The Talk To Agent Blues

“Please tell me the reason for your call,” the robot said for the seventieth time, “so that I can best assist you.”

“Talk to agent!” I howled into my phone for the seventy-first time.

“I’m sorry,” the robot sounded patiently annoyed, “I can connect you to an agent, but first let’s try to fix this. Would you like me to explain your bill?”

“No! Talk to agent!”

“I’m sorry, I’m doing my best to help you. Would you like me to explain some of our new features with Xfinity?”

“No, scumbag, I’d like to bash your circuits in with a hammer,” I didn’t say this. Because Solomon and Samson were watching from the sunroom. Solomon is six. Samson five. Solomon turned to my wife Katie.

“Why is daddy screaming ‘talk to agent’ to that robot?”

I was on speaker phone. My boys were fascinated by my conversation with the Comcast robot.

“Because daddy is a lunatic,” Katie told Solomon.

“May I check your modem health?” the robot offered again, even though it had checked my modem health seven times during our phone call.

“When I get a hold of you, you piece of garbage, I’m going to rip your central processing unit out of your damned skull and shove it down your flux capacitor you maggot,” I didn’t howl this into the phone. But I did scream this: “TALK TO AGENT!”

***

Our internet stopped working last Sunday. Around 2:00 in the afternoon. It was the day before classes started at Penn State. It was the day before school started in State College. The day before the first week of remote school for my children. Remote first grade and remote kindergarten. Long story short? We are dead in the water without internet.

Two hours on the phone with Comcast eventually led me to the only Comcast store in State College. I arrived at 4:45. The store closed at 5:00. There was a line of college students out the door. Their masks flapped in the wind. The freshmen were teeming with Covid as they tried to get their hands on that sweet, sweet internet.

I made it in before closing. Upgraded to the most expensive package they had. Came home with a modem that looked like a rocket ship. Plugged everything in. Still didn’t work. I called my good friends at Comcast.

“Is daddy calling that robot again?” Samson asked Katie.

Katie put her head in her hands.

I pleaded with the robot, and finally got to a human voice. An agent. We got the juice flowing. That sweet, sweet internet.

The week was a roller coaster. Our internet was a panic attack. It worked for an hour. Then it crashed. I was kicked off twenty zoom calls. I kicked things. I howled profanities. It was ugly. Somehow, I made it through my first week of classes. The boys “attended” school on Friday. The connection was sloppy, but we survived.

I braced myself, and called Comcast again on Friday morning.

I knew the drill.

I howled “Talk to agent!” until I was hoarse. Eventually – there doesn’t seem to be any discernible pattern to get to a human being with Comcast – the robot gave way to a person.

“How may I help you, ma’am?” The agent asked.

Customer service always thinks I’m a woman. I don’t care anymore.

“I need somebody to come out and fix my internet.”

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Tanner, but first I need to test the health of your modem.”

I became a real Karen. After countless calls and chats and interactions with Comcast, I knew what I needed. I needed somebody to come to my house and fix the nightmare that was my very expensive internet. It took thirty more minutes, two matches with a manager, and all the feminine chutzpah I could muster, but I finally got an appointment scheduled.

A guy (was he an agent too?) came to my house. He got on a ladder, installed a new cable into my house, and went away.

Fingers crossed. Our internet seems to be working. I can only pray it lasts. I can’t take another encounter with Comcast’s robotic army of customer service representatives. It’s a real Terminator 2 situation over there. And I’m afraid Skynet has got me by the balls. Or the fallopian tubes, as it were. Mrs. Tanner indeed.

***

So I’ve got the talk to agent blues. And that’s not the least of it.

Solomon was in tears after his first day of online school. Big emotions. So excited to be back at school, but so sad to be doin it from home. And it was sad to watch those students spaced out in desks, wearing masks, not allowed to move around the classroom. Sad to watch the Samson’s kindergarten teacher try to keep their cool as they faced this impossible moment.

I teared up a few times last week. Once when I was reading my story about card houses. If you’ve had me as a student, you know I always open up a class with a plea for the group to build instead of destroy. That felt so important to me as I talked to my new class. I also teared up as we discussed John Dewey. The work of teaching and teacher education feels so damned important right now. Dewey saw no hope for democracy in this country without a public education that taught us how to be good to each other. How to share power. My eyes got watery as I talked about teaching in a Zoom room of future teachers. They stared at me blankly. I was probably a little much for them.

Internet is a commodity. We can’t function without it. I’d rather not stare at screens all day. But I’d rather not do lots of things. So here’s to the new school year, y’all. I hope you’re faring better than us.

“Dad,” Solomon keeps asking me with a mischievous glint in his eye, “you should call that robot so you can tell it you want to talk to agent.”

“Thanks, buddy.”

“Talk! To! Agent!”

The boys have been mocking me all week. Rightly so.

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