Please continue to hold

‘You would have loved this shit, dad.  Now that we all have cell phones, in our pocket or charging next to the bed while we sleep, you get calls around the clock from companies you do business with,’ I told the skeleton of my father.   

“That’s the American way, Elie,” said the skeleton brightly.  “The business of America is business, and you can take that to the bank.”   

Yah, mon, 9:30 a.m. Saturday I got another call from the Internet Service Provider that has a monopoly in my neighborhood.  I had two more today, with important news about my internet account.

“Courtesy calls, Elie,” said the skeleton,  “Jesus, you’d complain if you were hung with a new rope.” 

I know, I know.  Anyway, they’ve called six or seven times the last few days.  I figured there might be some problem with the robot that processed my most recent payment, plus a ten dollar late fee, not on my bill, that the robot had informed me was imposed.

“A brand new rope, Elie, and here you  are bitching…” 

It’s my way, dad.   Anyway, the folks at Speculum were much faster than the Student Loan people, whose recording thanked me over and over for being such an important customer and read me information about how to pay them while reminding me that all of their representatives were still busy helping other customers.   

“Jesus, Elie, the problems of the living are tedious….” 

I’m hip.  Anyway, it was only five minutes and thirty-nine seconds before the Oklahoma Student Loan servicing corporation put a human on the line.   

“You actually timed it, you petty, seconds counting bastard?”   

The phone times it automatically, it’s right on the screen while you’re listening to muzak and ads and being thanked for your time and politely reminded to please hold, that all representatives are currently still busy helping other customers. 

“The technology truly is amazing,” said the skeleton. “I can’t tell you how fascinating all this is to a dead man.”    The skeleton turned to watch two squirrels leaping after each other in the dead leaves. 

“At least they didn’t refer to you as a ‘guest’, like at so many retail establishments now.”   

I used to say, ‘if I’m a guest how come you’re trying to take money from me?  Not a very gracious host, is Bed Bath and Beyond?’.  In the beginning it got a smile from the cashier, by now it’s just a stony expression and the predictable, deadpan “credit or debit?” 

“May I help the next guest?” said the skeleton. 

Yeah, so anyway, the guy at Speculum was quick to pick up.  He asked my name, which I spelled.

“A last name unique in the United States, at least as far as Social Security is concerned.  That was verified by  your uncle Paul Widem, my brother, and long-time Washington D.C. government insider.  You can remind your readers that ‘Widaen’ was mistakenly written on my birth certificate, it was an invention coined by a nurse at the hospital with the nodded approval of her collaborator, the illiterate patient, my mother.  It became my name, and later our nuclear family name, only once I got into the army.” 

Yeah, true.  So, anyway, I spell the name for him and he types it in.  Then he says ‘do you have an account with Speculum?’

“I have to admit, this is even more interesting than watching the leaves turn color,” the skeleton of my father said, pointing up to the tree over his grave, stretching out limbs and branches bare of leaves.   

I read the kid my account number and he tells me…

“That you’ve received a series of courtesy calls, dear guest?” 

Close.  That because I am such a loyal customer Speculum has been calling me around the clock to reward me with a special promotion.   

“Ah!” said the skeleton. 

I tell the kid, listen, I don’t have a land line or a television set, so I don’t need phone or cable service.  I’d appreciate being taken off the promotions list for these bundles.   Then, because I’d just spent ten minutes getting  useless and incomplete information about the repeated courtesy calls from the private Student Loan servicing corporation (they hadn’t yet received the payment I sent last week, had no record that I need to immediately re-certify my income to stay on the new income-driven repayment plan), I couldn’t help myself.   

“That’s my boy,” said the skeleton, “chip off the old crock.”

I told the kid the CEO of Speculum makes $98,000,000 a year, highest paid CEO in the U.S., and that all of the unionized technicians are still on strike, that Speculum, which has a monopoly in my area, has raised my rates every single year so that I am now paying almost double my “promotional” rate from three years ago, plus a brand new 25% late fee if you pay after a due date that does not appear on your invoice.   

“Fair is fair, Elie, they have a monopoly, what are they supposed to do?  Give you a break, sucker?”

One of us born every minute, dad.   Anyway, the kid tells me he’s sorry for all the calls about the promotion and that he’ll take my name off the promotions list.  Then he informs me it will take up to thirty days for the calls and letters to stop. 

“Is there no end to this courtesy call, Elie?” the skeleton said.

Yeah, that’s it.   

“So this was just a courtesy call?” said the skeleton.

Basically, yeah.  No action on your part is required.  However, if you wish to take action, we couldn’t care less, knock yourself out, be our guest. 

“Action-taking knave,” said the skeleton. 

I wouldn’t dream of taking action, dad. 

“No you wouldn’t, that’s the last thing you’d dream of,” said the skeleton, “now, if you’ll please excuse me, Elie, I have to take some action — get back to my nap here in my eternal dirt bad.”

Pleasant dreams. 

“Zzzzzzz….” said the skeleton, with exaggerated fatigue.

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