The Most Useless Three Sentences In The World (And A Couple Other Things I’m Angry About)

In anticipation of the shock wave of PEN World Voices coverage that’s heading your way fast, today’s LitKicks post will not be about literature. Today I’d just like to talk about three random things that it occurs to me to be angry about today.

1. Here are the most useless three sentences in the world:

“At the tone, please leave your message. When you finish you may hang up, or press one for more options. To leave a callback number, press five.”

For God’s sakes, is there anybody in the world who doesn’t know that they can hang up a phone when they’re done? And do I really have to hear this message over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over for the rest of my goddamn life, just on the off chance that someday somebody will want to press one for more options or leave a callback number by pressing five?

2. I recently got a new Hewlett-Packard PC with advanced video capabilities, and since I’m a techie by trade I figured I wouldn’t have any trouble at all setting it up. Well, Hewlett-Packard sure made it as difficult as they could. The wild ride began when I found two manuals, one titled “Start Here” and another titled “Getting Started”. Is this supposed to be like “Let’s Make A Deal” — I have to guess the right one? Apparently I guessed the wrong one, because my video capture setup sequence was demanding that I set up my “IR”, but neither manual explained what an “IR” was (both manuals had lots of information, however, on how to identify my “keyboard” and my “mouse”).

The comedy continues. Oh, it continues. The manuals contain extensive diagrams, but “these diagrams may not represent your actual model”. It turns out they don’t, even though modern publishing technology would easily allow a company as large as HP to deliver model-specific diagrams (really, HP, we have the technology). So I call customer support and am passed from one person to another, and with each transfer I have to repeat my phone number, my first name, my email address, my model name, my product number and my serial number. Apparently Hewlett Packard also doesn’t know that modern digital communications technology would allow one customer service representative to pass this data along to another so I wouldn’t have to repeat it. But I guess that’s too challenging for a company like HP.

I bought HP instead of Dell this time on the recommendation of a knowledgeable person who told me that Dell is just as bad these days. If I could start this process over again at the beginning, I’d get a Mac.

3. I said this post had nothing to do with literature, but that’s not true. My final complaint counts as literary, because apparently the United States military command overseas has been doing a lot of creative writing lately. There was some alarming testimony in the US Congress today regarding dead soldier Pat Tillman, whose family was kept in the dark about the fact that he was killed by friendly fire because he was a well-known football player and the commanders thought the news would hurt public morale.

There’s only one problem with this: the American military isn’t supposed to be writing fiction.

Today’s Congressional hearing reached a painful pitch when Jessica Lynch showed up to testify on behalf of the Tillman family.

“The bottom line is the American people are capable of determining their own ideals for heroes and they don’t need to be told elaborate lies,” Jessica Lynch told Congress. “I am still confused as to why they chose to lie and tried to make me a legend when the real heroics of my fellow soldiers that day were legendary.” I think the American people are pretty confused about what’s going on too.

* * * * *

Maybe these three items aren’t so random after all. The main theme here seems to be incompetence, specifically the incompetence of large organizations like Verizon, Hewlett Packard and the Bush-Cheney administration. One of my complaints is trivial, one is annoying and ridiculous, and one is deeply disturbing. Somebody recently asked me what blogs are good for — well, maybe they’re good for speaking up about stuff like this. We are the customers of these corporations and we are the voters in this democracy. We deserve better, in all three cases above.

9 Responses

  1. David HalberstamHey homes!
    David Halberstam

    Hey homes!

    Nice to read your living-in-the-modern-world rant! Rather unAsherian of you, and funny to that end. but did I miss sumthin? Worse than phone messages and even HP — and directly connected to the military lying — is the tragic death yesterday morning of David Halberstam in a car crash in Menlo Park of all places. the ghosts of the Merry Pranksters must have been sleeping one off.

    I hope most LitKickers know who he is. Of the library of books he wrote, my fave is The Fifties, where we can see the pivotal decade through the eyes of a big-picture historian who had both a heart and a brain, as well as a natural story-tellers touch.

    So there’s my beef for the day. We need all the help we can get, and great authors should not be dying in car crashes (that’s so fifties)!

    Live, write and tell people you love them today. Any one of us could get blind-sided tomorrow.

    Brian O’Canada

  2. Incompetence at consumer’s
    Incompetence at consumer’s cost

    My favorite HP customer support ‘quote’ when I was trying to find the drivers needed to bring my system back up after a crash was: “Google it”.

    The recovery disks didn’t work because I didn’t have all the original part, how redundant is that? I had changed a keyboard that got fried at some point, and so I was pretty much left to fend for myself.

    Well, I did have google on my side…



    Ah, the menu….”please note that you are now 1st in line and that the next available representative will answer your call”

    Ok, great.

    I once got really stubborn waiting for tech support because of a problem with my email, I waited and waited, had dinner, watched tv, went to the bathroom, contemplated having sex but played a little solitaire instead….I finally gave in and hung up after 3 hrs.

    This week, I get the hopeful ‘1st in queue’ message, then all of a sudden I get cut off, then a busy signal…wtf?

    Isn’t our ever-evolving technology wonderful?

  3. Hey Brian — glad you
    Hey Brian — glad you mentioned David Halberstam. It happens I never read any of his books, though I always wanted to read “The Best and the Brightest”, so I didn’t have anything to offer myself, and I’m glad you did.

  4. Kafka Comes to Mind…They
    Kafka Comes to Mind…

    They tried to make everyone put the same long-ass greeting on our phones where I work. I am holding out. Civil disobedience!

    I hate getting those greetings. They go something like this.

    – You have reached Bill Ectric, phone number 904-***-****, Liaison Specialist III for the State of Florida Department of Chad Recycling, Road Blocks, and Voting Alternatives. Your call is very important to us. Please remain on the line. Your call will be answered in the order it gets bounced off a satellite that channels every call, from every town in every county in Florida, to my telephone.

    – For Spanish, go back where you came from. We stole this mosquito-infested artifice of dry land fair & square from you AND the French AND the Native Americans.

    – If you would like to leave a message, please press 1 now, and, speaking clearly and slowly, spell out your name, phone number, lottery picks, the nature of your call (yes, spell that out, too).

    – When you are finished recording, you may hang up, hang out, hang 10 as we say at the beach, hang glide, hang together or hang separately.

    – Thank you for your call.

    – At the sound of the tone, this call will disconnect. When you call back, the line will be busy for days. When you do get through to us again, our computers will be down.

  5. real peopleI’m glad you raise
    real people

    I’m glad you raise the issue of the government lying to us and creating propaganda to control the masses. It’s something I’ve suspected for about forty years now – that Gulf of Tonkin thing, y’know. (Or was it the Maine, or the Alamo, perhaps.) Cheers for Kevin Tillman and Jessica Lynch! Real Americans, real patriots.

    Blogs are for – to wake people up to reality. As the prophet said: keep you doped with religion and sex and tv.

    Voices are for – to speak, to say something.

    I actually called Bill Ectric at home. Now when a recording asks me for a call-back number, I give ’em his.

  6. 3 useful/uselessI guess these
    3 useful/useless

    I guess these are good for blowing someone off: “We can keep in touch.” “I’ll let you buy me a drink some time.”
    I’d sooner hear, “I’m sad to hear that!” rather than “Sorry.”
    Last is: “I’ll do my best.” Isn’t that what most try to do?

  7. My HP MomentsI bought an HP
    My HP Moments

    I bought an HP laptop in the US. When I arrived in France, the screen went blank. I called HP US. They told me to bring it back to the shop where I bought it. I said I couldn’t, I was in France. They said too bad. I called HP in France. They sent a guy to my apartment to pick up the laptop, then returned it, completely fixed, in less than a week. Wow, you think. Not so fast.

    Fast forward a year. HP laid off 1500 employees in France. The warrantee on my laptop expired. And, you guessed it, the screen went blank again. I called HP France. They sent another guy over to pick up the laptop. This was in August. After a week with no news on my computer, I called them. They said it would be ready next week. Next week came and went. No computer. I called them back. Oh – we are waiting for a part, call back in a week.

    You know how difficult it can be to talk to someone at a service center. US service centers are open 24/7, but you are likely to get routed to India. French service centers are open 9 – 6 during the week, 9 – Noon on Saturday. Now imagine calling a service center where everyone speaks in French, which is not your first language. And in France, calls get routed to Morocco, where some people have an accent that I find it difficult to understand. So I got the run-around in French that sometimes I understood, and sometimes I didn’t, so that I have to ask them to repeat what they said. It’s tough giving someone a piece of your mind when you have to ask them to repeat or explain their reply. What did you say? Merde what?

    Anyway, this went on for months. I would call each week. Each week they would say it would be ready the following week. Then, when the computer was finally ready, they tried to deliver it three times before I actually got it. Each time, they left a note on the mailbox saying that I wasn’t home, when in fact I was. I finally got the computer in December almost five months later. But the story continues. The screen went blank again in about three month! This time, I was travelling to the US, so I got it fixed in a week and brought it back. I am now selling the accursed thing. Anyone want to buy a slightly used HP laptop?

    In France they have an even better phone strategy than the US. If you call a service line and the line is busy, a voice comes on that says, translated, “all our operators are busy. Please call back later.” Then the line goes dead.

    So, HP is even more inept in France. Me, I’m perfecting my Gallic shrug.

  8. Suicidal Tillman…?Maybe
    Suicidal Tillman…?

    Maybe it’s just my being from Canada–where patriotism truly is regarded as “the last refuge of a scoundrel” generally–but Pat Tillman struck me as either a very dumb or pathetically macho individual, bordering on the tragicomic–the recent aftermath of cover-up and ‘postmortem cosmetics’ only adds to this visage. What kind of human in this modern age leaves a comfortable career in big league football to cut off his (ironically) grunge-rock hair, join the military when his country is in no direct threat, and go racing off to an early death in the Middle East? From where I stand, this reeks of what William Burroughs would have called biologic suicide.

  9. Well, R. W., I didn’t see it
    Well, R. W., I didn’t see it that way because I’d heard Tillman made his decision because he felt alarmed by Sept. 11, and anybody who’s got the brains to feel personally alarmed is probably ahead of the masses who go about their lives thinking “that’s just something on the TV news, it doesn’t involve me.” He probably had a big imagination and a big ego, and he paid the price for it. But, the most important thing is, even if Tillman were a raving idiot — the military command made a quick decision after his death to tell a lie about it, not only to news outlets but to his family. They were also caught concocting a fictional “hero” story for Jessica Lynch. Regardless of the specifics of the Tillman or Lynch story, the story here is about the military command, which is obligated to tell the American public the truth so that our country doesn’t begin to suffer the distortions of truth that are common in military dictatorships and totalitarian governments. A truth-telling military command is one major pillar of democracy — especially in time of war.

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