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Catherine enjoys some time with various Customer Service Professionals

I walked into The Bank the other day. I do that once in a while. The ATM machine is such a lousy conversationalist.

The entrance was bright with fluorescent lights, surveillance cameras and TV screens. The drivers in the cars at the drive-up window barked requests and confusion. Computers spit out statements left, right and everywhere in between. Apart from the tellers, there was nobody else inside.

"Welcome to The Bank," said the pert young woman. "Have you heard about our solid gold, all- weather, vitamin-fortified credit plan in which you not only earn airline miles, but three wedges of cheddar cheese and a flat-screen TV every third quarter?"

"They make you say that, don't they?" I said. This is something I've been noticing a lot lately: Employees of big corporations have to say a load of crap about special offers, credit plans and all of the other junk they're trying to unload. My question put her off her stride and made her nervous. See, I wasn't the only one being watched: A camera pointed at her, too. She had no idea what to do when people went off script. I eased up. "That's OK. I know you'll get into trouble if you answer it wrong."

She exhaled, relieved, and then became miffed. If I knew how the game goes, what'd I want to fuck with her for? She cashed my check and told me to have a nice day. I don't believe she meant it.

Yesterday morning when I woke up, I slugged down a cup of coffee, and by "cup," I mean "bucket"--everything's bigger now--and tried to logon to the Internet. I couldn't. Paralyzed with the kind of confusion and consternation that can only be compared to a Monty Python village idiot trying to walk through a wall that wasn't there yesterday, I called my Communications Corporation. I punched in the requisite numbers on my touch-tone phone, choosing neither to habla español nor purchase their turbo-charged, digitally synchronized, high-speed mega photon HDTV package, and a voice said, "This call will be monitored for quality control."

Click, silence, another click. "Hi, this is Amber. How may I help you today?" Amber and I went through the standard rigmarole, unplugging modems and routers, restarting my computer, all of this taking time. Time filled with silence. So I said, "How you doing today, Amber?"

"Oh, I'm fine, thank you."

"Where are you?"

"What?"

"Geographically. Canada, Delhi, North Carolina?"

"Oh, ah, Beaver Creek, Oregon," she said.

"What do you do for fun in Beaver Creek?" I wasn't trying to be annoying, just friendly, to kill some time while my computer booted up.

"Ah, go to Beaver games. Go to work."

"Work's fun?"

"Oh yes," said Amber. "I enjoy my job here at the Communications Corporation very much." I heard some kind of faint double click on the line--nothing like a hang-up. Heck, it could have been overloud static.

My computer booted up, and as the CNN Web page loaded per Amber's instructions, I wound up the call. "Go Beavers!" I said.

My son came in to my office. He needed a new cell phone. His, he declared, was "a piece of shit" that wouldn't hold a charge. We went to the Cell Phone Store. I wasn't going to fuck around at that place. It was hot, and I was in a hurry. If you go off script there, smoke starts coming out of the employees' ears.

Phones were exchanged and a new one purchased for the low, low price of only $29.99, provided I renew the contract for two years and remember to send in the paperwork for the $50 rebate, which when it comes three months later, I throw in the garbage, because why is the Cell Phone Store sending me more junk mail? Then four hours later, upon awakening from a sound sleep and bolting upright in bed, I have to go dig the piece of what I thought was junk mail out of the garbage bin, since the truck comes early.

Wait, where was I? Oh, right.

"The Cell Phone Store will be calling you within the next couple of days to find out how your service experience was today," says the shiny young man.

"What service experience?" I'm not thinking when I say this. I'm wondering whether I have time to go into the soap store next door. The place smells great.

"You're not going to say that to the survey, are you?" says the nice young man. I don't have the heart to tell him: Of course not. I'll probably just hang up on them, like always.

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