About a month ago, I agreed to cat-sit my parents lovely, fluffy gray cat Willow while they were in Louisiana visiting my little sister. There were perks. A huge house all to myself for two days, plenty of bottles of wine in the basement, permission to ‘throw a party’ Saturday night, and for all this, I would get paid. All I had to do was let the cat in and out of the house during the day, make sure she was inside at night, and keep her fed and watered. Couldn’t ask for a better set-up!

The bad news was, I had to close the store the Friday night before, and Birmingham is a two-hour drive away. I made it to my house after midnight sometime. Read and wrote for too long, fell asleep around 2 am, woke up at 6:30, packed and headed out the door because, oh, there was one other draw back to the situation – I had to be in Birmingham by 9 to let the cat out because she’d spent the entire day before cooped up inside. For that, I got a cash bonus. Of course I would sacrifice sleep for cash. So I got in my pathetic little car at 7am, freezing my…umm…nose? off, feeling perhaps more physically uncomfortable than I’ve felt in some time, and drove for two hours.

My activities for the day consisted of boring things no one cares to hear about, letting the cat in and out of the house, watching a football game and taking a nap. That night, Dear and Funky friends came over to my parents’ house for pizza and beer, which actually started as pizza and a bottle and a half of wine, then beer, and for me, more beer, to top off the margarita wine cooler I’d had before the girls had even arrived. Knowing as you do from a previous post, I have a very low tolerance for alcohol and sometimes I get carried away.

Also, alcohol has this uncanny ability to make one need to pee. Obviously, I ended up on the toilet. With my phone. Drunk.

Anyone who knows me also knows I am highly ungraceful, and that’s when I’m sober. When I’ve had too much, I’m a walking disaster. Needless to say, my phone ended up in the toilet.

Have I mentioned that I just purchased this phone the day before? Right. I’d just purchased the phone the day before. And it was in the toilet. Effing hell.

Funky friend offered some sage advice. A bag of uncooked rice. Otherwise, she and Dear Friend just made fun of me. I, however, was inconsolable. My phone! My life-line! I do not do well without it. I had to have a replacement. Immediately. I was no longer a happy silly drunk, I was a belligerent and devastated drunk no one wanted to be around. Funky Friend excused herself shortly thereafter. As I was letting her out the door, out also went Willow. You know, the cat who wasn’t supposed to go outside after dark? Yeah. That one.

Gah.

Obviously the only solution was to run around the wet yard in my sock feet screaming after little Willow in the hopes that she would for some reason come back to me. The raving lunatic. Cats just love raving lunatics running around in wet socks. Of course, she ran.

As frustrated as I was by Willow getting away, I had more important things to deal with after Funky’s departure. I  needed another phone. Stat.

The continuing problem was that I was drunk and could not drive. The solution: Dear Friend is also Perfectly Responsible Friend and had consumed far, far less alcohol than I had, and nothing in the last hour of our gathering.

I didn’t have to do much begging before I was in her SUV’s passenger seat being chauffeured to the nearest Wal-Mart.

Which was closed.

Wal-Marts CLOSE?!?!? Who knew.

Anyway, there is another Wal-Mart not far down the road and Dear Friend is quite dear, so she drove me to that one. Where I drunkenly questioned the only electronics worker on duty after midnight on a  Saturday night. He was unhelpful. Apparently some Wal-Marts close and not all Wal-Marts carry the same product. I’d purchased my phone the day before at the Wal-Mart where I live.

Blast and bother.

Dear Friend drove a sullen LizHarrell back to her parents’ home, then left. LizHarrell stood out in the cold and called for Willow for two solid minutes on both the front and back porches. LizHarrell was ignored, or was else the cat was incapable of hearing from the gut of a coyote.

I then got on AIM with Dear Friend who volunteered her spare cell phone. By this time, I was so sober it wasn’t even funny, so I drove over to her house, got the spare phone, and drove back to my parents’.

Called for Willow again.

She ignored me, again.

Quietly, I made up a little bed on the sofa between the front and back doors. I had a cell phone again, and had high hopes for the bag of uncooked rice restoring my brand new phone to its brand new state. But I had failed at my only charge for the weekend. Willow was out in the freezing night, being pursued by large scary animals, and I was to blame.

I huddled into a ball on the sofa and waited with as much optimism as I could muster for Willow to return home. I fell asleep.

And at 7am, Willow came prancing up to the back door as if nothing at all was wrong. Apparently the rule about her staying inside at night was unnecessary. As was my night on the sofa.

As always (knock on wood), I avoided a hangover. My parents returned home to a clean home and were not too annoyed by the missing alcohol. I never told them about the phone… but it didn’t matter. The bag of rice actually worked!

As it turns out, not all mistakes are irreversible or disastrous. Cats come home and phones dry out. Knowing that certain mistakes can be undone is really very comforting. If only it were always so easy as a night on the sofa and a bag of uncooked rice!

Similar to what I did last summer with ‘The Lifeguard Chronicles,’ I have decided to share some survival guides for the next several posts. Today, we discuss how LizHarrell survives talking on the phone all day long.

LizHarrell does not like the phone, and does not feel that she is alone. Many people have no love lost for this piece of technology, and, despite its many conveniences, would rather Alex G Bell had spent his time creating the text message so that today I would be texting via direct thought instead of on an ancient Motorola that won’t even allow cuss words in its predictive text. Anyway, I would rather carry on any variety of personal conversation through text and email than over the phone any day of the week, and wish it did not make me appear anti-social and unpleasant that I feel this way.

But, folks, this is a modern world and the phone is a large part of it. I can avoid 85% of all personal phone calls if I’m willing to really put effort into it. But at work, I’m stuck with the business standard way of communication: the phone. Email is fab, but I find that most people feel their problems are more effectively resolved with voice-to-voice communication. I get it. I really do. Especially in my customer-oriented field of work. You want a person to help you.

Problem is, you probably also want a person to help you who has some basic phone skills. Shy as I am, I learned these business phone skills easily while working as a lifeguard and even came to relish the phone answering chore. I honed my talents at the chain bookstore I rather infrequently mention these day for which I served as an assistant buyer in the corporate office. I was so good at it  that the receptionist and back-up receptionist thought it would be cool to go to lunch together most days and leave me to pick up the phone. I ask you, what’s the point in a back-up receptionist if that person is gone at the same time the regular receptionist is gone? Quite right. None.

My phone skills suffered as a sales rep, mainly because I was no longer fielding phone calls; I was making them. Or rather, coming up with every reason ever NOT to make them. Once I had my spiel down it got easier. But I am convinced it would have taken years of intensive therapy to overcome my hatred of the phone had I continued down that path.

Now I’m back on track and answering the phone like a(n almost) pro. I almost never know what problem is going to be thrown my way, but that’s sort of part of the adventure. Until I get fifteen LONG phone calls of an identical nature. In a row. Before lunch. But you know what, even if it isn’t much of an adventure, I still get a kick out of whipping out my secret weapon: Super Professional Smiling LizHarrell. SPSLH is the best phone answerer in the world. She smiles when she picks up the phone, even though no one but her co-workers (who may or may not believe her to be insane at this point) see her. She has a bright, clear tone that people love to listen to. She is the friendliest person on the face of the earth. She is helpful. She knows almost every answer, and if she doesn’t, gosh darnit, she’ll figure it out for you. She is never irritated that you are calling with the same question fourteen other people have already asked her that morning. She enunciates. She oozes charm. She is amazing.

She is obviously NOT me. But I have gotten quite good at pretending to be SPSLH. Not only do I have people thanking me on bended knee when they end the conversation, I’ve actually pulled off a major con at the same time. I am diabolical! I am fooling the world. Little do they know how much I spent the fraction of a second between phone ringing and my answering dreading every moment of the conversation I was sure to have. No, they believe I love it.

And you know what? I sort of do. SPSLH makes me better. And she can make you better too. But I recommend coming up with a new name. And potentially tweaking the gender. Or perhaps her goals in life. Maybe she should be a vegan, or something. You know, whatever works.

I wasn’t going to do this so soon after my post praising emails, but then again, I most certainly send more text messages than emails, so I wouldn’t want to leave them out. They are so little and helpless, it would be wrong to suggest they aren’t just as capable and perhaps more useful than the email. But you might not realize it, given their generally on-the-fly composition and limited space capacities.

For those of you cool enough to possess a phone that allows you to send emails, you may neglect the poor text message as a pointlessly restricted tool you only use with your hopelessly flawed friends and colleagues who don’t yet have a smart phone. But I contend that the text message is not limited, but an art form, of sorts. While unlimited texting packages really eliminate the need to express yourself in 145 characters, I still enjoy the challenge.  {Note: I know not one thing about Twitter but I suspect there are some similarities in the limited character counts, etc…} I love editing as a general rule, but there is something really empowering about taking a 200 character message and whittling it down to the requisite 145 character mark. If I can express an emotion, a concern and make plans in that limited space, I feel I have really accomplished something (though this may say more about the state of my ego that I consider this to be an accomplishment…).

Not to mention that it’s even more instantaneous communication than email is. I can’t think of anybody who doesn’t have a cellular phone – and of all of those people, a vast majority of them carry their phones with them everywhere…on vacation, in the hospital, to the bathroom… always connected. Emails are a little riskier in that case – you probably aren’t going to be able to reach your friend who got run over by a psychotic cyclist and is laid up in the hospital via email. Granted, she may have a cool phone… but maybe not! And texts are a sure-fire method of reaching said victim of attempted Cyclocide.

Before 9 this morning, I’d sent three text messages. It would have been more if the recipients had responded, but one of them has just had a baby, one is on medical leave from work and lives in the boonies where reception is touch-and-go, and the third was Hubby, who actually did respond with “ok” – and really there’s not much to say back to that. I don’t imagine Hubby has much appreciation for texting as an art form – we recently found that I am incapable of staying within a limited number of text messages per month. Come on! What does he expect? I can text my Mom now. Texts are glorious indeed!