Dave Barry

100 years of solitude, waiting for customer service

(This Dave Barry column was originally published Sunday, November 5, 2000.)

Recently I had a great idea while waiting on hold for Customer Service. That's pretty much all I do these days: wait for Customer Service. My call is important to them. They have told me this many times in a sincere recorded message. They can't wait to serve me! They will answer my call just as soon as they finish serving the entire population of mainland China.

It's my own darned fault that I need to speak to Customer Service. We made a really stupid homeowner mistake: We moved to another house. Don't ever make this mistake! It's ALWAYS better to stay in your current house, even if it's actively on fire. If other people have bought your house and are moving in, you should hide in the basement and forage for food at night.

Because if you move, you'll end up like us: surrounded by hundreds of cardboard boxes packed by strangers, each box containing an average of one item - perhaps a used toothpick - wadded up inside 75,000 square feet of packing paper. Virtually every box will be labeled with some mutant spelling of the word miscellaneous. You will not be able to find ANYTHING. For example, I'm pretty sure that, before we moved, we had a 7-month-old daughter.

(I'm kidding, of course. We know exactly where our daughter is. She's inside of one of these boxes.)

On moving day, I was crouching in a forest of stacked boxes, attempting to take apart a sleeper-sofa the size of a Chevrolet Suburban so that we could attempt to force it through a doorway the width of Courteney Cox, when suddenly, outside, I heard the movers, who spoke Spanish, shouting something about a "serpiente." I could tell by the urgency in their voices that there were upside-down exclamation points at the beginnings of their sentences. So I ran outside, and there, on the front walk, was a snake. In other places, when you move, you're visited by the Welcome Wagon; here in South Florida, you get: the Welcome Snake!

"I'm always around!" was the snake's unspoken message. "Let me know if you ever need any puncture wounds!"

But my point, which I am hoping to get to before we reach the end of the column, is that, because we moved, we had to change all the essential services - the electrical service, the phone service, the mail service, the water service, the cable service, the beer tanker delivery service, etc. - and naturally, because all the companies involved use sophisticated computers, none of these services actually works right in our new house. Everything is mixed up. We have water coming from our phone, and we receive phone calls on our toaster, and when we turn on our kitchen faucet, scenes from Buffy, the Vampire Slayer come gushing out.

So to straighten this mess out, I quit doing my job (whatever that may be) and started spending my days waiting on hold for Customer Service, listening to the snappy "lite" jazz music they play when they are not telling you how important your call is to them. While doing this, I got my idea. You know those telemarketing people who always call you at dinnertime? I'm talking about the ones who never come right out and say they're selling something. Lately, they've been using the bizarre term "courtesy call" to describe what they're doing.

"Mr. Barry, " they'll say, "this is just a courtesy call to do you the courtesy of interrupting your dinner so I can ask you this question: Would you like to save 50 percent or more on your long-distance phone bill?" I always say no. I tell them that I WANT a big long-distance bill, and that I often place totally unnecessary calls to distant continents just to jack it up. I tell them that if my long-distance bill is not high enough to suit me, I deliberately set fire to a pile of cash. Then I hang up. But of course this does not stop them. The next night, they call again. That's how courteous they are.

So here's the deal: On the one hand, we have telemarketing people constantly calling us, despite the fact that everyone hates them, and to my personal knowledge, nobody in the history of the world has ever bought anything from them; and on the other hand, when we want to reach Customer Service, we can never get through. Obviously, what corporate America needs to do is round up all the employees in the Telemarketing Department, march them over to Customer Service, and order them to step over the bodies of the Customer Service employees, all of whom apparently passed away years ago, and ANSWER THE PHONE, OK? Because this toaster is burning my ear.

(c) 2000, Dave Barry

This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Electronic or print reproduction, adaptation, or distribution without permission is prohibited. Ordinary links to this column at http://www.miamiherald.com may be posted or distributed without written permission.