I press one for English, two for technical support, three for Internet problems. I assure the monotone robotic voice, which I have dubbed Hal, that I did in fact try rebooting my computer but I don’t think Hal believes me. I press one aggressively until Hal decides I’m not just f—–g with him. Ten minutes later I’m told a live human is eager to talk to me, then promptly placed on hold. A twenty-minute stream of elevator music is occasionally punctuated by Hal’s I-can’t-allow-you-to-do-that-Dave voice assuring me that someone really does give a shit and that they’re looking forward to assisting me.
It’s not like I expected them to bust out ACDC, but this mournful saxophone music clearly wasn’t chosen by someone that doesn’t want me to take a steak knife to my eardrums.
“Please,” I murmur, my head slumping. “I just…want…to google stuff…”
“Thank you for calling Time Warner Cable. This is Jennifer. How can I help you today?”
“Hi, Jennifer. My Internet connection is currently only theoretical.”
Before she agrees to help, she asks me to verify an extensive amount of personal info: name, address, phone number, social security number, favorite Jonas Brother.
“Alright, Miss Burbank—”
“—have you tried rebooting the computer?”
“Yes. Several times.”
“And the Internet cord is plugged in?”
There’s a long pause.
“Miss Burback, I’m going to take a look at the connection from my end. Bear with me just a moment…” Several minutes pass until Jennifer concludes, “It’s showing that you’re offline.” There’s some clickety click on her end and then, “I’m going to send a signal to your modem.”
Ten minutes later the Internet—and the promise of endless hours of watching YouTube videos of cats playing Casio keyboards—is back.
“Oh! Thank you, Jennifer!”
“Is there anything else I can help you with today?”
“No. I’m great. Oh, wait, actually the screen just went—”
“Once again my name is Jennifer and thank you for calling Time Warner Cable. Have a great day.”
“Wait! The Internet just went out ag—”
I stare at my “cannot find server” screen as the dial tone blares. I take a deep breath and redial.
Twenty minutes after I’ve redialed I’m still on hold. Human contact is nowhere in sight, although Hal’s robotic voice assures me that someone will be with me shortly. The endless Kenny G soundtrack makes me want to punch a kitten.
“Jennifer,” I moan. “Oh, Jennifer…”
When I try to alleviate my smooth jazz headache by removing my ear from the phone, I’m horrified to discover that the music continues to play inside my head. I decide that this is probably a good time to hang up and continue to live my life. I tell myself that whatever is causing the issue might resolve itself by tomorrow. Little do I know that Time Warner is about to send me on the kind of mental journey that drove a cinematic Jack Nicholson to snap and chase his loved ones around a hotel with an axe.
“Thank you for calling Time Warner Cable. My name is Dan. How can I help you?”
“Oh! Oh, oh, oh, oh!”
“I’m sorry,” I say. “I’m just so excited to hear your voice. I’ve been on hold for twenty minutes and I’ve been bored out of my mind. I found two spiders in my apartment and tried to race them but the big one just ate the other one.”
“Sorry. Anyway, my Internet hasn’t been working since yesterday and I’d, um… like it to.”
Dan guides me through the same procedure Jennifer did, but fifteen minutes later I’m still blinking at a “cannot find server” screen.
“So what do we do now?” I say.
“We’ll send out a technician. How’s Friday afternoon for you?”
“Really? You can’t get someone out until the end of the week? And actually, I’m really busy Friday so maybe—”
“The next available appointment is the following Wednesday.”
I grit my teeth. “Friday it is.”
“Hi,” I smile. I open the door wide and make a “come on in” gesture. The technician nods slightly but doesn’t enter the apartment.
I stand there, awkwardly holding the door open. He stares at me without blinking.
“So, um… are you guys like vampires? Do I have to invite you in?”
He lumbers past me and then stares at my computer screen for a full minute.
“You’ve tried unplugging it and then replugging it?”
“Yeah. Most of my week has consisted of a combination of wishful thinking, rebooting, and aggressive finger crossing.”
He pokes something under the desk. “That’s a pretty crappy modem you’ve got there. Where did you get it?”
“From you guys.”
“We don’t use those anymore. I’ll go get you a better modem from my car.”
“And that’ll fix it?”
He stares at me a long time and then leaves.
When he hooks up the shiny new modem, the Internet pops onto the screen and I hug him as if he just saved my baby from a fire.
“Oh, thank you!” I look around for something to reward his kind act. “Dr. Pepper?”
“No, I’m good. Is there anything else?”
“That’ll do it. And thank you so much. I do a lot of freelance work from home and the Internet is vital to my continued employment and financial wellbeing. Also I like that dancing golden retriever YouTube video.”
He gives me a look and leaves. I sit down to resume my life as a proud Googler and YouTuber. I go to check my email and am greeted with a popup that whisks the smile from my face.
Cannot connect to server.
I sprint out of my apartment to catch the technician before he leaves. I have just enough time to watch his van blow through a red light.
“Thank you for calling Time Warner Cable. This is Michael. How can I help you?”
“Oh, thank god! I was on hold for twenty minutes and then it just hung up on me. I had to call back and wait another fifteen minutes to hear your kind, caring voice. You will be kind… won’t you, Michael?”
“Yes, ma’am. How can I help you?”
“A technician came to my apartment today to fix my Internet. But it’s still not working.”
Michael insists on going through a fifteen-minute diagnostics process, after which he determines “it says your Internet’s offline.”
“Yes, agreed,” I say. “So can we get somebody back out here? There’s still plenty of daylight left. I really need this to work by Mon—”
“Wednesday is the earliest available appointment. Would that work?”
“Next Wednesday? But that’s five more days!”
Michael’s voice hardens to show me that he won’t be putting up with any of my sassafras.
“Wednesday is the earliest appointment, ma’am.”
“It’s just that I work online and I really need to—”
“Shall I put you down for between one and three on Wednesday?”
“—make money so I can buy soda and TV dinners and—”
“Does that time period work for you?”
“—still have a job by the end of next week.”
“I put you down for Wednesday afternoon.”
My head slumps in defeat.
“You win, Michael. You win.”
“Hello. Something something something Time Warner Cable. This is Fuzzlebucket.”
“Oh,” I frown. “Sorry. You sound a bit muffled.”
She says something else but it’s hard to make out. I think I hear chomping.
“Felicia, are you…are you eating potato chips?”
The chomping stops.
“How can I help you today?” she sighs.
“Well, I made an appointment for a technician to come to my apartment and fix the Internet today. He was actually supposed to come on Wednesday but he was a no show and they told me he’d for sure be coming today between one and three. It’s really, really dark outside, Felicia.”
“Mmm. You say your Internet’s not working. Let me just do some diagnostics on my end…”
“That’s actually not necessary. At this point I really just need someone to show up and fix—”
“This will just take a moment.”
I try my best to be patient, but after perusing a magazine and then singing the Animaniacs theme song ten times in my head I glance at the clock and realize the “moment” has just eaten up a quarter of my Verizon minutes.
“Spolier alert, Felicia: the computer’s offline.”
She continues to type something for another minute. Finally:
“—it’s saying the computer’s offline. We’re definitely going to need to send a technician out.”
I snap a pencil in half and make my voice sing-song chipper. “And I’m assuming the earliest available appointment is next week?”
“You’re actually the third technician they’ve sent out but I’ve got a good feeling about you. You’re a go-getter. A problem solver. I can see it in your eyes.”
He scratches his nose with his knuckle and stares at me.
“Uh huh. So they already replaced the modem?”
“Twice now. I’m going to make a bold hypothesis and say that it’s not the modem.”
“Lemme check your wiring.”
He surveys each corner of the room, then starts tinkering with a socket. There’s a series of scraping and banging noises that intensifies until it sounds like someone’s murdering R2D2.
“There. Go check your Internet,” he says.
I trot to the computer.
“It’s working! It’s working, Joaquin!” I turn to him with moist, grateful eyes. “Is it me or does the air smell like dreams?”
“The air smells kinda like Arby’s. Is there anything else I can help you with?”
“No. I mean, it’ll work for good now…right?”
“Thank you so much. I was afraid I was going to have to keep calling customer service again and again and again. That hold music makes me want to kick a dolphin in the face.”
He thanks me for being a valued Time Warner customer and I thank him for being an Internet god. He leaves and I sit in my computer chair. I’m practically giddy. I feel like an otter being reintroduced to the wild after having oil spill sludge violently scrubbed off my body by an eco-hippie.
Fast-forward two hours:
“Cannot find server.”
“You said the technician left exposed wires hanging out of a socket, ma’am?”
“Yeah. Before he got the Internet to work for a nanosecond he was fiddled with different things throughout the apartment. After he left I noticed a socket hanging off the wall with frayed wires dangling out. And these are not friendly-looking wires. I’m pretty sure if I throw popcorn kernels at them I’ll instantly have a delicious snack.”
“But they’re in a corner? Away from major traffic?”
“Yeah, but still,” I say. “This hodgepodge of frayed wires is how you kill a shark at the end of a Steven Spielberg movie, not something to be considered safe decorum. Thank god I’m not the owner of a curious toddler. He would’ve been a Jackson Pollock painting all over my walls by now.”
“Alright. I’m checking technician availability and we can send someone out next Monday if that works for—Miss Burback? I’m sorry but I didn’t catch what you just said. Are you—are you crying?”
“No,” I snap. “But I am taking deep breaths into an empty McDonald’s bag. Can I please speak to a supervisor? I’d like to think that given the duration of the problem, someone at the management level might be willing to help accelerate the—”
“My supervisor’s currently on the phone. Would you like me to have her call you back? It should be less than ten minutes.”
“That would be great, thanks.”
I keep my phone handy as I reach for the cheesy self-help book a relative recently forced upon me. I frown at the book’s cover: Who Moved my Cheese? “The answer is Time Warner,” I mutter. “Time Warner Cable moved my cheese.”
I read a chapter.
Hours pass. Birds stop singing outside and dusk streaks the sky. I realize I’m going to have to go through the thirty-minute “please hold” procedure just to ask a customer service rep what shiny object diverted the supervisor’s attention for six full hours.
I pop a preemptive Tylenol and soon I’m listening to the fuzzy hold music that has become my daily soundtrack.
“They said what?” my latest customer service rep says thirty minutes later after I’ve explained the scenario. “I’m sorry the last customer service rep told you that. But our supervisors rarely return calls in the first twenty four hours.”
“I’m sorry about that,” the chipper voice continues. “But if you like, I can set up an appointment for a technician to come fix your Internet. How does next Tuesday work for you?”
“The technician came and your Internet’s still not working? Are you sure?”
“Trust me. I wouldn’t mentally block out the day I no longer had the urge to stab myself in the eye with a ballpoint pen every time I glanced at my computer. I need someone to fix this—please stop sending technicians that simply replace my modem and then give me a high five. I’d like a skilled manager or supervisor to come to my apartment, hold me close, whisper that everything’s going to be okay, and then permanently fix my Internet.”
“Why don’t I see if—”
I grip the phone tight.
“I’m so sorry you were disconnected, Miss Burbank—”
“Burback. So can we have a supervisor come out and fix this problem?”
“Sure. I’m going to expedite this issue and—”
She pauses when I emit a giddy squeal.
“I’m sorry,” I say. “It’s just that no one has used the word expedite yet.”
“Would tomorrow between one and three work for you?”
“Yes! Oh, thank you! Normally they make me wait three days.”
“Well, we had a cancellation so you’re in luck.”
It’s like winning a race because the guy in front of you’s head suddenly exploded… but I’ll take it.
The technical supervisor stares at my computer, then at me. I don’t like the bewildered expression on his face. And I really don’t like what he says next.
“Yeah, I honestly don’t know why they sent me over. This clearly isn’t a modem issue at this point. And it says in this case file they’re pretty sure the problem is an outdoor one. Probably underground cables.” He points toward the sky. “So, yeah…not sure why I’m here, really. I’m just an indoor technician. So you need to call them and tell them you’ve got an outdoor problem. They can probably send someone in a couple days. Anything else I can help you with?”
The noise I make falls somewhere between “extremely forlorn human” and “dying howler monkey.”
“Hmm. I’m looking at your chart and it shows you’ve been contacting us quite a bit.”
I was annoyed by the way she said it, as if I were Time Warner’s creepy ex-girlfriend that wouldn’t stop calling.
“I call quite a bit because the service I pay for every month hasn’t worked in weeks and no one at Time Warner seems terribly concerned about this… although your billing department hasn’t missed a beat.”
“It says we just had a technician over.”
“Yeah. He fixed the frayed crackling wires in the corner so I don’t end up on 1,000 Ways to Die, but my expectations were higher. Working Internet higher.”
“Maybe I can assist you. Can you do me a favor and check to see if the modem is plugged in? You’d be surprised how many—”
I take a deep breath and try to think of puppies and rainbows and daffodils and all that jazz but all I can picture is the Time Warner Cable headquarters blowing up like a Peep in a microwave.
“The technician told me that my problem is now apparently an outdoor issue,” I say through violently clenched teeth. “And he wasn’t an outdoor technician, you see. Here’s the deal, Cindy: I need someone over here that can actually fix this, not someone that enters my apartment looking like one of those dogs that wanders into a room and immediately forgets why he’s done so. And no more of this ‘but I’m an indoor cat’ bullshit, either. If your records say it’s an outdoor issue, I need someone willing to go outside.”
“Well, okay… we can send another technician out next—”
“Next as in not this week.”
She gives me options for appointments next week—one—and asks if it works for me.
“I’ll be out of town that day,” I say, trying not to panic.
“Is there someone that can let the technician in?”
“Well…I can have someone in my apartment’s rental office give him a key.”
“Great. So then the technician has permission to enter without your presence?”
I do a quick mental comparison of the concept of an unaccompanied stranger in my home vs. no Internet forever. Stranger wins. I’m to the point of desperation where I don’t care if a technician spends half his day masturbating into my shampoo bottle while wearing my panties as a ski mask—as long as he fixes the Internet. And besides, when it comes to stealing, my apartment isn’t exactly a garden of material temptation. Something tells me I’m not going to come home and exclaim, “Holy crap! He took the Dumb and Dumber VHS and the Funyuns!”
“So I’ve made a note here that the tech will be entering without your presence.”
“Great,” I say. “Just please, please…don’t let him leave without fixing it.”
“Of course, ma’am! You have a lovely day now.”
I have another question but it’s answered with dial tone.
I return home and see the note I’d left for the technician on my front door. It reads:
Dear Time Warner technician,
Today is an exciting day for you because you have the opportunity to halt someone’s descent into madness. Please, please, PLEASE do not leave until this Internet issue is permanently resolved. Hauling your laptop to Starbucks late at night and fending off the advances of an aggressive hobo just to check your email is no way to live. The office has a key waiting for you at the front desk. Thanks in advance!
On top of my note is a little slip of paper that says:
Sorry we missed you! Please call Time Warner Cable customer service to reschedule your appointment.
—Time Warner Cable
I take a deep breath. I will not cry. I will not cry. I will not…
And I don’t cry. But I do yell some HBO words loud enough to scatter a flock of pigeons.
“Well, of course he didn’t go into the apartment, ma’am. An adult eighteen or over needs to be on the premises for the technician to enter.”
“But that’s not what the last customer service rep sa—”
“Perhaps you misunderstood. But don’t worry—I can schedule you a new appointment for—”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“I’d like to speak to a manager.”
“I…are you sure I can’t help with—”
“Remove everything in that sentence except ‘can’t help’ and we’ve got a full synopsis of the scenario. Manager, please.”
I’m placed on hold for ten minutes until…
“Thank you for calling Time Warner Cable. My name is—”
“Please,” I beg before the customer service rep can get his name out. “Don’t disconnect me. Please just connect me with a manager.”
He attempts to address my Internet issues himself (“Is the Ethernet cord plugged in securely, ma’am?”), but I keep moaning “manager…for the love of God, manager…” until he says he’ll transfer me.
“Please hold,” he sighs.
This time I’m not disconnected. But I don’t exactly arrive at my scheduled destination.
“Thank you for calling tier three technical support. This is Paula. How can I help you?”
“I—I was hoping to speak with a manager regarding a five week-long Internet problem that needs to be resolved. Five weeks, Paula…”
“Oh, dearie. I’m very sorry, ma’am. I understand that this must be causing you a great deal of frustration. I appreciate your patience as we seek to find a resolution to your issue.”
For those of you unfamiliar with the tier three level of technical support, the voices always greet you with a “put down the knife, sir” tone. I try to empathize with Paula’s position, as I’m sure she spends a great deal of time listening to customers threaten to hand-strangle her house pets.
“Okie dokie! Let me give this a crack. Ma’am, why don’t we start here: Can you tell me if the Ethernet cord is plugged in securely?”
I can’t do this.
“Listen, Paula, you sound very sweet, so please don’t take this the wrong way… but right now you’re expendable to me.”
“I need to hear an authoritative voice. A voice that can ensure a technical supervisor comes to my house tomorrow and fixes my Internet permanently.”
Paula hesitates a moment, then says, “Please hold.”
Being placed on hold at Time Warner Cable is like playing Russian roulette. Please don’t disconnect me. I start sweating preemptively as I wait to hear the next voice.
Someone finally answers and I squeal with relief.
“Oh, thank god!” I launch into a monologue summarizing my five-week quest for Internet access. “And breaking into your parents’ house in the middle of the night to respond to a work email is no way to live,” I conclude.
“Five weeks, huh? That’s unfortunate.”
“But you have the power,” I plead. “You can escalate a resolution and do right by a loyal ten-year customer. A customer that’s always paid her bills on time and kept her malicious thoughts to herself when you unceremoniously removed the Travel Channel and Animal Planet from my standard cable package. FYI: I still don’t know what happened to the meerkat that was bitten by the cobra at the end of season one of Meerkat Manor. He was a scrapper and I like to think he survived, but now I’ll never… look, given the duration of this issue, will you be sending someone out tomorrow?”
Based on the length of her pause I already know her answer isn’t going to start with a y.
It’s been two hours since the last technician left.
He was not a supervisor.
He spent forty minutes rewiring cords throughout my apartment. As I watched him fill my walls with staples, I asked, “You really think this will fix my connection issues?” He shrugged.
Now I’m staring at a “cannot connect to server” screen and thinking that it’s a good thing the sharpest object lying near my computer is a Sharpie marker.
I unplug the Ethernet cord, then plug it back in. Unplug, plug, unplug, plug. I’m a dead ringer for Glenn Close in that Fatal Attraction scene where she idly pulls a lamp string on and off, on and off, her expression hinting that small animals are no longer safe in her presence. I recognize that a six-week-long Internet problem probably isn’t going to be resolved by me yanking out and then plugging in a single cord and that I’m just postponing the inevitable.
I grab a bottle of ibuprofen I’ve recently relabeled “Time Warner Cable pills.” I pop a handful into my mouth like Skittles. I can already hear the taunting, fuzzy Kenny G music in my head. I pop a few more.
“Hiyee! Thanks for calling Time Warner Cable. This is—”
“The person that’s going to end my suffering.”
“Aw, poor thing! I understand you’ve been having some issues with your Internet connection?”
“Only on days that end in y.”
There’s a tee-hee on her end and then: “Don’t you worry, Miss Burbank. My name is Megan and I promise to take super good care of you. I’ve got a pocketful of technology pixie dust and I’m going to sprinkle your computer good!”
“You’re sweet and perky because you have Google and email. I was once like you, Megan.”
“First thing’s first: Did you try rebooting your computer?”
“Yeah. Several times.”
“And that didn’t work?”
“It did. I’m actually just called you because I’m lonely.”
“And all the cords are plugged in securely?”
“Yeah. I had plenty of time to verify that and then some while you guys had me listen to an entire Kenny G biopic.”
“I’m just going to send a little signal from my end to check your connection. While we’re waiting on that, I’d like to take a moment to tell you about an exciting new offer.”
“You’ve got to be kidding m—”
“Did you know that for only thirty three cents a day you can upgrade your Internet service with us and get lightning fast speed?”
“Are you seriously trying to upsell me right now?”
“It’s a super deal. And if you act now—”
“Holy jesus. So you guys just threw me in the ocean but now you’re offering me a life raft for a low introductory rate?”
“Burback. You know… like it’s spelled?”
“It really is a fantastic deal. And thirty three extra cents a day is, like, a stick of gum!”
“Can you put the Kenny G music back on?”
Because to Megan “no, thank you” means “verbally waterboard me until I reach for my credit card,” I have to listen to several more “super offers” before I finally grit my teeth and say, “Megan, I would greatly appreciate it if we could get back to my Internet problem.”
“But Miss Burbank, er—Burback, these are limited time offers and you’d be a fool not to—”
“I-N-T-E-R-N-E-T! For the love of God, just help me with my damn Internet connection you aggressive chipmunk from hell!”
There’s a moment of awkward silence.
“Okay,” she mumbles.
Over the next five minutes I hear a lot of clickety click on her end, and after a while I feel compelled to fill the silence.
“So, uh, Megan…what did you really want to be when you grew up?”
Ten minutes later Megan’s chirpy voice announces that my Internet is indeed not working. “Says you’re offline,” she confirms. “Hmm. I’m not really sure why it’s… I don’t know if I should… I’m going to transfer you to another department.”
“Wait!” I nearly drop the phone in panic. “Please don’t do that! Last time someone said they were going to do that they disconnected me! Then I had to call back and I was on hold for twenty—”
“It’ll be fine, Miss Burbank. I promise.”
“I’m transferring you now.”
“Megan? Megan?! Don’t you disconnect me or I’ll come for you in the night!”
I’m promptly disconnected.
The leasing agent sweeps through the empty apartment like a cheery gust of wind. I trot behind her, nodding as she throws out words like “granite countertops” and “central air.”
“And the carpet’s brand new. A really luxurious silky material. If you press your cheek against it feels like you’re being seduced by a ferret.”
I take in the apartment’s Lilliputian dimensions.
“It’s a tad on the small side,” I say. I stare at the narrow sliver of a living room. I’m pretty sure that when I want to watch Family Guy I’ll have to put the TV on my lap.”
“It’s not small—it’s cozy!” the leasing agent says. “And it’s a great deal for this area. You won’t find another apartment complex in this zip code at this price.”
I silently debate the pros and cons of this potential new abode.
I stare at a small outlet through which Internet would flow.
“My current complex only allows TV and Internet through one provider,” I say. “Which provider does your complex use?”
As she opens her mouth I lean in very, very close.
“You can choose whatever provider you want here. I personally use AT&T. Love them. But you can also choose—”
I cut her off so loudly and quickly that she makes an audible “eep.”
“I’ll take it.”
She blinks at me a moment, then smiles. “Let’s head back to the office, shall we? We can draw up the paperwork and—”
I pull her into an overly tight hug.
“I… oh, my…”
“Ssh,” I whisper, burying my face in her shoulder. “I need to feel the full magnitude of this moment. Let’s stay like this—just like this—for just a little while longer…”
I breathe a hard-won sigh of relief knowing that the terror, the nightmares, the Kenny G music can’t hurt me anymore. I close my eyes and deepen the hug as a forty-something leasing agent quietly debates whether to call the cops.