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Aggravations

| Sunday, Jan. 29, 2006

Lately, I have been accused of being a curmudgeon -- well, not actually a curmudgeon, but at least a cranky, annoyed (and annoying) individual.

I aspire to be a curmudgeon, but I am not one until someone else says that I am. So I sit and fester and wait impatiently in the meantime.

Jon Winokur, who edited the amusing book "The Portable Curmudgeon," summed it up nicely when he said that curmudgeons get a bad rap. They're not, for the most part, ogres. They are just people who, and I'm paraphrasing here, see things that are wrong and it ticks them off. And they are in that constant state of aggravation because they see so much to be ticked off about.

I can identify with that.

For instance, I had to call the IRS recently about a problem that a client of mine was having. This is how the call went. (And, in the words of the famous borderline curmudgeon, Dave Barry, I am not making any of this up.)

Dial the toll-free number. This proved to be the only non-annoying aspect of the call, in that at least I didn't have to pay for it. Phone rings twice. Recorded message follows:

"Welcome to the Internal Revenue Service Business and Specialty Tax Line. To continue in English, press or say 'one.' Para continuar en espanol, oprima o diga 'dos.'"

Not wishing to dust off my three years of high school Spanish, I press "1." I am now told that "many of our representatives are currently providing support to FEMA for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. You may experience longer wait times."

Well, thanks for telling me that much, at least. Gee, isn't that good for the ravaged people of our Gulf Coast states to know that the two most maligned U.S. government agencies have joined forces to "help" them out•

Next, I am given no less than three options to choose from as to where I would like to proceed on the automated web of mass confusion. I choose option three.

Two minutes later, after two more selections, I hear a phone ringing in my earpiece. I can't believe this. However, my joy is short-lived. I am immediately subscribed to "music on hold." At least it's playing popular classical music, which calms my savage tendencies somewhat.

However, before I can get through the last few bars of the Haydn minuet that I'm whistling along with, the line goes dead momentarily and a semi-pleasant female voice, in English, tells me, "We appreciate your patience. Please do not hang up; your call is important to us. If you hang up and call back now, you may increase your wait, as calls are handled in the order they are received. Please continue to hold. The next available representative will assist you as soon as possible."

The preceding message was heard every 60 seconds after the end of the 20-second announcement, no matter where the piece of music happened to be. I heard the message 14 times the first time I was on the line.

Waiting.

And waiting.

And waiting.

This was before I even got to talk to a live "person," for lack of a better word.

From the IRS or, for that matter, any government agency or big business who puts these obnoxious interruptions on the phone, what I would like to hear first is the truth. About how long this is going to take, the likelihood of hearing an actual human voice and the real attitude of the agency or business with whom we are trying to speak.

The above message, should they choose to be truthful, would sound more like this:

"We know you're annoyed at having to wait. Tough. Get used to it. We know you REALLY would like to hang up and call back after you have gotten yourself a cup of coffee, opened your mail or gone to the bathroom, but you know if you do that, you will miss your chance to actually talk to a real person. We don't actually care about how you feel, though. We're here for our shift, and then we're outta here. Don't like that• Too bad. But please continue to hold. The phone and your bladder. And your anger. Because it's senseless to rail against us. We don't really care, remember• The next available 'representative,' who is probably a schmuck, or if not, then a snotty, ill-tempered, bad mannered federal bureaucrat who embodies most of the reasons that people hate us, all manifest in ONE cranky person, will be with you -- sometime next week."

I could very easily become friends with many of these "representatives," for they and I are cut from the same bolt of cloth. I, too, am snotty, ill-tempered, bad mannered and cranky, but mostly because I have to deal with people such as that typical government "representative" of the other day.

Although I have singled out the IRS here, they are certainly not alone. As I said, virtually all government agencies have at least a cadre, if not a battalion, of those types working there, minding the customer service phones. Contrarily, I have had very pleasant, helpful and courteous IRS assisters a few times, but for the most part, they are punctilious, not pleasant; hurtful, not helpful; and curt, not courteous. Unfortunately, this seems to be pervasive in the customer service industry.

Perhaps if the human resource people would spend more time training and filling those "representative" positions more competently and appropriately, they'd present a better image and there would be a ripple effect in the opposite direction. Instead of reinforcing my need and, I dare say, desire to be a curmudgeon, they would make me smile and want to be pleasant to someone else.

Nah!

John J. Garrick (whose Social Security Number is known to the IRS) is a Jeannette freelance writer and curmudgeon wannabe.

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