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If you are old enough to remember watching Green Acres, you likely will recall how Oliver Wendell Douglas had to climb a pole outside his bedroom wall – which slid open, conveniently – to place a call through Sam Drucker in Hooterville that would be relayed to his neighbors or beyond.
The Douglases had moved from Park Avenue in New York City to the remote outreaches of what critics have told us was Arkansas because Oliver was sick of lawyering and decided he wanted to be farming. He could have learned a thing or two about legal and agricultural acumen from my friend Bobby Foree, who manages to do both in this day and age – although in New Castle and not New York.
The point is not to pass judgment on Oliver’s career course but to express clear, heartfelt, understanding sympathy for Oliver in his climb to telecommute with even a small world.
That’s because at Dozen Acres Farm, which my family calls home these days, if I wanted to place a telephone call on a land line, I would have to climb my own pole – which is to go outside, open the box where AT&T connects to the house and plug the phone into the jack in the box.
At least that’s what I understood from the AT&T technician – the third or fourth in a string – who came out one rainy day and said something to the effect of “your phones won’t work in the house, but they’ll work if you plug in here.”
He pointed to that jack as we stood there in the drizzle, and I quickly checked the calendar to make sure I hadn’t fallen asleep in a mad doctor’s DeLorean or something.
If my wife or I wanted to call from our home office to our business offices, we just as likely would connect with tin cans and string as with a line strung by the largest communications company in the world.
We are blacked out.
Did I tell you this process has been going on for five months?
That’s when we moved in at Dozen Acres, our little slice – emphasis on little – of farmland about five miles from Shelbyville, our animal-dotted respite from decades in suburbia.
That’s where we were stunned to learn that pizzas can’t be delivered, which seemed archaic given we were no farther from the oven.
Now we can’t even make a call to the pizza store, although I have run up hours on my cellular phone trying to get that landline to work.
When we moved from Simpsonville, we did what we always had done when relocating: We called AT&T, told them the plan, got the new number – that was even an odd experience because I had made three moves with the same number back in Florida – and we dutifully noted the new, easy-to-remember digits on all our legal forms and customer accounts. We were ready to go.
Until we moved into the house and plugged in our phones and heard the sound of silence.
Now, I heard a sermon the other day about how to understand the silence from God when you are praying for help. That now seems like a message from God because I’ve prayed for help from AT&T and heard nothing but silence on those lines.
At first, of course, we assumed this was just a connection mistake. AT&T sent out a repair person who left a note on the door saying we were ready to go. Silence.
So I contacted AT&T again and reported the problem. Same action, same result. Silence.
Then on Call No. 3, it was suggested that the technician could come inside and check the lines. Good idea. We did that. Our house is not that new, so we don’t have a jack on every wall, but the several scattered about the house were all checked. Silence.
That’s when we took the walk in the rain to the box on the back of the house. No silence there. At least I didn’t have to climb.
Obviously, that wasn’t copasetic and became even less so when AT&T started to bill us for service that clearly was not working.
Me on the phone to AT&T: Kind sir, you’re billing us for phone service that isn’t working. Surely the records show that there has been no use of the line.
AT&T, after an hour of transfers and conversations: We should have fixed that when we were out there. We’ll delete the charge, and call back in about a week, and we’ll get it repaired.
A while later, Me: I’m calling to get repair on my home phone. I’ve called before. It hasn’t ever worked.
AT&T: What are you talking about?
Me: I have this home phone number. It never has worked. You have billed me. It still doesn’t work. I spent an hour on the phone and was told to call back.
AT&T: But we show that account was canceled.
I continued to explain and was transferred twice. That went on for an hour, long enough for me to be rear-ended while stopped at a stop sign and just before my cell phone suddenly died. Of course, no one called back.
A few days later, I tried again.
AT&T: Our records show that number doesn’t exist.
Me: That’s preposterous (or something like that). I’ve spent hours on the phone in numerous conversations. I can’t talk for an hour now. Could you please (yes, I said please) just look it up and call me back?
No one ever called back. Silence.
So another week later, I called again. This time I learned that an order was in place to connect the service that day.
I plugged in the phone. Silence.
I called again after a few days – and the arrival of two more bills – and placed another repair order (starting all over again, is gonna be rough, so rough, but we’re gonna make it…).
AT&T: The problem should be repaired in three days.
Three days passed. Silence.
On the fourth day, I received a call from a technician who wanted someone to be at the house while he investigated the problem, which I clearly explained to him should be in the records.
But then I thought: If the world’s telecom giant can’t keep track of its own communications, then why should I pay it to provide service that it clearly can’t provide?
And you know what we did? I called AT&T and said, never mind.
We will live with the silence. It is golden.
And I won’t have to go into the rain to call for help.