Bridget, Goodbye

“Hello, this is Bridget.   This is an urgent call about your credit card account….”

Perhaps you’ve had the experience at least once in your life of blowing somebody off, sending them packing, ever so gently, but resolutely, with a well-rehearsed sayonara.

The Library of Congress has a whole wing devoted to archiving songs and scenes written about the countless techniques and art of saying goodbye.    Bogie melts the runway around Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca.   Arnold blasts away the T1000 in Terminator 2. Simon & Garfunkel raise the ante with “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover”.  The group Train meets that bet with a creative assembly of exits in “50 Ways To Say Goodbye”.

I am happy to reveal #51–  “Press 3”.

This is the specific and business-like instruction I received from Bridget, who has been throwing herself at me for an interminable period.

On the phone, poor girl– she was only trying to alert me about my credit card, urgently, mind you, that there was no emergency, but that I should speak with her immediately about my interest rates.  She did warn that it was my last chance to get in contact.   I could do that by Pressing “1”.

Through years of comprehensive training as a sales professional, I have always practiced the rule after a closing statement, “the first person to speak, loses.”    So, I clammed up.

regretAnd then Bridget caved: “To no longer receive these calls, press 3.”


Just like that, I pounded the 3 button on our receiver, possibly pushing it so far up the line it would pop in Bridget’s ear somewhere in a basement call center in Atlanta.

In my mind’s eye, I saw her wince, blown out of her chair, frantically tearing off the headphone and ear piece.    Supervisors run over to pick her up, gaping at the smoking embers of telecommunications technology as it burns a hole in the carpet.

In the conning tower at the back of the darkened telemarketing center, controllers stare at their screens as the disconnect hits.   Lights dim only for an instant before the backup generators kick in.    Everyone is calm on the mezzanine level.   Down below, hundreds of units continue their work in the dimly lit, air-conditioned office cavern, oblivious.

Controller:   (Bbrzztchzt)  “Ray?  Unit 56 got a 3, Ray.   Can you fix it?”

Ray:  “Got it, C.   Looking it over now.  We’ll be up in a jif.”

Controller:  (Bbrrxwxschh)  “Tell me what you find.   We have a pool running up here.”

Ray:   “C, looks like 56 needs a trip to the shop.  It’s got a fingerprint etched right into its diagnostic display.”

Controller:   (Bbrrtyffszt)  “Hah!  ‘Like I figured.   That totals 235 today, my magic number.  It’s pay-up time everybody!”

Ray:   “C, you want I should shut this booth down?”

Controller:  (Bbrssttadx)   “No way.  Let’s double down, Ray.  Plug in 37, and boot her up.”

Ray:   “Got it.  I am powering it up now.”

The vast room’s gentle murmur resumes among the darkened honeycombs as Ray extinguishes his flashlight and follows the maze of hallways back to the control tower.

Unit 37 digs in for the night.

“Hello, this is Carmen.  This is an urgent call about your credit card account….”

direct mail, Education, Science

Measuring Up

Eratosthenes is a giant for me.  Let me explain why.  Just yesterday we received a generous direct mail offer of a trip around the world if we would subscribe to a new credit card. I am sure that’s what they meant, because they promised 25,000 miles on our favorite airline.

I immediately opened our atlas to plan a possible itinerary with our new found gift. That’s when I realized the brilliance of this scheme. You see, leaving O’Hare Field and traveling in an easterly direction for 25,000 miles would mean I would be landing at, yes, O’Hare Field.  No need to leave at all!

Which brings me to the real point: 25,000 is a darn nice number to describe the earth’s circumference. It’s easy to remember, and best of all, it’s miles, not kilometers. Or hectares, or microns or centipedes.

Of course, the ancient Greeks measured the earth’s circumference in “stadia”. Without getting wordy, let’s just say that the measure was related to athletic competitions and stadiums, and was around 500 feet. For instance, “I bet that minotaur will eat the slave before he’s run 500 feet around the stadium.”

Anyway. What is fascinating is that Eratosthenes calculated the earth’s circumference back in 240BC.

eratosthenes 2

One summer solstice, at high noon, he was staring down a well in Aswan, Egypt.

For you geography buffs, Aswan is located on the Tropic of Cancer. The sun was directly overhead, and he noted that there was no shadow on the walls of the well.

ancient well

The germ of an idea came to him.   He already knew the earth was round, and concluded that a well several thousand “stadia” away would have a shadow, due to the curvature of the earth. So a year later, at noon on summer solstice, he told an associate to get to the well in Alexandria which was way to the north.

diagram of circumference

Sure enough, the well cast a prominent shadow, and in fact, it was 7.2 degrees off perpendicular.

Now stick with me on this. Alexandria was 500 miles to the north, or a lot of stadia for you classicists. Because that distance created a 7.2 degree tilt, a full circle of 360 degrees would be 50 times as much (50 x 7.2), or 25,000 miles for Eratosthenes. Turns out he was only off by 2%!

And 2,300 years later– we still get lost going to the post office with GPS.

The icing on the cake here is that Eratosthenes knew there were exactly 5,000 “stadia” between the two cities. How? Because he had measured this countless times by riding a camel between them.

antique saddle

You don’t see that kind of persistence any more. Nor such compassion for his ride. Writing his memoirs, he confessed “I needed to give Falafel a break after these journeys, so I would dismount, and go on foot outside the city gates.”

It turns out Eratosthenes preferred to speak in miles, too, explaining: “I’d walk a mile for a camel.”

So: I am back to my mailbox looking for a new offer. I have not given up on the 25,000-mile pitch. But will I need a saddle?