Monday, November 30, 2015

Communications Breakdown

Greetings, WYMOP fans!

Karma. The Cosmic Balance. God has a sense of humor. Whatever.
All I wanted was a smartphone.
You see, I’ve never had a smartphone. Neither has my son or his mother. I figured it was time. More accurately, I thought it was time I was able to use a Square when I do author events and sales, so I can run a credit card through my phone: cash only doesn’t really cut it any more. But there was no way I could upgrade my own phone alone. Not with a thirteen year old boy on the plan. Not gonna happen.
I upgraded all three phones.
I was going to be out of town when they arrived, so I arranged to have them delivered to two different locations: my phone would meet me in Colorado, while the other two would go to their home in Massachusetts. I arranged this with a lovely Verizon Customer Service rep, and she handled both the upgrading of the phones and their disparate delivery. She was wonderful—truly a delight to deal with—as have been every Verizon CSR I’ve ever dealt with.
Until now.
SB and I were in Estes Park, a little tourist town right splat in the mountains of Colorado, a place where cell service is a little bit like Bigfoot: they’ve heard of it but never actually seen it, and though they secretly believe in it you’ll have a hard time getting anyone to admit it. It was there, in this mobile-coverage Bermuda Triangle, that I received a voicemail alert. I froze in place—a little like when we used to adjust the television rabbit ears back in the 70s, and found that the only way to see the picture was to touch the antenna with your left pinkie while standing on one foot—and took the message.
There was an issue with my smartphone order confirmations, and if I could just call the telephone number at the end of the message and give them the confirmation codes included in the email Verizon had sent me a week earlier, all would be well.
Aw, Christ! I thought, punching the replay button and motioning frantically toward SB for something to write on. She slipped a pad and pen under my hand and I copied down the number before I lost my balance; standing on one foot while touching your phone with your left pinkie is hard in a small, crowded shop like that. We left the shop and drove around a bit, searching for another one of those temporary little windows into modern communications: a place with a signal. It was Saturday, and the phones had been slated for Monday delivery, and I really didn’t want anything to slow the process down: sure, I’d never had a smartphone, but now that I was getting one I wanted the damn thing. Besides, if delivery was delayed too long, I’d be back in Massachusetts when the phone arrived in Colorado, and that would never do.
Have I mentioned I wanted the damn thing?
We found a spot where cell service was more than a modern-day myth, right in front of a quilt shop. SB went in the shop, because, as she says, “Quilty!” while I sat in the parking lot with the pad and pen, calling Verizon’s customer service line; all I had to do was talk to one of Verizon's almost magical CSRs, I thought, and they'd fix everything. I provided all the initial information the automated system required before letting me talk to a human being: my name, cell number I was calling about, the issue I was calling about, the account billing password, the last four digits of my social security number, the town in which I was born, my mother’s maiden name, my first pet’s name, my best friend’s mother’s middle name, my race, blood type, sexual orientation, type of underwear I prefer (“Press three for boxer-briefs”), and what Bud Light camp I’m in: Less Filling or Tastes Great.
I was finally connected with a real person, who mumbled her name and asked, I think, how she could help me. She was speaking slowly and unclearly, and reminded me just a bit of the adults on those Peanuts television specials I watched as a kid: someone talking through a trombone. I hurriedly explained that I was trying to confirm my order over the phone, or, if possible, have her give me the confirmation numbers from the email so I could call their special Order Confirmation line—also that I was in the mountains of Colorado, where cell service would require an upgrade to reach “spotty,” so I was in a bit of a hurry to finish before my signal degraded.
“Excuse me?”
I suddenly recognized her drawl as belonging to one of the southern states, and realized she’d have had a hard time understanding me at normal Boston speed; she didn’t have a chance with me set to hurriedly. I downshifted into verbal four-wheel low, and tried it all again.
“Oh, sure. We can do that.”
“Terrific,” I said. “Do I have to—”
“And if we get disconnected, I can call you back.”
“Awesome,” I said. “But can we—”
“At this number?”
“Yes,” I said, then paused a beat. “At this number. Now can I—”
“Fine,” she said, somehow packing at least five syllables into those four letters. “Now, let’s get started. Can you give me your confirmation numbers?”
“No,” I said. “That’s what I was calling about. I don’t have access to my email right now, and I—”
“Aren’t you on your phone?”
“Yes, but—”
“Well, all you have to do to access your email is—”
“I can’t access email from this phone.”
There was a pause—go figure—then: “But, sir, you’re on your phone?”
“Yes, but—”
“Well,” she said, “then all you have to do to access your email is—”
“I do not,” I said, speaking at least as slowly as she was, though much more clearly, “have the ability to check my email on this phone. No matter what you tell me, I still won’t. The phones I am trying to have delivered are smartphones, but this one I’m using right now is not.”
“It’s a dumb phone.”
“An old-fashioned mobile phone,” I said. “A slider.”
“With buttons.”
I finally heard a sound: the long, drawn out suck of air being pulled in through teeth in thought. I held my own breath for what felt like five seconds or so before the most baffled grunt I’d ever heard slipped through the line to whack me in the face with the despair stick: “Huh.”
My heart sank.
Well, she looked into things for a while, and came to the conclusion that she couldn’t complete the process for me, but she could give me those confirmation numbers I was looking for. She asked for my two order numbers, which I gave her with painstaking slowness, and then I told her I was ready for the confirmation numbers attached to those orders.
“Now, I’m going to text you those numbers in a minute.”
“But,” I said, “I’m all ready to copy them down right now. Pen and paper in hand. Right now.”
“No,” she said. “I’m going to text them to you so you have them in your phone with no mistakes or anything when you call the confirmation line. Okay. You ready?”
Wondering why the hell I’d have to be “ready” to receive a text, I gave her an affirmative. The line beeped with the incoming texts just as she drawled “There ya go.”
“Just a second,” I said, tearing the phone from my ear to look at the screen, punching buttons rapid-fire to see what she’d sent me so I could write it down—and there, on the small screen, rather than the confirmation numbers I had called for, were the two order numbers I had just so carefully dictated to her. She had simply copied them down and sent them right back. Struggling to keep my temper in check, I jammed the phone to my ear once more.
“No!” I said. “I had those! I need—”
Three rapid beeps sounded in my ear. I tore the device away to look at the screen once more, and saw the waiting message:
“Son of a bitch!”
Right about then I'm pretty sure I, as I have in the past, actually heard God laughing at me.
We managed to get the Monday shipment by Wednesday.

Since you’ve read along this far, I’ll treat you to an announcement:


CAROL OF THE BELLS, my not-so-short story of traditional terror will be coming to you in all e-formats from The Storyside Press!
"Too commercialized."
"Too mainstream."
When Brian and Carol came to England, all they wished was for the most traditional holiday celebration they could find: a dance in the village square, dinner in the inn's taproom, and a lovely winter stroll beneath the stars.
No one told them to be careful what they wished for: they just might get it.

This little dollop of holiday horror will be available on Amazon on December 6th.
Grab yourself a copy. Spread the word.

Happy horrordays!

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