Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Conference call roulette

We’ve all been there—you’re in a public restroom, minding your own business, when someone walks in and starts talking to you, seemingly trying to engage you in a topic you know nothing about. And then you realize he’s not talking to you, he’s on the phone. In the bathroom. Where people fart openly and do other stuff that makes embarrassing noises.

Is the phone call that urgent or the business at hand that pressing that one of the two couldn’t be put off for just a couple minutes? I really don’t get it. The person on the other end of the line is talking to you. And whether it’s your flatulence or someone else’s, they’re going to think it was yours. To say nothing of the gushing and flushing noises.

I guess if you’re on a conference call with lots of people, they wouldn’t necessarily know it was you. But if that’s the case, couldn’t you find a lull in your required participation and use the mute button instead of talking along as if peeing during a meeting were a perfectly normal thing to do?

This phenomenon is most disturbing when you’re at McDonald’s or the airport and you can most certainly find an excuse not to be on the phone for at least 45 seconds.

At the office, it’s another matter. I mean if you’ve got back-to-back conference calls all day and you’re, oh, I don’t know, getting ready for a bike race or something and trying to stay hydrated, then chances are you might feel a sense of urgency at an inopportune moment.

Still, wearing your headset into the lieu and talking while peeing is not the solution. One alternative, best employed only if you have a private office with blinds, is to use the receptacle with which you’ve been putting liquid into your body as a place to drain some of it out. Savvy campers and mountain climbers everywhere will tell you that a “night bottle” saves one from many a cold moment when nature’s call comes at a time when getting out of the tent is not convenient. I really don’t see how a “conference call bottle” is any different.

In fact, mountaineers, who have to consider with skepticism the necessity of every piece of gear they bring, will tell you that the only distinction between night bottle and day bottle is whether it’s being filled or drained. There’s not room in the pack for a dedicated flask. And besides, urine is sterile.

If you don’t, however, have a private office with blinds, then the solution is quite different and best employed only when the conference call involves more than one party on the other end (though Steve tells me it still works with only one party so long as that party is a hyper-talkative girlfriend). It’s a little game I call conference call roulette.

Simply place your phone or headset down on the desk without disconnecting, get up, walk to the restroom, take care of business, come back, pick the phone back up, and hope no questions were directed to you while you were gone. If the figurative pin happened to strike a full chamber while you were absent, you can: a) say “sorry, someone just came by my desk;” b) pretend you were having connection problems; or c) just tell the truth.

If you ignore my advice and wear your headset into the head, I promise to fart or grunt or sigh heavily as soon as you walk in. Call my bluff at your own risk.