The other day I noticed the dog chewing on some antlers in the yard. This in itself is not strange, because we have plenty of skulls and antlers around here – hogs, elk, axis deer – they are pretty easy to find out in the Hill Country. But these were a beautiful curved 6-point set whitetail antlers. When I went to get them from her, I saw that they were still tagged! (For those not familiar with hunting, you have to put a state-issued tag anything on you shoot, to prove you were hunting legally.)
Obviously she had brought them home from one of the neighbors, but I had no way of knowing which one, so I called the toll-free number on the tag.
The automated answer was pretty standard:: RIng ring ring ring -” If you know the extension of the party you are calling, you may dial it now. If you are calling for wildlife, press one; fishing, press two, licensing, press three, criminal trespass, press four, education, press five. For anything else, stay on the line, and an operator will assist you.” What was odd to me was that it never once identified the agency I had reached! I knew this was not Texas Parks and Wildlife, but I had no idea who exactly it was.
After listening to this repeat at ten-second intervals for five minutes, I finally got an operator. She said, “How may I direct your call?”
Me: I don’t know, my dog brought home some antlers with your tag on them, and I am trying to find out their owner.
Operator: (quiet chuckle) Okay, I will give you to licensing.
Now I got a whole new automated response to listen to, and it was pretty amusing. First I got the usual “Your call is very important to us. Please stay on the line. All operators are busy assisting other people, but as soon as somebody becomes available, they will help you.” This alternated with an series of announcements from some as-yet-unidentified Fish and Wildlife Department.
The announcer had the soothing deep voice of a Good Old Boy, but each of his important announcements was preceded by a shrill frog call, accompanied by a background frog chorus, and interrupted at a critical point – “REEEE! ribbit, ribbit, ribbit… Nature is closer to all citizens with the opening of our new nature centers in – – ” cut off by “Your call is very important to us…”
“REEEE! ribbit, ribbit, ribbit… If you were born after 1968, you must have a boating education permit to pilot a boat. To find out more, go to – – ” “Your call is very important to us…”
“REEEE! ribbit, ribbit, ribbit… As you probably know, frogs and toads are indicator species for pollution levels, quickly exhibiting mutations when pollution levels are high. Two-headed, six-legged frogs have been spotted by the dozen in – – ” “Your call is very important to us…”
“REEEE! ribbit, ribbit, ribbit… In 2007, a tribe of 63 Sasquatch was discovered right here in our great state, and the Center for Sasquatch Preservation has just opened in – -” “Your call is very important to us…”
(Okay, I might have made a few of those up.)
I had fun using clues from the announcements to deduce what state I was calling, but the frog chorus got increasingly irritating as I stayed on the line.
Finally a real person came on the line. He/she (I wasn’t sure which) had the voice of a very old smoker, and spoke more slowly than anyone I have ever heard in my life.
Operator: Licensing. How may I help you?
Me: I’m in Texas, my dog brought home some antlers with your tag, and I am trying to find out the owner so I can return them.
Operator: They’re lucky you’re so honest!
(pause) Are they good antlers?
Me: Yeah! They’re beautiful! Six point, curved….
Operator: Why do men leave antlers down where dogs can get them?
Me: (now aware that I am talking to a woman) I don’t know! The dogs have brought home legs before, but never antlers. She didn’t chew them up though, just carried them around.
Operator: “Look at me! Look what I’ve got!” That’s what she was thinking.
Me: (highly amused and thinking, now I know why I’ve been on hold for fifteen minutes) Yeah, I guess so.
Operator: Does it have the CID number on it?
I quickly scan the tag to figure out what a CID number is and give it to her.
Operator: Let me look them up in the system. (long pause) Okay, I’ve got it. Now I can’t give you their number, but I can call them and give them your number. What is it?
Based on our conversation thus far I am mildly surprised that they know about 21st century issues such as confidentiality, and I give her my phone number.
Operator: (skeptically) That’s a driver’s license number!
Me: No. I’m in Texas, and that’s my phone number.
Operator: Alright, now what’s the CID number?
Me: (thinking, isn’t that screen still up?) I just gave it to you.
Operator: Oh that’s right, what am I thinking? I’ll call them right now and tell them you’ve got the antlers.
We exchanged a few more pleasantries before I hung up. We did not actually discuss the weather, so I’m sure my operator friend feels that this exchange was one more example of the ungodly supersonic pace of life today, but for me it was like calling back to an earlier era, when people took their time for a conversation.
I don’t have great faith that my number was written down right, or input into the system, or anything like that, and I have not yet heard from anybody. I will ask around and post a note at the usual places in the community. And if I find the owner, I will remind him to keep all antlers someplace safe, up where the dogs can’t get them.