FIGHTING PHONE ROBOTS

LORI OSIECKI ILLUSTRATION

So, I open up this bill from the cell phone company and my hair stands up on end. Come to find out that $107.43 in charges accrued when my phone was sitting in the refrigerator. (An accident – I was in a hurry and shoved in with the Tupperware.) Unless the eggplant was calling for help, this is a mistake.

But I can’t stand to call the phone company. You got to go through this robotic voice menu – “Press or say blah-blah-blah,” and no matter what you press or say, you go on hold. Then the Chinese water torture starts – they lull you with soothing music, which they interrupt every 45 seconds with “You are a valued customer! Your call is important! Please continue to hold!”

 If I didn’t know better, I’d think they wanted us to just hang up and let them keep the $107.43.

But in our family, we sic my mother-in-law on them. Larda Gunch: telephone pit bull.

We found this out after Hurricane Katrina. We all used to live on the same street in Chalmette, but now we’re scattered all over the place because we got told that our insurance wasn’t worth diddly. But Ms. Larda, and only Ms. Larda, stayed on the phone until that same insurance company threw up its hands and rebuilt her house, good as new, right there in Chalmette.

She is the champion.   

What she does, she presses the speakerphone and sings along with the music. When she hears the 45-second torture message, she sings louder.

Then when the actual human finally comes on the line, she wants to know all about them. “What’s that name?

Lindsey? Lindsey what? Gupta? Pretty name. I’m writing it down. Where you at, Lindsey? India? You a Hindu?

Don’t see much of that here; we got Voodoo. Now Lindsey, do you Hindus approve of a cell phone company that wants to charge $107.43 for calls on Sept. 8 and 9 when this cell phone happened to be in the refrigerator – my daughter-in-law, honey – what can I say …”

She always gets her money.

Then my gentleman friend Lust’s TV service goes out. Lust owns the Sloth Lounge in the French Quarter, and this week he’ll have a mob of regulars pouring in to watch the Saints. He got to get it fixed. It is a job for Ms. Larda.
 I call her up, but she answers in a squeak. Her throat is real sore and, the doctor says she got to rest her voice; no roaring over the speakerphone for two weeks.

Well. Lust’s blood pressure usually shoots up 10 points just from ordering his blood pressure medicine through the voice menu at the Walgreens. He won’t survive a phone call to no TV company robot.

So I offer to do it.

I found this tip sheet online about how to fool the robotic voice menu system and get to a real human, so I decide to try it.

The first tip is to press “0.” The robot is wise to that one. It hangs up.

The second tip is to press nothing and say nothing, which is supposed to trick the robot into thinking you’re calling from a rotary dial phone, feel sorry for you and connect you to a human. This robot don’t care. It hangs up again.

Their third tip – for true – is to babble incoherently because “If the system is not able to recognize key words or if you mumble, the result may actually be quicker service.” I got no problem being incoherent, but the robot decides I’m drunk or crazy, and didn’t want nothing to do with me. Click.

 Finally I go through the menu like a good girl. The robot is pleased and puts me on hold. I open up a Harlequin paperback and try to focus on bosoms heaving and not the torture message every 45 seconds.

But when Deidra finally comes on and asks can she help me, I want to kiss her through the phone. Then she starts asking the same questions I have just answered for the robot. I tell her this and Deidra gets snippy.

She says this account is in the name of Ralf Lust. I tell her Ralf is short for Ralfina and that’s me. She asks if I tried to solve my problem by going to their website. I say I don’t have a computer, which is another lie. God will punish me.

She asks my secret password. Well, she got me there. Lust ain’t nowhere around – his blood pressure goes up if he even listens in on these calls – so I guess. “Modine?”

No. She says she’ll send the real password to “Ralf Lust” in the mail. That’s U.S. mail, not e-mail, being as Ralf don’t have a computer.

I am still howling and stomping around when my son, Gargoyle, drifts in, home for the weekend from Louisiana State University.

“I’ll handle it, Ma, no charge,” he says.

No charge?

Come to find out, my son has learned from his grandmother, then taken it to a new level and become a voicemail mercenary. At LSU, he charges $10 cash (or beer) to deal with anybody’s robot-menu problems.

“The trick is to multitask, while selectively blocking out what you don’t want to hear,” he tells me. I should’ve known. He has been doing that to me for years.   

He pulls a telephone headset out of his backpack. This clamps over his head, and has a mouthpiece and one earpiece. He puts it on, punches in the number, and zips through the voice menu. Then he puts an earbud in the ear not occupied with the headset, so he can listen to his iPod through that ear. He also flicks on the TV and boots up his laptop. He is content.

 An hour later, he tells me somebody will show up to fix the TV in the morning.

I hope it ain’t a robot.
 

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