When you are out, you must call in

When did it begin?

When, I demand to know, did people start using the phrase “called out sick” to explain why they hadn’t gone to work on a particular day?

I’ve been hearing it for a few years, but I think only up here in New England, never in New Jersey or Florida or Colorado, where I have spent some time.

I have always said “called IN sick,” because isn’t that what you’re doing? You’re home, you’re calling IN to your office to tell them you aren’t coming IN because you are (ha, ha, ha) sick.

To me, calling “out” sick means leaning out your window and screaming, “I’m SICK!” with the hope that you live within hearing distance of the place where you work. Otherwise, you’ll have to use the phone and call “in” sick because you’re out and the place you’re supposed to be is in and you’re calling “in” to them, the bosses, who now hate you because you aren’t “in” where they’d prefer you to be, unless what you have is contagious – and it had better be, otherwise you’d better get “in” to work instead of being “out.”

You can be “out” sick because you aren’t “in” work, so you’re “out,” but you still have to call “in.”

When I worked for Travel Agent magazine in New York, we had a rule: You were not allowed to be out on either of our two press days, so you couldn’t call in sick. It wasn’t a real rule, not one laid down by the publisher, but we all knew: Tuesday and Thursday press days were all schmucks on deck because there was a lot to do. Monday, Wednesday and Friday we worked, too, of course, but we also drank lunch a lot, which was seriously not good, but nobody seemed to care.

When the office was on 46th Street, we drank right downstairs at a bar owned and run by Sikhs who wore their turbans as they served us whatever swill we were swilling.

Later, the office moved to 52nd Street, and we drank downstairs there, but I don’t remember anything about that bar except there were no Sikhs.

Booze was a way of life in the travel industry in the early 1980s, and would probably still be today if there were a travel industry. Sure, people travel, but even I book online, and if there are still travel trade publications, well, good for them.

Press trips were awash in booze. I remember an eight-day trip to France sponsored by the French National Tourist Office, which had raised the funds to bring reporters and travel agents over by getting French hotels and meeting venues to lay out cash, so the Tourist Office had to make sure we went to every venue that had put up bread.

It would start rolling at 7 a.m. and I remember one Paris morning when the first stop was a place that liked to host corporate meetings, so they wanted to impress the travel agents especially, but also the writers and perhaps even especially me because I wrote for Travel Agent’s offshoot, Business Travel News. So there we were, around 7:30 a.m., being served champagne, and we had to enjoy it or risk offending the host and the Tourist Office people. I don’t even like champagne, but I drank it.

About five days into the trip, I turned to a travel agent from California and said, “I hope I never in my life see another glass of white wine.”

He just nodded, possibly (probably?) too hung over to speak.

Oh, you’re probably wondering what this has to do with “call in sick” versus “call out sick,” and I can only answer that by quoting Dylan:

“It’s nothin’. Just somethin’ I learned over in England.”

Which, of course, makes no sense at all because I’ve never been to England, but then, neither does “calling out sick.”

So there.

Mike Cleveland is former editor of The Cabinet.

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