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by Abigail Van Buren

Dejected Mother Frets That Son Is Forgotten Overseas

DEAR ABBY: I am a directory assistance operator who would like to pass on some advice to our callers:

We do NOT know your Aunt Martha who lives behind the Kmart store, and we no longer sit in the back room at a switchboard at the local drugstore. We may not even be located in the state you are calling.

When you dial directory assistance, please be prepared to provide the city, state and the first and last names of the person whose number you need, or the complete name of the business. A street name helps for common names.

Please have your pencil and paper ready to write down the number. We cannot wait five minutes while you hunt through drawers or glove compartments, or worse, put the phone down to look in another room. Our contract with your phone company usually requires that we finish each call within a short time, and we can lose that contract if we cannot comply.

And please, do not swear at us or call us names if we are unable to help you. Our information is only as good as what's provided by your local carrier to our database. We really do try our best to help you.

Thanks, Abby, for helping spread this message on behalf of thousands of hardworking operators. -- SMILING INTO THE SPEAKER

DEAR SMILING: I'm pleased to pass along your commonsense suggestions. Because so much of the telephone information system has become automated, callers do need to have pencils handy and give clear information when requesting a number. And when someone is lucky enough to actually be connected to a living, breathing, flesh-and-blood human being (yes!), abusing the person is not only unproductive, it could get you disconnected.