One of My Hang-Ups

Of all the Court cards in the Tarot, I’ve always felt particular affinity with the King of Cups: tactful, sensitive to people’s needs and trustworthy; the King stays calm and centered when the waves get rough.

Let me tell you right now that my inner King of Cups abandoned me outright a few weeks ago, at a time in which I needed him most. Here follows my tale. (Warning: reading this may induce severe cringing and wincing. Proceed at your own risk.)

For several days the internet connection in my home office had been touch-and-go, so I arranged for a technician to come out and fix it at his earliest availability. He was to come in two days, a Thursday. Meanwhile, a business colleague of mine invited me to join him on a conference call, which happened to be scheduled for the same time as the technician appointment. I agreed to join the call with the caveat that I might need to leave the call briefly to meet with the technician.

Two days later I was on the conference call. My colleague introduced me and others from his creative team to the clients, a pleasant group from a company in Canada. About thirty minutes into the call my technician rang the buzzer. I walked with the cordless phone to the door. “Be right with you,” I whispered, covering the mouthpiece, as I took his coat and led him to my computer. I took the phone into the kitchen and soon announced to everyone that I was hanging up but would try to rejoin the call as soon as possible.

The technician fixed my desktop computer problem in thirty minutes, and wanted to check the kitchen laptop to make sure it, too, was getting a strong internet signal. As we walked into the kitchen he startled me with an apology.

“Listen, I’m really sorry about interfering with your business call,” he said. “I used to work at home and I know how intrusive it can be have to stop what you’re doing to deal with repairmen and contractors.”

Simply shrugging and telling him “no problem” would have been sufficient. But I was touched by his conscientiousness, and felt moved to minimize the inconvenience. “This was not a call I wanted to be on anyway,” I offered grandly with just the right hint of confidentiality. “In fact, I’m glad you got me off of it.” I hadn’t meant a word of it, but the technician’s humble nod told me he found my faux confession reassuring. We began discussing the laptop.

About two minutes later the cordless phone made a sound. A terrible, ominous one. The continuous beeping sound that lets you know a call has just ended and that you need to hang up the phone.

My hand shot up to my forehead. My mouth, wide as my eyes, whispered in  slow motion, “OHHH SHHHHIT!”

My heart thumping like a jackhammer, I desperately emailed three words to my colleague: “Was I audible???”

His one word response:


The technician looked at me as he would a man ascending the gallows. I gamely chuckled a fatalistic “oh, well,” paid his bill, and saw him out the door. For the next several minutes I paced around the house, reliving the awful moment of discovery, releasing foul words with each new wave of mortification. That the team on the phone had to contend with our background conversation would have been disruptive and embarrassing enough; that I, a person who puts a premium on decorum and graciousness in business relationships, a self-identified King of Cups, had insulted the good people on the call (to needlessly pacify a technician!) was too much to bear.

I called my colleague and apologized. “When we hang up I’m going to walk into Lake Michigan,” I said with grave resolve, “and I’m going to keep walking until I get to Michigan or die, whichever comes first.”

His response surprised me. “I heard what you said, but I really don’t think the client did.”

I survived the day on that hope alone.

The next day I had lunch at an Asian restaurant with my friend Tom, who never lost his expression of dread as I rehashed the details of my phone disaster. The meal concluded with fortune cookies. I showed my fortune to Tom so he would know I wasn’t making it up: “Be tactful; what goes around comes around.”


(This blog entry originally appeared for a few days several months ago, and then disappeared in a server mishap, so I’ve re-posted it for those who asked about it.)