...on the Herizon: can you hear me now?

Dad was a struggling, recently graduated lawyer back in the late 40's. The country was just over a war and we were trying to get things back to normal as a nation. He represented a client who didn't have enough to pay him, so the guy gave him some AT&T stock he had acquired somewhere along the line. My father put it aside. When he died in 1988, it was passed onto my mother. When my mother died in 1997, it went to my three siblings and myself. Over the many years AT&T had become many companies through various corporate splits and break-ups, but my, how the stock had grown into a sizable chunk of change for each of us to share. I can remember as I transferred my shares of the stock to my name how proud I was that it had been in my family for so long and what a fine outfit AT&T must surely be. Cut to 2004.

My wife and I go into an fairly crowded and heretofore unalluded to communications store to buy a big battery for 1987 or so model "bag" phone we use only during the summer when we are at our little island getaway. We are greeted as we enter this establishment by a person wielding a clipboard (never a good sign). We tell her what we need and she is not exactly sure where we should queue (another bad sign). Is this battery enigma a technician question for the technician line or a purchase item for the purchase line? Hmmmmmm? She sends us to the technical question line. Now we are waiting in line to ask if we are in the right line. We quickly realize we are standing in the midst in what is basically a cell-phone store, and the phone relic we possess is some antiquated six year-old piece of landfill fodder. How can we help but overhear the conversation between the technician and the lady ahead of us in line. She had already been there once to obtain her phone we had gathered, and was now making a long second trip back to get an antenna put on her car. The technician can't understand why someone has called her to come in for an installation when the computer screen in front of him shows clearly that no such antenna is in stock for them to install. He walks over to the purchase line, goes to the front of it (he doesn't have to wait), comes back to the lady to confirm that alas the call for her to come in was premature. But wait! He spies a group of FedEx or some such overnight delivery boxes on the floor not eight feet from his desk and sure enough, there lies yon elusive culprit. The techie returns to his computer screen to explain that though the package is right there on the floor not but a few feet from him it still can't be installed because it has not been officially and properly received into the facility. He explains that the SKU on the box has not been scanned into the system thus making said antenna virtually non-existent in this communication store's eyes. He then returns to the other long line, cuts in once again to have this particular transaction expedited. What's this? The person who does the SKU scanning is gone to lunch. The offending piece of technology literally virtually unreal until such time as the SKU scanner returns. She inquires with a markedly obvious self-effacing stupidity voice if someone else in the store might spend the three seconds necessary to run the SKU scanner over the mystical markings so that she can have the piece installed and she can be on her way. "What?" This lady is an obvious system bucker.

The teckie's voice takes on a more pronounced patronizing tone and he begins to talk to her in rehearsed phrases that he has been taught to use with these common techno-rebels like herself. He explains to her once again, with due condescension, that the person who scans the SKU will not return until after lunch and by then it will be too late for her to have her antenna installed and that she will have to make an appointment to return another day. I almost stepped forward to say that I was on her side and that he was bullying her, but because I was in a hurry myself to pick up my children, I didn't. I was faced with a moral dilemma and I choked. I didn't want to get involved. All those communications company commercials came quickly to mind. All the smiling, happy faces as customers came to realize all their communication dreams. The no hassle promises of a brighter, static free tomorrow. It wasn't true. The reality of bounding happiness turned out to be much less than the rosy picture the commercials painted. The commercials were hyping me up to buy into their Ovaltine secret decoder ring philosophy which turned out to be even more malarkey.. She never got her antenna that day, and after a twenty minute wait we never got our battery. The cruel technician told us that we should look elsewhere.

Daddy's stock has all been sold for a price that has been faltering over the few years since I came into possession of it. That company in my mind is now awash in some sort of sleezy, high-falutin' gimmickry and flashy double-speak. Instead of them asking us, "Can you hear me now?", we should be asking them that same question. If I ever run into that poor lady again, I'm going to apologize to her.

J. Jules Vitali is a sculptor, columnist, inadvertent moral philosopher and poet who resides in Freeport, Maine. He is the creator of the art form Styrogami which can be seen on the web at www.styrogami.com. He is also an Artist in Cellophane (www.artomat.org). He tries to have fun in life.