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The thirty second shot clock

I am on the phone taking notes while my call is on hold because "our representatives are all on the line talking with other customers."

While I'm waiting, I'm hearing music intended to sooth me. Then after about a minute of music, a recorded commercial message about the wonderful service available from the company I'm calling. Then a new song intended to sooth me. The first one did, but this one isn't working quite as well. Then another commercial message about credit cards and credit terms. Then a third "soothing" song that, well intentioned as it may be, is absolutely aggravating.

About seven minutes have gone by since I called to speak to a company representative. Finally, to my surprise, an answer, a real person. I say surprise because I called this number a few days ago and eventually gave up because I ran out of time and sooth at the same moment. The real person is Jose, who is courteous, patient, helpful and provides the answers to all my questions. Way to go Jose.

While I was on the phone drumming my fingers on the table, I was thinking about the Final Four basketball playoffs, just finished. When a team gets the ball they have 30 seconds to take a shot that must actually hit the rim or they forfeit the ball. There is a shot clock that buzzes if no shot is attempted. If the ball hits the rim but doesn't go in the basket, the shot clock is reset and the team with the ball gets another 30 seconds. Good rule -- it keeps the game going. No stalling -- shoot it or lose it.

In football, from one down to another, there is also a timed interval, 30 seconds, for starting the next down by snapping the ball. If the team with the ball takes more than 30 seconds, they're penalized for delay of game and lose five yards. Good rule -- keeps things moving. Make it snappy or lose five yards.

Not as well known is a time limit in baseball that gives the pitcher only 12 seconds to deliver the next pitch when there are no runners on base. But there is no clock on the field and the 12 second rule is almost never called. Usually, the umpire will warn a pitcher who's wasting too much time between pitches. But when it is called, the ump will call a "ball" as if a pitch had been made outside the strike zone.

All of which leads me to propose a few rules that don't exist now, but in an effort to keep things moving, we could really use.

n Calls Holding. Anytime your call is on hold for more than 30 seconds, your bill is discounted by 5 percent.

n Proposals For Marriage. The question "Will you marry me?" must be answered in two minutes or the answer is an automatic yes. The wedding is not a "shotgun" wedding but a "shot clock" wedding.

n Prom Date. The question "Will you go to the prom with me?" must be answered in two minutes or the answer is an automatic no. No dangling uncertainty or the opportunity is lost. On to the second (or third) choice without further delay.

n Answer In Court. The question "Where were you on the night of the murder?" must be answered in three minutes or the presumption of innocence is forfeited.

n Choice Of Pie. When you're in line and people are behind you, if you can't choose between apple, pumpkin or blueberry pie within five seconds, you go back to the end of the line.

n Hymns. No more than four verses of any hymn shall be sung. If a fifth verse is sung, the collection must be returned in full.

n Sermons. In any sermon, at exactly 15 minutes and one second after the beginning, the mike goes dead. If there is no mike, a recording of "All That Jazz" shall begin to play at full volume.

n New Rules. No more than eight proposed new rules can be suggested by any one person at any time or that person will have to wear a sweatshirt that says JERK on the front in six inch letters for a period of one month. On the back, in smaller print, "I write the rules that make the whole world cringe."