Those of us old enough to remember “Laugh In” fondly remember Lily Tomlin’s insufferable telephone operator Ernestine, who would hound customers with a greeting that began, “A gracious hello. . .,” followed by a harangue that let the customers know that in a battle between themselves and the phone company, there could be only one winner.
|"one-ringy-dingy, two ringy-dingy"|
I have been in a similar battle lately and losing it. Over the past month, I have received more than 20 calls that began, “This is Verizon with an urgent message. This is not a marketing or service call. We are trying to get in touch with Kerri I. If this is Kerri I, please press 1. If this is not Kerri I, please press 2.”
Because I am a sap (Audrey uses a stronger word), and because the calls insidiously come from an exchange and a town in my calling area, I have often answered them, mistakenly believing they are actually for me. Disappointed but determined, I dutifully press 2 to let the caller know that No, I am not Kerri I. The call does not end there, however. I get a series of recorded questions, such as “Is Kerri I available? If Kerri I is not available, please pass along a message to Kerri I.”
Now, here comes some strange shit. I am asked to pass along a specific number to Kerri I and to let her (him) know that she/he should call the number and then enter a special 10-digit code number (555-555-5555). Yep, ten 5’s. Now that is an easy-to-remember but not too secret code. Who thinks this stuff up?
Twice in the last two weeks, I have gone further. After following another instruction and pressing the number 3 to get myself removed from the call list, an operator has come on the line. When I explained that I am not Kerri I, I was asked to tell the operator my phone number. For some strange reason, this request made me nervous. I said, “You called me, so you must know the number.” The response came: “Sir, if you don’t tell me the number, I cannot take your number off our list.” “Well, I am not stating my number aloud,” I replied. (I made this decision because somewhere I heard that you are not supposed to use the word “yes” with a crank caller or to give out information that could be used to identify you in some way. A little late for caution, you might say, but that’s where I drew my line in the sand. We had reached a standoff. The operator hung up, and I felt a little satisfaction. Of course, I received the same call at least three more times later that same day. I hung up each time even without pressing 2. So there!
I decided to do some detective work. I looked up Kerri I in whitepages.com and discovered such a person existed in a town nearby with a number that was just like mine with one digit changed. Now, I would be ready for Verizon should there be a next time with a surefire way to get them off my back (or out of my ear).
Predictably, the call came a day later. Then time, I pressed 1. The operator was thrilled to be speaking to Kerri I, then perhaps disappointed when I said I was not Kerri, but knew how they could contact her. “Do you know Kerri I?” the operator asked. “No, but I looked her number up. You could have done that, too,” I added with a little snip in my voice. I got this reply, “Sir, we are Verizon, we don’t look up phone numbers.” Of course not. I tried to give her the correct number for her records, but she wasn’t budging and refused to listen. She did give me a little satisfaction (or agita) when she read out my own telephone number for confirmation so she could make a notation to get me off the call list. So Verizon really could look up numbers if they were pressed to do so, I thought.
I placed the phone back on its base with a little smile of victory, thinking that I had taken on Verizon and won. Sure. Now, I am just waiting until the calls start for someone other than Kerri I.
I have since found a You Tube video of Ernestine taking on a caller on “Laugh In.” “Please be aware, sir,” she noted, “that we at the phone company are not subject to local, state, or federal rules. We are omnipotent. That’s potent with an omni- tacked on.” Kerri I, I am sorry if I gave away any of your secrets to Verizon. I simply succumbed to a greater power than either of us.