Verizon Wireless called to remind me that my cell-phone bill was past due. I was surprised, since I had just paid my current bill.
The Verizon customer service rep, sweet as a scoop of ice cream, gently disagreed. I had not paid the current bill, the rep explained. I had, in fact, paid the old bill.
But the date on the bill I just paid was for the month that hasn’t even ended yet, I said. That’s right, the Verizon rep cheerfully agreed. That’s the old bill.
How could the bill for the present time be the old bill? I said. Then what on Earth comprised the eight pages of my current bill? Behavioral predictions from psychic hotlines?
The current bill is for the month going forward, the wireless rep said. The billing cycle that would start in three days.
Let me get this straight, I said: The bill from last month, up to and including the present day, and including the next three days, is the old bill. And the current bill, which is now overdue, is for the month not yet begun.
That’s right, Verizon said.
So the calls I am making now exist in the past, at least the past as manifested in the universe of your billing department, I said. And the service I will have, beginning in three days, and ending more than a month from now, is my current service, in this alternate universe. And the current bill, for this theoretical service, is now past due.
Correct, the Verizon rep said, although that ice-cream sweetness was beginning to frost over.
Such a scenario was impossible under the general theory of relativity, I said.
After being put on hold for what seemed a punitive amount of time, I was connected to a manager; I began my story again from scratch. After failing to agree on what, exactly, we were arguing about — a failure of linguistics or microeconomic theory, I couldn’t say — and after my ornery threat to counter-bill Verizon for all the time and aggravation I was wasting trying to sort this out, I was transferred to a supervisor.
Is there a Latin phrase for the existential state of having to repeat one’s hopeless predicament over and over again to multiple individuals or voice-activated databases within the same corporation? (If not, could I coin the phrase “Verizonate” to describe such a state of torment? As long as I am not billed for the phrase, that is.)
The supervisor, an obvious veteran of customer relations and anger-management training seminars, calmly and coolly advised me to compare my cell-phone bill to my mortgage, which I also pay on the first of the month.
But my house exists in the real world, I argued. There is an assessment, state- and county-tax rolls, an apportionment of resources and services such as garbage, water, and sewer. But the phone calls I am paying for now on my “current” bill do not exist. They are projections. They are conceptual. A phone call is not a phone call until it is over.
I thanked the supervisor for his helpful and creative use of metaphor, and asked him to compare my phone bill not to my mortgage but to a piece of postmodern art. My phone bills, where my fees have fees and my monthly-service charges have service charges, are so intricate, impenetrable, and detached from the logic of day-to-day life that they deserve to be appreciated as a form of Abstract Expressionism.
Why not hang my Verizon bill up in a museum? I said. My phone bill makes no sense to me, but, when framed on a wall and carefully illuminated, might possibly entertain throngs of graduate students and boisterous German tourists. The phone bill was certainly more bizarre and compelling than most modern fiction.
The supervisor objected to my use of the abstract-art metaphor, although I detected a hint of amusement in his voice that sounded dangerously anti-corporate.
And what about the billing conundrum in which I find myself, I asked. If the phone calls I make this week exceed my allotted plan minutes on the old billing cycle, these extra charges will not show up until the next bill, after the current bill. So I could be paying three bills simultaneously, two bills from now.
I wondered out loud if Verizon was secretly working with a pharmaceutical company on a blind test of blood-pressure medication. My pulse ran higher during my phone calls to my wireless provider than it did after 45 minutes on the treadmill, I said.
The supervisor went into wrap-up mode, objecting that I was exaggerating the reality of the situation. Other, less-analytical customers were waiting on the phone and I could write a letter if I wanted further attention. Then the phone went dead.
I’m past due on the future, Verizon. I have no idea where — or when — my reality went.
— Bruce Stockler is a marketing-relations consultant and author. He is author of the recently published I Sleep At Red Lights: A True Story of Life After Triplets.
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