"Welcome to the repair resolution speech system, where you can speak your answer instead of using the touch tones."
I give it a try.
"What is your phone number?"
I answer, and the thing actually works!
"Do you have a dial tone?"
"You have a dial tone, but there is a problem with the line, right?"
"Speak the problem now. Say something short like 'static on the line.' "
"Mom, he's not sharing!" my 4-year-old son interrupts.
"I'm sorry, I don't recognize that response."
I run away from my son and say loudly into the phone: "Static on the line."
"You have static on the line, is that right?"
My son is chasing me. "I had the red Martian first!"
"I can't tell if that's a yes or a no."
I race into the living room, where my sick son is listless on the sofa, red Martian in hand. I'm afraid to talk, so I just wave my arms in the universal sign of "share now or else." He just stares.
"Mom, he's not giving it!"
I hiss to my older child: "Give it to him now!"
"But I'm sick," he whines.
"Would you like to try another question?"
"Yes, as a matter of fact, I would! Why don't you ask me if I'd like a vodka martini?"
"I'm sorry, I don't recognize that response. We'll try it one more time."
The clothes dryer buzzer sounds. The comforter is dry.
"I'm sorry, I don't recognize that response. I'll transfer you to one of our customer-service representatives."
You mean all this time there were people I could have talked to?
A pleasant-sounding human answers.
He breezily informs me that the tests he runs from his location show that the problem is with my own equipment or wiring inside my house. Because the company is committed to repairing the problem as soon as possible and because it values me as a customer and wants to provide me with outstanding service, it will have someone come by Saturday, which is three days away, and I will need to be home for a window of 12 hours.
I splutter with outrage. This is not acceptable. I cannot wait three days, and I can never be home for 12 hours straight.
The human explains to me, slowly and patiently, that the company is very busy, and there are people who have no service at all, and they are not getting a repair person until next week, so I should be grateful for this Saturday visit.
I like the speech system better than the human.
I schedule the Saturday repair call, but some hours later when I pick up the phone, I have no dial tone at all. On my cell, I again call the company, shout "customer-service representative" into the phone, and manage to schedule a call for tomorrow.
The next day, my older son is still sick, and I am home with both kids for the second day in a row. By 2 o'clock, I am so stir crazy I use my cell phone to call the speech system just to hear another adult voice.
"I see you have a repair call scheduled for today, is that right?"
"Yes. Do you think capris make my legs look stocky?"
I hand the phone to my 4-year-old.
"Is this Grandma?"
Suddenly, my house phone rings. I jump, not expecting that. I leave my son on the cell and answer it.
"Hi, this is the phone man. When you hang up your phone and pick it up again, it will be fixed."
"What?" I say. "Don't you have to come in the house?"
He laughs. "Only if you want me to."
A person! With a sense of humor! Who can fix things! Is it 1962 all over again?
I try to explain. "They told me it was a problem with my wiring, and I would have to be home to let you in."
"They're so lame. The problem was in a box around the corner from you. It's fixed. Have a nice day." He hangs up.
"Static on the line!" my son is shouting into the cell. He is laughing his head off. He is easily amused. Come to think of it, so am I. I'll just let him keep talking.
Pam Lobley writes from River Edge, N.J.