On assumptions and sarcasm (1922)

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by Mary Marshall Duffee

He met her at a dance, and when she found out that he held some important position in the training schools of the telephone company, she started in to ask him why it was that some of the operators were so impertinent and stupid.

“I should think you would insist on their being more attentive. I was kept waiting almost five minutes the other day on my own telephone, and when the girl did come with her pert ‘Number, please,’ I just said: ‘Well, if you have finished the chapter of that book you are so much interested in, I’ll tell you.’ I think she got the point,” continued the society butterfly, “for she didn’t say a thing, and I got the number in a second.”

The young telephone man had heard virtually that same thing several times before, and when the dance — which was an informal early affair — was over, he asked the young girl’s escort if they would let him take them in his motor to the nearest night exchange. He thought the young girl might be interested to see the operators reading their books and chatting over their candy.

If you have ever seen a telephone exchange with rows and rows of girls, each one working just about as steadily and calmly as girls could possibly work, you know what they saw.

“Of course,” commented the telephone man, “each girl has to say ‘Number, please’ about 1,000 times a day. We try to teach them to say it pleasantly, but sometimes it gets a little metallic after a girl has been on a busy board for several hours. It looks as if they must have expected us,” he laughed. “They have put their novels out of sight.”

“I’m sorry I made that sarcastic speech,” the society butterfly said, with true contrition. “I didnt know how they worked.”

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“Don’t let that worry you,” said the guide. “The girls get used to it. It sometimes rattles the new girls, especially as they are not allowed to ‘answer back,’ but it is all in the day’s work.”

That is the way usually with our sarcastic remnrks that we think of as brilliant at the time we make them, and worth repeating later on. But almost never is the sarcastic remark really worthwhile.

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