“May I speak with customer service, please?”
“It’s me. I’m calling for customer service.”
* * * * * *
“Yes, I’m calling to see what I must do to exchange the Fantubulosa Productivisima you sold me last week.”
I don’t recalling selling you anything, sir.
“No, I mean your store.”
I don’t have a store, sir. Can you be more specific, please?
“The company you work for. You had a store at Ninth and Main in Boston last week. It’s not there any more.”
Oh, gotcha. Hold on while I check my records. (Long silence. Finger tapping.)
(Shorter silence. More finger tapping.)
(Somewhat longer silence. Sigh. Cuss word. Finger tapping.)
Sir, can you tell me which company you’re referring to? I don’t see a record of a company in Boston.
“Fantabulosa, Inc. you nitwit! I bought a product from Fantabulosa Outlet in Boston, Massachusetts one week ago today at precisely 10 a.m. I have a receipt.”
Oh, you have a receipt. Yes, well in that case you need to send your receipt, along with the product, back to the store from which it was purchased. Do you need that address?
“No, I don’t need that address. I have the address. The store isn’t there any more.”
What do you mean, ‘The store isn’t there any more?’
“I went to return the product and the store was gone. It was there last week, but it is no longer where it was. You must have relocated it. Can you give me the new address?”
Sure. Let me check my records.
(The longest silence. Whispers in the background.)
Sir, I’ve just been informed by my supervisor that the store in Boston has been closed for remodeling.
I was just getting to that, sir. According to our policy, stores that are closed for remodeling cannot take returns. Therefore, you’ll have to hold the product until the store reopens and return it to customer service then.
I took a deep breath then, between exhales, said, “Clarification.”
Sir, my name is Henry. I’d appreciate it if you addressed me by my proper name.
“Fine. Henry, can you tell me when that store is due to reopen?”
Yes I can. Let me check my records.
(Music. Finger tapping. Sighs. More finger tapping. Different music. Sad, slow low-tonal music.)
OK, sir. That store. You said Boston, right?
Ninth and Main?
(Whistling) My records show that store is due to open at midnight on February 29, 2013. The manager will be five minutes late, they will be two people short of a full crew and the floor will need to be swept. Would you like to make an appointment?
* * * * * *
The knock was loud and gruff. I’d have sworn it was a gorilla pounding my door in. But when I opened it there stood the sweetest looking alpaca I’d ever seen in my life. In fact, it was the only alpaca I’d ever seen. Its brown wool was fluffy, softer even than the wool of those two sheep who came by last week to invite me to their church. The alpaca was much sweeter, but he wasn’t very attractive.
He had three legs. His two front legs looked like normal alpaca legs. They were long and brown, full of wool, though trimmed and clean cut. The hind leg extended from the middle of his torso, right below his brown hairy rear, and extended outward behind him at about a 30 degree angle. I can only guess it was supposed to help balance him, but he stood awkwardly. His tail drooped.
His long wooly neck and floor stain brown torso made me wish I’d purchased my Fantabulosa Productivisima from a different company. But Fantabulosa Inc. is the only company that manufactures them.
I have nothing against alpaca, but I don’t want them working on my appliances.
When I opened the door, the alpaca spoke first.
“Hello, sir, my name is Al Packer. I’m from Fantabulosa Inc. I was sent here to look at your Fantabulosa Productivisima. My supervisor said you were having a problem with it.”
“Yeah. You could say that.”
I wasn’t expecting an alpaca. I was shocked, actually, to see him standing there on my front porch. It shocked me even more when he talked.
“Can you explain the problem, sir? For my records.” He held an ink pen in one of his front hoofs and a tablet in the other. He balanced himself somewhat awkwardly on his hind leg. When I spoke he wrote everything down.
“Well, it hasn’t worked since I bought it.”
“Oh, I see. Well, I’ll have a look at it then.” He had a weird alpaca grin on his face that made me think of Burt Reynolds in his pre-Bandit days.
Al took a step forward. He wasn’t wide but it pained me to watch him maneuver through the door with only three legs. I wondered if he might be in need of a wheelchair. Finally, he made it through the door and asked where he’d find the product. He wasn’t too bright.
“It’s in the bath tub. That’s where you recommend we install them, isn’t it?”
“Yes sir, it sure is.” Al turned to look at me. I wished he hadn’t. Every time he turned his torso just a little that hind leg looked like it would break. He swished his tail around and slapped a fly. I noticed for the first time that his tail was quite long for an alpaca. It looked more like a horse’s tail. I chose not to mention it.
“Thanks,” I said through clenched teeth.
“You’re welcome.” Al continued, strolling toward the hallway to get into the bathroom. “You’d be surprised where people actually put them. Not everyone follows instructions. I’ve seen people put them in the oddest places.” By the time he reached the hallway, Al was talking over his shoulders. A bumble bee appeared at the door. I had left it open though the screen door was blocking the bee’s entrance. It buzzed. “Oh, that’s my partner. Would you let him in?” I did.
“Hi, I’m BeeBee,” said a wee little female voice. “I do all the microwork.”
“Ok, well, you know what to do.” I was trying my best to be polite.
BeeBee followed Al Packer into the hallway and down to the bathroom. I could hear them in there banging pipes and clanking tools. Every now and then I heard BeeBee buzz and Al laugh. I walked over to my desk in the corner of the living room on which sat a large mainframe computer. I sat down at the chair behind the desk and opened up my instant messenger. I found Customer Service in my address book and typed, “Are you people crazy?”
A second later I got a response. “What on earth do you mean, sir?”
“An alpaca? You sent me an alpaca and a bumblebee to fix my Fantabulosa Productivisima. I’m not very confident about this.”
“Why not sir? Al Packer and BeeBee are the best techs in the company. Everyone likes them. And, by the way, my name is Ginger.”
“Well, Ginger, that may be so but it doesn’t do much for my confidence.”
“You’re not prejudiced, are you, sir?” Ginger asked.
The question threw me back a bit. I wasn’t expecting it. But I wasn’t expecting to meet an alpaca today either.
“No, I’m not prejudiced,” I typed, trying to sound sincere.
“That’s good because our whole company is made up of non-human creatures. Our company president is a mole. Our vice president of sales and marketing is a hermit crab. And I’m an otter,” Ginger giggled. It was in fact a computer simulation of a female’s voice representing Ginger, a voice over text-to-voice program I’d downloaded from the Internet a day before. It sounded like Rosie O’Donnell.
I hesitated before typing, “I’m sure you’re all lovely creatures, but I’d like a human to work on my appliances, if that’s OK.”
“Well, as much as I’d love to accommodate that wish, sir, it’s just not possible. We don’t employ any humans at all.”
No humans? I shot back, “So who’s prejudiced now?”
“Oh, sir. It’s not that we don’t want to hire humans. We just haven’t had any qualified human applicants in a while. It’s been two years since our last human and he left without notice. Your species is really not that reliable, you know.”
I thought back to the day that I purchased my Fantubulosa Productivisima. I remembered the mild mannered older gentleman with glee. “Well, it was a human who sold me the product,” I said.
“Yes, I know.” Ginger was at least conciliatory. “He was the one who left without notice. That’s why we had to close that store. It was too far for our new manager to travel so we’re relocating it.”
“Aha!” I typed, thrusting my forefinger into the air. Then I typed, “I thought that store was being remodeled?”
“Yes sir, it is,” said Ginger. “We’re relocating it and remodeling it at the new location. You’ll love it. I promise.” She sounded so cheerful.
I sat silent for a minute, speechless. Ginger continued. “If Al and BeeBee don’t work out, let me know and I’ll send Dan. He’s a snake.” She giggled again.
“Great.” I closed my instant messenger just as Al and BeeBee returned from the bathroom.
“All fixed up,” Al said.
“We put in some extra oil for G.P.,” BeeBee said, hovering in the middle of the room. She zipped in and out of the candles on my glass chandelier.
“Great,” I smiled. It wasn’t easy forcing myself to be polite to a bumblebee and an alpaca.
Al handed me a piece of paper. I looked at it and glanced back up at him to make eye contact but he was walking toward the door with BeeBee buzzing over his woolly ears. I noted the price of the tech support visit and my jaw dropped.
“Uh, Al.” He turned and looked at me with a grin. “I shouldn’t have to pay for tech support. You have a warranty.”
“Yes sir. The warranty only covers items not related to operator error.”
I was about to say that I hadn’t even used the product yet, but Al cut me off.
“All problems that occur before actual use are considered operator error,” he said. And with that he turned and left the house. BeeBee followed. I watched them get into their tech support van and pulled out my checkbook. Then I lay down and took a nap and woke up crying.
* * * * * *
5 a.m. and I can’t believe I’m walking the streets. After jumping that last watermelon I continue along on Main Street in search of a store that hasn’t existed in over two years. I jump another watermelon and take a bite of my pickle.
“Yes, is this customer service?”
“No, sorry. You got tech support.”
I can hear crunching on the other end.
“Are you eating?” I take a bite of my pickle.
“Yeah, potato chips. How may I help you?”
“I was trying to reach customer service. I talked to them yesterday at this number. Did they move?”
Corner. I stop. The light blinks on and off, telling me don’t walk. Cars begin to move through the intersection and the voice next to my ear, a female’s, continues yapping about some nonessential corporate policy.
“To make a short story long, sir, we’ve switched phone numbers. It was all to better serve you.”
I smooch my lips into the phone. She smooches back.
“Well, I do want to talk to your department. I mean, I need some technical support. But I’d like to speak to customer service first. Can you transfer me to that office?”
“Sorry. That’s beyond my capabilities. They won’t let me do transfers.” Her voice changes. She begins to sound hoarse.
“They won’t let you? Why is that?”
“Too many calls don’t go through, sir. I’d transfer you if I could, but you’ll need to call 888-555-3231.” Her voice deepens. She begins to sound more like a man.
“And that will take me to customer service?”
“No. That’s our company directory. You’ll hear a list of phone numbers that you can call. Customer service is eighteenth on the list.” Her voice is now a low baritone. I begin to wonder if I phone smooched a man then put it out of my mind.
“Then perhaps I should just talk to you about my tech support issue before calling customer service.”
The light tells me to walk. I walk across Main Street and stop in front of a drugstore. I knock on a carrot with a door handle.
“What product are you calling about, sir?”
“The Fantabulosa Productivisima.”
A middle-aged woman answers the door.
The voice on the other end of my cell phone says, “Oh, yes! Fine product. How did you like it?”
The woman at the door is all smiles. I answer the girl-man on the phone.
“I hate it.”
Click. The phone goes dead. The woman at the door slams the carrot. I realize I’ve left home without the product.
* * * * * *
To Whom It May Concern (And Anyone Else, For That Matter),
I’ve read your warranty a number of times since our last encounter. That number is, exactly, twice. I’m not impressed.
The Fantabulosa Productivisima I purchased from your company has never worked properly. I am distressed. I have read your owner’s manual, which didn’t help, called your customer service department, been mocked by your tech support team and had a carrot slammed in my face by your mother. That actually aroused me, a little, but since I didn’t have the product with me I was unable to enjoy it. I am writing to demand my money back. Please send a check to my address of record. Thank you.
P.S. I hate otters.
Dear Mr. Perturbed,
Thank you for contacting us. We are pleased that you find the Fantabulosa Productivisima an arousing product. Arousal is certainly one of the benefits that we promise and it pleasures us greatly to know that we have delivered on that promise. We wish you many more good years of enjoyment from the product.
Ms. “Holy Mole-y” Mazureh
P.S. We’re not real fond of them either.
Dear Ms. Mazureh,
Are you going to refund my money or not? You have an ironclad money back guarantee.
Would you like to meet for coffee?
Why would I do that?
My mother said you were kinda cute. I’d like to see for myself. I’ll buy.
I just want my money.
You can’t have it. We don’t have money set aside to do refunds. We’re changing our policy. By the way, have a good life and never contact us again or we will sic our lawyers on you. We’re changing our mailing address.
* * * * * *
I stood in the cold next to the Fantabulosa Productivisima smoking a Camel, my favorite brand of cigarette. With my non-smoking hand I held up the cardboard For Sale sign on top of the product. I’d been there precisely thirty-three minutes when a blue short bed hooptie stopped on the shoulder of the dirt road in front of me. A giraffe stepped out of the driver’s seat and walked around the bed of the truck.
“Is that a Fantabulosa 5000?”
I looked at the product then back at the giraffe. “No. The original.”
He craned his neck around and looked at the product from all angles. “Well, I’ll be doggone. It sure is.”
He yelled back over his shoulder at the muskrat crawling out of the passenger’s side of the vehicle. “Hey, Ray! Check it out. Didn’t you build this?”
After extricating himself from the seatbelt and the door of the pickup, the muskrat scurried over and inspected the product.
“Yes,” he finally squeaked. “I did. This very one, to be exact. How much you want for it?”
“Make me an offer,” I said, cheerily.
“Why are you selling it?” He asked.
“I haven’t figured out what it’s good for,” I said. “Not much use to me.”
“Oh,” Ray held back a laugh. “Fifty dollars.”
I thought about haggling then thought better of it. That was nowhere near what I’d paid for the product, a full $500 brand new. I rubbed my brow with my forefinger and said, “Sounds good.”
“Man, I thought I’d never see this baby again,” Ray said. His squeaks were so low they were barely audible, but I could tell he was excited. The giraffe stood grinning from ear to ear, his front legs folded over his chest, his hind legs balancing him as he towered over me and Ray.
I watched as the pair of animals struggled to put the product into the pickup bed. After they’d finished, Ray turned to me and handed me a fifty dollar bill. I looked at the picture of the jack rabbit where Grant’s picture should be. I smelled it. It’s real, I thought. A real fifty dollar bill.
“If you ever need customer service,” I said, “you might just want to fix the problem yourself. Those folks aren’t very helpful.”
“Is that right?” The giraffe leaned over the bed of the pickup. He’d walked around to the driver’s side while Ray and I were chatting. “Well, I’ve never had a problem with them. I talk to them all the time.”
“Me too,” Ray said. “Great bunch of animals over there. They really run a tight ship.”
At that, they got in their hooptie again and drove away. I stood in the rain smoking my Camel.
* * * * * *
“Oh, please. Call me Whiskers.”
Holy Mole-y was so much more attractive in person than I thought she’d be. Her lipstick made her cheeks look much more kissable than I’d imagined. Her fur was soft to the touch and I almost felt like we were on a date. The waitress scampered over and introduced herself.
“Hi, I’m Suzie. I’ll be taking care of you today. What will you have to drink?”
She slapped a fly on her pale white thigh. It was a relief to be served by such a fine specimen of the human race.
Whiskers wasted no time ordering a Sherry Chicken. I asked for a Phoebe Snow. Suzie left and returned with our drinks. She belched. In her absence Whiskers and I talked about the weather. It was sunny, much like her disposition, and we both expressed pleasure in that.
When Suzie returned to take our meal order Whiskers politely asked for a plate of grubs. I ordered the chicken fingers with a side of honey mustard, and a pair of sunglasses.
“Great,” Suzie said, jutting her finger up her nose. I caught a glimpse of her cheerful smile between her fingers just before she pulled it out and flicked a booger over Whiskers’ head.
In our time together over lunch we never once talked about the product her company sold me. But we learned a lot about each other’s families, goals, dreams, and grooming habits. I was particularly turned off by her constantly licking her fingers. But I enjoyed watching her talk with her paws propped up under chin and her eyes batting ferociously in the incandescent light.
After the meal, I learned that Whiskers was a generous tipper. And a good complimenter. She said to Suzie, “Your customer service is impeccable.”
“Thank you,” Suzie curtsied. Then she farted.
When Suzie brought the tab, Whiskers grabbed it and slapped a credit card down on the table. She proceeded to talk about the latest book she had read, something about the romance between a parakeet and a daffodil. I feigned interest. Suzie flitted about, taking orders, delivering drinks, taking payment and schmoozing with lunchtime clientele. She took her time but she finally made it over to take Whiskers’ credit card and returned a moment later with a smile and a pen. Whiskers signed her credit card statement and we stood.
We walked to the door and out into the parking lot. I was a bit self conscious about being seen in public with a mole, but I shrugged it off. I forced myself to be the gentleman and opened the door for her, let her walk through before gliding through myself into the outside air. Once standing on the sidewalk in front of the coffee shop Whiskers turned and offered her hand for a professional and courteous shake. I obliged.
Finally, unable to hold my tongue any longer, I blurted, “I sold it.”
“I know,” she said and winked.
After a brief pause, she went her way. I went mine. On my way home I passed several shops, restaurants and stores of several varieties. I was almost home when I passed by a fruit and nut stand on the corner of a busy intersection. Two bipeds – a man and a gorilla – were arguing in front of the stand. I stopped to watch. The gorilla untied his apron and threw it on the ground then stormed off, huffing and gruffing and beating his chest, snorting loud chortles of cuss words I’d never heard before. I found myself, almost against my will, approaching the gentleman at the fruit and nut stand.
Assuredly but cautiously, I said, “Sir, need help?”
The man moved his sad eyes from the apron to me, capturing my gaze with a hint of apprehension. His nod was definite if not painful. After a brief silence he bent down and picked up the apron and handed it to me.
“Want a job?” he said.
I couldn’t say no.
first published at nontrue.com