Press 1 to Hear a Familiar Voice

We all hear voices. If we're lucky, other people around us are hearing the same ones, which is what differentiates you and me from those who are clothed, housed and fed three times a day by the state. Well, that and the fact that sometimes we think it doesn't sound like such a bad idea while they think wearing an aluminum foil hat and using their toothbrush to dig a tunnel to the outside world sounds like a better one. Everybody wants what they don't have.

Lately though, it's become more difficult to tell just who those people are. You walk down the street and see people talking to themselves left and right. It's not until you get close enough to notice the wire dangling from their ear that you can tell whether the Uncle Fred they're loudly telling to butt out of their life is in Chicago or inside their head. Talking to yourself used to be a sign that you're full of hallucinations. Now it's a sign that you're full of yourself.

Then there are the voices we all hear. Or should anyway. There's the Voice of Reason, which is what tells us to get out of bed and go to work when we'd rather return to that dream about winning the Nobel Prize for solving word jumbles. There's the Voice of Authority which, in spite of what some people would like you to believe, isn't your parents, your third grade teacher, or your boss, but is actually James Earl Jones. Hey, are you going to say no to that voice? Of course not. Especially since he's also the voice of CNN, Bell Atlantic, King Mustafa from the "Lion King," and Darth Vader, which is why some days it feels like his is the only voice you hear. Well, other than the woman who tells you, "I'm sorry, the number you have reached is not in service at this time."

More than likely, that voice belongs to Jane Barbe, who was the voice of the National Bureau of Standards' time signal ("At the tone, the time will be.....more accurate than your cheap Timex can handle."), many hotel wake-up systems ("Sorry to interrupt your Nobel Prize dream, but it's time to wake up."), and more voicemail systems than the curses you've screamed when you heard "Press 7 to return to the infinite loop you've been in for the past 22 minutes but thought you'd escaped." After 40 years of telling us that "The number you have reached has been temporarily disconnected," Barbe was permanently disconnected on July 18th and is now in charge of that Great Voicemail in the Sky.

"Press 1 to open the Pearly Gates. Press 2 to learn how to retune your harp. Press 3 to get the address of a good halo polisher. Press 4 to find out why you're up here when all your friends are in the 8th sub-basement watching "Heaven's Gate" over and over and over again. Press 5 for flying lessons. Press 6 if your name is Clarence. Press 7 for an application to become one of Charlie's Angels. Press 8 to press 9. If you need additional assistance, please stay on the line and don't be impatient. After all, you have eternity."

It's been estimated that at one time Barbe's voice was heard 40 million times a day, which translates into a lot of telephone handsets being smashed against the wall in frustration. That's pretty heady stuff. No wonder everyone wants to be the voice of something. Take the Voice of America, for instance. It claims to speak for the entire country, which is rather presumptuous considering Congressmen claim to do the same thing and it's hard to get any two of them to agree on anything other than the Senate restaurant's bean soup is good and it's high time they took a long recess.

The United States isn't alone in this -- okay, maybe when it comes to the bean soup it is -- just about every country has a radio voice. There's the Voice of Russia, Voice of Tibet, Voice of Turkey, and Voice of Mongolia, though the Voice of Nigeria is the only one that tries to convince you that a big oil company left $40 million in a bank account and half of it can be yours if you'll only give them access to your checking account so they can clean it out first. Hey, no one wants to put $20 million into an unclean bank account, do they?

Even movie stars, who already have voices, want to be other people's voices. Or should I say, other character's voices. The trend in animation is to use a well known actor as the voice behind a cartoon character. The problem is, now you have all these animated characters who sound like Eddie Murphy, Tom Hanks, and Billy Crystal. Bugs Bunny didn't sound like Daffy Duck, who didn't sound like Sylvester or Tweety, so why should King Mustafa conjure up the image of Darth Vader after he discovered the joy of an asthma inhaler? Aside from the studio's desire to fill seats and popcorn tubs, that is.

I'm sure all these celebrities are raring to step into Jane Barbe's shoes now that she won't be able to tell us to "listen to the following options" anymore, but I'm not sure I want Eddie Murphy telling me the time, then braying like a donkey. Or Woody Allen saying, "All circuits are busy. I wish I was that busy." For a minute I was going to suggest that James Earl Jones do it, but I listened to the Voice of Reason. And no, it wasn't my Uncle Fred.

More Mad Dog can be found online at: His compilation of humorous travel columns, "If It's Such a Small World Then Why Have I Been Sitting on This Airplane For Twelve Hours?" is available from Xlibris Corporation. Email:

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