((Background – This is an entry for my Composition 2 class. I believe I’m allowed to re-post this, however, if not let me know and I’ll remove the post.)
It’s Monday evening. My 4 o’clock meeting with the Los Angeles office ran longer than planned – by three hours. Considering I arrived at the office while the moon still hung low in the purple sky and the sun was enjoying the view somewhere over Australia, leaving the office when the moon is back in the sky is nothing less than heartbreaking.
At 3:30, I called my wife to let her know I may run a little over due to management wanting this “emergency” meeting and to take the kids to soccer without me. I’m already trying to prepare which way the confrontation could go mentally. At least traffic is moving fast for this time of day. I’m one of the usual 750,000 motorists who stare at brake lights for hours after work until “rush-hour,” the biggest oxy-moron of all time, filters out into normal traffic congestion.
I loosen my tie, step on the gas and go a bit faster on the I-75 hill over McNichols road. “It’s just a stressful Monday,” I say out loud. “Tomorrow is a new day.” I sigh and lean back in my driver’s seat.
Yes, but tomorrow is when I hand in the report to the chief financial officer detailing the quarterly loss of over 18% in our overseas division due to labor strikes caused by the workers wanting higher wages. I take a deep breath and let out another sigh – the emptiness from missing lunch catching up to my stress level. The migraine pulsating through the left temple still keeps time with my heartbeat, not letting up even after leaving work. Whoever said, “You don’t take work home with you,” never had a career in corporate America.
At the bottom of the hill, a sea brake lights and stopped cars fanned out in front of me as far into the horizon as I could see. I glanced over at the exit ramp for 7 Mile Road, cars waiting to escape the backup using the alternate route already, and I’m not familiar with this part of northern Detroit. Might as well stay put and enjoy the silence. “Heh,” I laugh to myself, and start singing the song: Enjoy the Silence by Depeche Mode. “What’s the chance…” I reach over and turn on the radio. Sure enough, the electronic snare drum hits and synthesizer chords fill the space around me with 80’s nostalgia.
If people in other cars stare at me, I don’t care. For one solitary moment, I’m happy.Transported back to my youth, singing along in my deep Lounge Singer-style voice to a song on the oldies station.
After the song ended, I found myself going back to grumpy mode. A commercial with loud choral bells interrupted my thoughts while an announcer said “Do you find yourself in need of someone to talk to? Do you ever need a place to vent? Don’t feel like you need a psychiatrist prescribing you medicine for diseases you may or may not have?” Go on, Mr. Announcer, you have my attention. “Here at Call Anything, we don’t want to talk dirty to you, we want you to call us and talk about whatever it is you want to talk about. Bad day at work? Call us and let us know all about it! 1-866-CALL-NOW, that’s 1 866-CALL-NOW!
Since I hadn’t moved a foot after sitting in the traffic jam, I put the gear-shifter in park, fished my iPhone out of my jacket pocket and swiped my finger across the screen. I pushed the icon for Mobile Connect and the phone beeped twice as it connected to the Bluetooth in my car’s audio system.
“Siri,” I said in a loud and clear voice, “dial 1 866 C-A-L-L-N-O-W.”
“Calling.” Siri boomed throughout the vehicle in a louder than usual volume. I turned the knob down so I wouldn’t let everyone on I-75 hear the phone call.
After a brief pause, the familiar ringing tone appeared followed by a “click” and a computerized prompting system. I hate these automated systems. They never translate anything right the first time.
“Welcome to 866 Call Now, Please listen carefully, as our menu system has recently changed. If this is your first time calling, please press or say 1. If this is…”
“One!” I screamed at the steering wheel like a toddler with Tourette’s. I have no idea where the speaker is in the car, I assume somewhere around the driver’s head, however I’ve never bothered to find out.
“Thank you for calling 866 Call Now,” the prompting system continued, “to connect with a live operator for chatting, you will need to enter a credit card number or a PayPal account. Fees for services range by the minute for shorter conversations, to the hour for longer conversations, all the way to package prices if you would prefer to use the system again in the future. The more you call, the more you save.”
“I could have guessed that.” I said.
“It’s common in this line of work.” The computer answered back.
I looked down at my phone, still connected, counting away the seconds, wondering if what I heard was a canned response or the computer playing games with me.
“To continue, if you would like to hear a menu of services to talk about, please say “Services.” Or, if you would rather insert your credit card information now, please say “Billing.”
“What if I just want to talk to a computer?” I asked.
“Is Siri not giving you the answers you want to hear?” the computer voice answered.
I looked at myself in the rear view mirror. “Are you talking to me?”
“Of course,” the computer replied, “you called. I’m trying to help you get to the service you wish to purchase.”
“But,” my mind started spinning and asking questions within questions, leaving my mouth open and nothing coming out.
“I am not a sentient being, no.” The computer replied. “I am a program like Siri or Google Now on your phone, only designed to listen for specific words and phrases and interpret them into strings to move into patterns for the larger good within the Call-Now system.”
“But,” I tried to make sense of this, “If you’re just the teleprompter … thing,” I looked around at other cars to see if someone was looking and playing a joke at my expense, “how can you understand what I’m saying?”
“I explained this,” the computer voice answered. “I listen for specific words and interpret them into strings…”
“I know, I know…” I cut her off again, frustrated, not knowing what to say.
“Bad day at work?” The computer system asked.
“How could you…”
“I can sense the tension in the vocal intonations within the wavering patterns of the vocal tones,” the computer answered back as if this was normal conversation, “sometimes I have to interpret people not well and send their call to psychiatric help.”
“I don’t need psychiatric help.” I said, still looking into other cars.
“I don’t believe you need psychiatric help, no.” The computer answered, “you need a good argument.”
I looked down at my phone, still counting the time connected, “an argument?”
“Yes,” the voice replied in its pseudo-female robotic tone, “you need someone to argue, relieving aggression and tension in the process.”
“Do people call you and have arguments?”
“Some have, yes,” The voice replied, almost happy, “would you like an argument?”
“Why not?” I sat back in my seat, wondering how having a virtual argument was going to release any of my stress.
“Connecting to a specialist.”
I heard the phone send a series of beeps and signals through the channels and another switch-through like sound before the common ringing of a phone before someone picked up the phone.
“Hullo?” A graveled-tone voiced man answered.
“Um, Hi there, I’m…”
“I don’t care who you are!” The man exploded at me through the phone, making the speakers crackle from the force of his voice. I jumped a foot out of my seat, my head hitting the ceiling of my car and my seat belt digging into my shoulder as I tried to turn down the radio volume, “why the hell are you calling me and why the hell should I even care you sniveling little pile of useless…”
“Wait a second!” I tried to yell back, my voice sounding like a pubescent teenage boy, cracking from the sudden shock with my rapid-beating heart in my throat, “I’m supposed to have an argument!”
“Oh, this is abuse. My apologies, but arguments are now #228,” the man went back to a normal voice tone, “we switched cubes last week. They probably didn’t change the setting in the mainframe yet. Sorry, I’ll send you over.”
I checked my pulse and tried to take deep breaths while the sound from the phone transfer beeped and moved again like before.
The ring tone sound came again and the phone picked up before I heard the click of the other end picking up. No one said anything.
“Hello?” I said into the space around me. If the people stuck in the traffic jam with me looked at me talking to the windshield, they would think I was loony for sure. “Is anyone here?”
“Yes, hello there.” A man with a pompous Russian accent returned my greeting, already sounding annoyed.
“I’m calling about an argument?”
“No, no you’re not.” He replied, sounding more agitated.
“Yes, I am.”
“I don’t think so,” he said back, “you don’t seem like the type.”
“What type is that?” I said, getting frustrated, “is there a type who normally have arguments?”
“I don’t know,” he replied in his snotty tone, “is there?”
“I would think so, yes.”
“I don’t think so.”
“I think everyone can argue.”
“Then you’re wrong.”
“What?” I screamed back, “How am I wrong?”
“Pardon me for a moment,” the man became nice in an instant, “did you pre-pay for 5 minute increments or were you paying per-session?”
This instant change of attitude threw me off my game. “Umm, the computer voice never took my credit card information,” I admitted, “I can do any of it.”
“Is there one you would prefer? Maybe start with the 5 minute session and if that goes well, purchase longer ones in the future?”
“We can do that if you like.”
I give him my MasterCard number and he processes it over the phone. In a split second he goes from nice businessman, back into the sniveling snot-head attitude he started began the conversation.
“You were saying certain classes are equal and have equal rights to privileged access?” He came back with in his argument tone.
“No,” I said, “I mean, yes, but an argument, anyone can have.”
“No they can’t.” He replied.
“Yes they can.”
“No they can’t.”
“Yes they can.”
“No they can’t.”
“Yes they can!” I said, throwing my hands in the air, like me doing this made my point to the caller on the phone any stronger.
“No,” he paused, “they most certainly can not.”
“Look,” I said, “this isn’t even an argument.”
“Yes it is?” He questioned.
“No it isn’t,” I screamed back at him. “It’s you contradicting everything I’m saying in a hissy tone. An argument are two opposite sides debating the positives and negatives on issues, not two people saying no it’s not or yes it is.”
“Yes it is!” He said.
“No it isn’t!” I said, “Go look it up in the dictionary! Besides, I’m getting more frustrated now than before when I am here to feel relief from this stupid thing. I’m not sure why I ended up here in the first place.
“You were sent here to have an argument!”
“But you’re not arguing!” I replied.
“Yes I am!”
“No you aren’t!”
“Thank you, that’s all the time we have.”
“Wait,” I said, looking down at my phone, “that wasn’t 5 minutes.”
The other end was silent.
“Hello,” I bellowed out into the air, trying to get him to respond, “I paid for 5 minutes of arguing, and we only argued for maybe 2 minutes. The rest of the time was an explanation to you of what arguing is.”
“I know what you’re trying to do,” the foreign man replied, “and it won’t work.”
“What am I trying to do?”
“Get free time.”
“I’m not trying to get free time! I would like my full 5 minutes.”
“You had your full 5 minutes from the time you connected to my line to when I said “thank you,” that was a full 5 minutes. Our time is closely monitored by computers here.”
“Fine,” I said, “I authorize 5 more minutes.”
“So where do we begin?”
The other end is silent.
“I know you can argue, I paid you.”
“I told you, I can’t argue unless you pay for more time.”
“I just authorized 5 more minutes.”
“No you didn’t.”
“Yes I did!”
“No, you didn’t!”
“Aha!” I got him. “You’re arguing! I caught you!”
“I’m on break.” He replied after a short pause.
“Whatever,” I said, “can you send me back to the talking computer?”
“What talking computer?”
“The computer I was talking to before I connected to you?”
“The voice menu system?” The guy asked, “that’s not a real person, it’s only a menu system.”
“I know,” I said, “But I had better results from the computer than I had from you real people.”
“Don’t we all.”
About that time traffic started moving again. The real world moves forward.
“Play some Depeche Mode.”
“Playing Depeche Mode.”
Better. Maybe it is better to talk with computers.