Cabbages and Kings

This is supposed to be the machine age and mechanical gadgets are considered the easy way out of life's hardest problems. We note, however, the case of Mrs. Ruth P. Emery, who had a problem, called in the very best machine, and as a result now has an even bigger problem.

Mrs. Emery's trouble was that as editor of the monthly Records of New England Birds and secretary of the Massachusetts Audubon Society, she had to sped here mornings answering telephone calls from bird lovers on the whereabouts of their favorite birds. This took also of time and Mrs. Exery was a busy woman. In desperation, and on the advice of a friend, she had the telephone company install its most up-to-date mechanical secretary. All it did was answer the phone and deliver a recording of Mrs. Emery's voice. "This is the voice of Audubon," the record said last Saturday. "There is a Barrow's Golden eye at Clucester near the Fisherman's statue, a Lark Sparrow and a Black-Headed Grosbeak in Ipswich. A Snow Goose has been seen at Plum Island, and the Canada Jay is still at Orange..." So far so good. But then the machine went on: "Please leave your message after the double signal," and follows this with a beautiful thirty second silence, compliments of Audubon, during which the caller may say anything he wished--supposedly reporting the birds he's seen. The recording machine holds only fifteen minutes of bird reports, and at the end of the tape Mrs. Emery has to play it back and jot down the reported birds.

Last week the whole apparatus made both Time and Newsweek, and since then the calls have come rolling in, one a minute, so fast that Mrs. Emery is on busier the ever trying to keep the machine clear for new messages. And to make matters worse, she now has to contend with a conglomeration of illegitimate creatures: Bald eagles with brief eases, Salton stall birds, and pink ducks with blue stripes, all reported anonymously. The finishing blow, however, was supplied by the up-to-date machine itself when it collapsed last week under the unnerving load of bird inquiries.

One machine leads to another. What Mrs. Emery now needs is a "boss" machine to tend the mechanical secretary who answers the calls about the birds that aren't there at all.