Saturday, October 2, 2010

Thank You for Your Interest, Now Shut Up!

I saw a great example of the administrative “go away” letter this week. A faculty member had publicly asked for financial data concerning the university’s athletic program. In due course, the administration produced a letter that politely told the faculty member to go suck eggs.

“Thank you for your recent letter requesting to know exactly why the administration of this university continues to pound money down a rat hole while simultaneously selling off most of the library on Ebay. Rest assured that this complicated issue is being seriously studied by top men. Repeat, top men. In the meantime, we are conducting a profound investigation on all levels and a report will be made public in due time.”

By now, no doubt the report is finished. To paraphrase Douglas Adams, it is somewhere in the basement of the administration building “clearly posted in a locked filing cabinet in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the leopard.’”

This is not the best brush off I have ever read, but it comes in second. The all time prize winner was received by a friend of mine, Mabel.

Mabel had to go to California to visit her sister, and decided not to fly. Who can blame her? In today’s world, traveling by airline has all the attraction and charm as being sentenced to a weekend in the county jail. I apologize, that’s an exaggeration. We all know jails have better food.

Mabel checked on available flights and eventually decided to travel by train, something she had not done in well over 30 years. The very idea was exciting; it would turn an ordinary trip into an adventure. Mabel, obviously excited, could hardly wait.

Finally, the day of the trip arrived. Mabel boarded the train, and was promptly seated in a spacious and modern passenger car. Her seat was comfortable and the view of the countryside as she made her way to California was breathtaking. Absolutely happy, Mabel was truly enjoying herself when suddenly a small red bug began crawling up her leg. Naturally, she brushed it off and went back to enjoying the view out the window.

Within minutes however, she noticed another small red bug crawling across her seat. Soon, she began seeing the bugs almost everywhere; on the window ledge, the floor, her seat, and most upsetting, she found several crawling on her clothing. While the tiny bugs didn’t bite, sting, or even fly around, the sheer number of them made her miserable. For the entire trip, she was engaged in constantly looking for, finding, and brushing away the small red insects.

Naturally, her trip was ruined, she arrived in California a nervous wreck, and decided immediately that her return trip she would be by airline. A week later, safely back in New Mexico, she wrote a strongly worded, but still polite, letter of protest to the president of the railroad.

Two weeks later, Mabel went to her mailbox and found a large envelope from the railroad. Not even waiting to go back inside her house, Mabel eagerly tore open the envelope and removed a letter on embossed stationary.

Dear Mabel,

I was distressed to hear about your recent unfavorable experience on our railroad. As we make every possible effort to make our trains both professional and enjoyable, I took a personal interest in your case and had your incident thoroughly investigated.

The passenger car on which you rode had just come to New Mexico from the east coast. En route, the car was shunted to a siding in Alabama for two days while repairs were made to a nearby bridge. It is my opinion that during those two days your car inadvertently became infested with the insects that inconvenienced you on your trip.

Please rest assured that we have taken steps to ensure that this incident will not occur again. I have personally designed an inspection and extermination program for all passenger cars left on sidings for more than 8 hours.

While no apology can eliminate your unfortunate experience, I hope that you will at least find solace in this explanation.

Sincerely apologetic,
Benjamin Forest, President

Mabel was understandably touched by the personal attention shown by the railroad president. Her anger was completely forgotten as she folded the letter back into the envelope. As she did so, a small yellow post-it note fluttered to the ground. Mabel picked up the note and read:

Bob, send this bitch the bug letter.

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