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Q: Can you explain how Electronic Voice Mail works?

A: To find out how Electronic Voice Mail works, please select Answer One.

Q: How do I do that?

A: To find out how to select Answer One, please select Answer Two.

Q: OK, I select Answer Two.

A: To select Answer One, say "I select Answer One."

Q: I select Answer One.

A: Say "Pretty please with sugar on top."

Q: Tell me the answer right now or I'll strangle you with this telephone cord.

A: Voice Mail is a system that has been developed to eliminate the irritation of being placed on "hold" by large companies and replace it with the irritation of having an electronic voice that sounds like your grandmother after an unsuccessful brain operation ask you a series of multiple-choice questions that you must answer correctly if you wish to speak to an actual human being, who will place you on "hold."

Q: Is the telephone company developing any other new products or services?

A: Yes. The telephone company is working night and day to turn your life into a giant wad of convenience. Very soon, for example, you will be able to obtain a new telephone service called Call Preventing.

Q: How will that work?

A: To find out how that will work, say . . .

Q: Don't start that again.

A: Call Preventing is an exciting new advance in communications, whereby for a $22.50 additional monthly charge, your telephone company will prevent anybody from reaching you by telephone.

Q: What happens if a person dials my number?

A: Nothing.

Q: What if it's an emergency, such as my mother is calling because she needs me to drive her cat to the veterinarian because it's throwing up critical organs and she doesn't want to mess up her own car; or my child's day-care center is calling to inform me that my child got into a dispute involving Play-Doh, and the other child involved is expected to regain at least some of her hearing, but her father, a federal judge and karate instructor, would urgently like to see me?

A: For situations like this, there will be a special Emergency Code that the caller could dial.

Q: What would that do?

A: Nothing.

Q: What if I need to reach a party who has Call Preventing?

A: Then you'll want to purchase another exciting new telephone-company service called Call Stalking. With this service, which costs an additional $39.50 a month, if the person you're calling fails to answer for any reason -- such as that he is not home, or has moved and left no forwarding address, or has entered the Federal Witness Protection Program, or is in the intensive care unit -- the telephone company's computers, which keep track of all Americans via tiny transmitters in our dental fillings, will locate the person and instruct orbiting communications satellites to aim beams of powerful microwave radiation directly into his brain, so that every five seconds he'll hear a loud voice that sounds like Orson Welles echoing inside his skull. That voice will say: "Your name is trying to contact you by telephone. Please call your name right now. This message will be repeated in five seconds. Thank you."

Q: Wow.

A: For an additional $5 a month, the voice sounds like Olive Oyl.

Q: Is there any defense against Call Stalking?

A: Your best bet is Call Handling, which was designed for when companies randomly dial your number at dinner time and pretend to be taking surveys when in fact they want to sell you things. With Call Handling, which costs an additional $49.50 per month, you simply notify the telephone company that you do not wish to receive calls from these companies.

Q: And then what happens?

A: The company owners are eaten by snakes.

Q: What about the people who invented Voice Mail?

A: Them, too.

Q: Slowly?

A: Yes.

Q: Good.

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