Phone Monkey: Fish Hoofs and Other Observations

PhoneMonkeyPNGHello, my name is this. I’m calling about that. Please. Thank you. Goodbye. That’s pretty good phone etiquette, at least in the 21st century, so I’m not going to press my luck. Mostly–and by mostly, I mean over fifty percent–people are at least halfway decent over the phone. Not good. Not bad. Somewhere around a C or C+, if I had to give a grade. Of course, there are the A+ people, to whom we almost don’t like talking, because they ruin the curve. And there are the maniacs who curse, threaten, belittle, or harass us–you know, the F- crowd, the yang to the yin.

And then there are the calls that just take your breath away.

Fish Hoofs

Um, yeah. I ordered and the guy, I don’t know what’s wrong with him, y’know what I’m sayin’, I couldn’t even enjoy my meal because I’m like, well, “Am I really eatin’ chicken?” ’cause he’s tryin’ to say that… that fish ‘n’ chips… I–I never had no–I don’t eat certain certain types of fish. I eat cod and haddock, and he said that’s haddock, and that’s a lie. That fish is not haddock. It’s… it’s… I don’t know what it is. It tastes just like some fish I tasted for the first time from Deli Max, I remember, and I was like, ‘Oh! What is this! It’s like a tunafish or somethin’ or maybe it could be tilapia. I don’t know. It’s not haddock. And he’s tryin’ to tell me, “Come and see. I’ll tell you on the package it says haddock.” That is not haddock. You know, I mean, like just be up front and say, “No, it’s not haddock. It’s some other fish.” And, you know, I could deal with that, but he’s sayin’ it’s haddock. I’ve tasted haddock. That’s all I eat, is haddock and cod. But when you say it’s haddock when it’s not haddock, you know, you kinda question, like, is the chicken chicken, or are you eatin’ rabbit’s feet or somethin’ like that. It just, you know, makes you not really wanna eat, you know, appreciate the meal. You know, you question everything. He shouldn’t be lyin’ like that, and, um, just be truthful and say it’s not haddock. And I asked him if I could get the money back for the haddock, he was like, “No.” I mean for the plate. Because… it was just ridiculous, I mean, I don’t know what type of fish that is. It’s just… it’s like a tunafish or somethin’. I don’t know what it is, and I don’t like to eat stuff that I don’t what it is, because some fishes have fins on it–or whatever–hoofs, or whatever, and I don’t eat fish like that.

[Finally given an breath to interject, the phone monkey begins speaking, but–]

Like red snapper… I don’t eat… like red snapper? Not red snapper… like catfish or somethin’. I don’t eat fish like that ’cause they have… catfish have… whaddo they have, fins on ’em or somethin’? Or they have somethin’ on them that there’s fishes I don’t eat. I only eat fish that don’t have any things like, um, you know, certain… I think it’s a fin or somethin’. But I know I don’t eat–I don’t like that–him tellin’ me that it’s haddock and it’s not haddock. I know what haddock is. He said I could come and look at–and, and he’d show me the package. You don’t have to show me no package. I know what type of fish. If you’ve eaten cod and haddock all your life, you know–this fish tastes like a mackerel, and it tastes like this fish that I did not like, was from Deli Max, and he said it was tilapia so I told him I would try tilapia, and I tried tilapia, and I tried it and I didn’t like it. Ok, I didn’t like it. But, um, I… you know. But he’s sayin’ it’s haddock, and it’s not haddock, and he’s sayin’ that, um, I can’t return it. I wanted to return it because it’s not whatever fish it is, it’s just not, like, fish like edible fish for me, ’cause it was dried up and it was–I don’t know what it is, and he’s not bein’ honest about it. If you’re gonna sell somethin’, be truthful and tell people what it is.

[The rest is pretty much standard customer service stuff. The phone monkey assures her it’s haddock, reiterates that the guy at the restaurant says she can come look at the bag of fish, that she is not getting a refund, and then she gets in the last word and hangs up.]

I impart to you that bizarre tale in order to point out something important about the customer service people you will speak with as a customer.

Despite our daydreams and fantasies of a better life, we are not omniscient.

Remember the good phone etiquette I mentioned earlier? Always start with some version of hello. Caller ID is an amazingly useful tool, but it’s still a limited technology. We’re a small internet-based company, not the NSA, and we generally only know who you are and what the hell you’re carrying on about if you tell us first. Like Bruce Willis said, “Not yaddayaddayaddayaddayayoo. Short. Korbin. Korbin Dallas.” Brevity may be the key to wit, but it’s also the key to getting anything done.

I haven’t yet been able to pin point whether it’s our position as the complaint department, a product of being based on the internet, or just the way we speak to each other in 21st-century America, but people’s inability to speak with each other like humans is appalling. Not only is directionless ranting a normal occurrence, but hang-ups are commonplace. I don’t have any direct line to old-school complaint department people, but I would guess that before e-commerce, hanging up on someone was once considered rude. Now, a pretty regular call proceeds much like the following: please give me this, got it, done, click. Acting like a cold, consuming robot is a pretty cynical way to go through life.

But this is all touchy feely stuff, anyway. After a few years, a good phone monkey feels nothing at all. The real lesson to take away from this is that the person on the other end of whatever problem you have is quite likely the lowest person on the ladder. The reason you are ranting and jabbering at this person in particular is because no one else will put up with it. The more responsibility we get, the greater the gap between us and the public. After you start earning a certain sum, the unspoken rule is that you don’t earn that money just so people can treat you like garbage for eight hours a day. It’s pretty much the equivalent of paying one’s dues, except that some people keep paying and paying and paying.

On the bright side…


My Summer Vacation, Part III: Flying High With Ms. Biscuit

Manila. We were just cleaning up after one mess, when another fell from the sky. Unless you’ve been vacationing in your fortress of solitude for the past month, you’ve probably heard every bit of news about the Malaysian Airlines flight shot down over Ukraine, so I won’t go into it much, except to say that boarding our own flight, prefixed with “MH,” there was a definite chill in the air aside from the blast freezer that is Filipino air conditioning. It was quite apparent that everyone was doing everything they could to think about anything but high-altitude death.

Everyone, that is, except for one woman.

Let me digress for one moment here. Air travel, in general, sucks. Before being allowed anywhere near the aircraft, there are queues, scans, queues, more scans, queues, questions, queues, and, if you happen to be flying in the US, the surrender of dignity and the very real possibility of nudity. And of course, there are more queues.

But once you’re up in the air, flying doesn’t need to be a horrible experience. It’s not the subway, where the accepted method of communicating with your neighbor is keeping your mouth shut and your eyes on the floor or some other inanimate object. In fact, airplanes are one of the few vehicles in which turning to your neighbor and attempting conversation is still almost universally considered not weird.


It was about 20 or 30 minutes into our flight, right around the time when those who were going to try and catch a nap on the four-hour flight were getting comfortable. A loud voice popped my comfortable bubble of pleasure, just as I was settling into a book. It wasn’t the tone that screams danger–just the kind that indicates that the four hours are about to feel like six.

“Rosemary! Rosemary! You have to try these biscuits! My children love them!” the woman crowed from the row behind us.

And so it began. Demands for biscuits and drinks came first, quickly followed by an analysis of the crash of MH17, particularly the fact that many, many AIDS researchers had been on board. If there is one thing that nervous passengers trapped in a flying metal cylinder six miles up do not want to hear, it is an analysis of a recently doomed flight from the same airline. People were turning around, giving her the evil eye, but some part of her brain interpreted “potential angry mob” as “rapt audience.” And in a sense, we were. She was so loud that almost everyone within three rows had their airline-issued headphones on. And even then, we were captive witnesses to her life story, as told to Rosemary from one middle seat, across the aisle, to another middle seat.

She has three kids: two daughters and a son. One daughter is 27 not married, and worked for Microsoft in Singapore, but moved back to the Philippines. Her mother, of course, wants her to get married, but she (or her mother) is having trouble finding someone at her level.

And then, before launching into the story of her own life, she wanted more biscuits.

She got married at 21 in London. “I was born Hindu, but in 2008, God touched me, and I was born again.” I got that part through a loud fight scene in the movie Ip Man, which I’d thrown on because reading was a fool’s errand. The guy next to me turned to me and we shared a moment. No words were spoken, but we both knew what we wanted to ask: “Now show us on this doll: where did God touch you?”

The story of her religious revelation and conversion to Christianity (a marvelous topic on which to crow loudly while on a plane returning to a Muslim country, by the way) continued unabated for as long as the biscuits lasted. Mercifully, they ran out quickly, and she flagged the cabin crew down for another hit.

“We’re sorry, but we have no more biscuits.” No more?! No more. Just three. No more. Okay, just one, then. “Ma’am, we have run out of bisuits?” But couldn’t they go back and check, pretty please. No. Why? There are none left. It took a delegation of cabin crew to confirm that there were, indeed, no more god damned biscuits, so please shut up about them already. Rebuffed, Ms. Biscuit turned to the topic of bodily functions.

Rosemary has knee problems, and so did Ms. Biscuit, until she started taking something called MSN. I may have changed my mind about her if I thought she had been injecting the Internet into her knees. But nope. No NSA geeks tapping her lower extremities. Oh well.

As we descended into Kuala Lumpur, Ms. Biscuit asked Rosemary to look her up in Indonesia because clearly they had a spiritual connection. As did we all–at least with each other. The level of hostility toward this woman was incredibly tempered, considering how long she had held us all captive. On a flight back from Laos, friends of ours (not terribly inclined toward hyperbole) were witness not to Jesus, but to an epic fight between a German woman and a Malay man after the woman politely asked a group of first-time flyers to please stop praying so loud because it was freaking people out. The man took offense and launched into the woman with a tsunami of invective. The crew apparently tried to calm the man down, but he threatened to kick everyone’s asses, and shook his fist in righteous anger. The woman cowered and broke down sobbing, and the two were separated, the woman moved to the front and the man to the back.

The point is that it could have been a whole lot worse. The B story of this is that on almost any flight in the US, this woman would have been asked to not shout across the aisle, and if she didn’t stop, would probably have been gagged and bound in a very not-sexy way. So maybe we need more doms working for the airlines. No whips, just good knot work.