: “Thank you for calling the Town of New Boston. Please listen carefully for your options. If you know your party’s extension, you may dial it at any time. If this is an emergency, dial 1. For the Town Hall, dial 2. For - ”

Well, I dialed 2. And guess what? This is what I heard:

“Thank you for calling Town Hall in the Town of New Boston. Please listen carefully to your options. If you know your party’s extension, you may dial it at any time. If this is an emergency, please dial 1. For the Town Clerk’s office, dial 2.”

So, again I dialed 2. Someone actually answered the phone. I asked to speak with the person whose extension I did not know. The phone at that extension rang.  

“Hi, you’ve reached –“ I heard myself groaning and stifling a curse.

“I haven’t reached a “g*sh d*rn” thing except another useless recording!” I said.

“I’m away from my desk right now ...”  

Well, lah-dee-dah! Isn’t everyone but Robot Voice away from her desk right now? Is there anyone on Earth, I wondered, who is not away from his or her desk right now? What about Heaven, I wondered. If you call Dial-a-Prayer, you get a recorded message. But what if you could call Heaven itself?

“Thank you for calling Heaven Itself. Please listen carefully to your options. If you wish to speak to Saint Peter, dial 1. For the Blessed Mother, dial 2. For the Big Guy Himself, dial 3. For real estate development, call Brady-Sullivan at 4.”

Now suppose you dial 3. Stand by, please.

“Hi, you’ve reached Yahweh, Jehovah, God Almighty, the Big Guy Himself. I’m away from my desk right now …”

Desk? God has a desk? Does he have a filing cabinet too? Does he have files on all of us, like J. Edgar Hoover did? During the brief rise of the “God is dead” theology, did the Big Guy destroy all the files, like Edgar did just before he died? Or did he leave that task to the original Apostles?

The recording continues:

“But if you will leave a brief message, along with your phone number, your date of birth, your mother’s maiden name and the last four digits of your Social Security number, I’ll call you back sometime within the next thousand years, which, as you may have heard, are as but a day in the eyes of the Lord.”


The Lord works in mysterious ways, his wonders to behold. But it wasn’t God who invented automated answering systems. That was the Devil’s work. Stephen Vincent Benét told us how the Devil created the original “Granitegate” scandal in “New Hampshuh” way back before the Civil War. (Surely you’ve read “The Devil and Daniel Webster.” If not, it’s available from Amazon.) Had there been telephones, automated answering systems and robot voices back then, Ol’ Dan’l Webster might still be on hold.

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