I have come recently to understand the cause of aneurysms. I’m sure that somewhere there is a detailed medical discourse on the subject. Simply put, however, there are times and places where your brain makes the conscious decision that it is just easier to bleed.

Recently an encounter with the phone company brought me dangerously close to this point.

I like to think of myself as a forward-thinking kind of guy. I’ve never been afraid of the newest or strangest technological revolutions. I was on the Internet before most people knew what a modem was. I’m familiar with the more bizarre items in Radio Shack. At least, I’d like to think so.

So when my Verizon bill came with a note saying, “Try our online payment,” I jumped at the chance to feel hip. I chuckled when my five housemates worried about mailing the bills before the holiday. I smiled when they ventured out to buy stamps.

I laughed. I joked. I grinned. Then I opened my bill.

I got screwed.

Every bill includes a list of the previous month’s charges: “$70.48 Credited. Thank you.”

I liked that part. The next line set my more timid neurons writhing and running for cover. “Adjusted payment $70.48, Due $70.48.” Add this to the next month’s charges along with a boldfaced “CASH ONLY” next to the total and paying the phone bill becomes a rather unpleasant proposition.

I sighed. I cursed. I frowned. Then I called the phone company.

My phone bill contained a list of numbers including a billing hotline. Now, in math there’s something called an existence theorem.

Basically it’s the idea that the presence of one thing implies the existence of another. For instance, the presence of a doorknob generally implies the existence of a door. Or alternatively, the presence of a billing hotline generally implies the presence of a large staff of skilled operators trained in the deadly art of blowing you off.

The Zen warrior who first assisted me was named John.

“How can I provide you with outstanding service today?” he challenged.

I countered: “I got my phone bill and it says that I didn’t pay. I did.”

A silence followed. He probably typed at his keyboard. In my mind he uttered silent mantras from his desk chair, harnessing his Qui for a final attack. A tumult of furious blows ensued.

“It says your check bounced.”

“I didn’t use a check.”

“It says your check bounced.”

“There was money in the account.”

“It says your check bounced.”

“I have overdraft protection.”

“It says your check bounced.”

I tried a few more sound arguments. They bounced too. I was lost in a strange world where logic did not exist. After an hour, I hung up the phone, gasping for breath, my heart desperately attempting to restore oxygen to my brain. Stupidity is the most dangerous weapon of all, and I had fallen to its dull blade.

I grunted. I muttered. I grimaced. Then I went to the bank.

The clerk informed me that the bank had never received a request for payment and printed me a record to that effect. Hungry for revenge and armed with this powerful unquestionable proof, I was eager to vanquish a dim-witted operator. Naive as I am, I ventured that threatening to produce a bank statement would produce an immediate resolution to my problem.

Rather than driving home, I proceeded to the nearest payphone outside the bank. My operator’s name was Cindy.

“How can I provide you with outstanding service today?” she lashed.

I attacked. I explained my problem with unnerving rationalism and offered to produce my bank statement.

Cindy stuttered. There was an awkward silence. The loud clacking of keys, the faint murmur of conversation played out in the background. I smiled. I had her now.

Suddenly, from nowhere came a bold new weapon, nearly as powerful as stupidity. An orchestra began playing through the receiver. Hold music.

There I waited, standing firmly on my principles and an aging wad of Bubblicious. For an hour. In the sun. At a payphone. It was high noon on Fairview Avenue.

The hold music subsided. I gasped for breath. Then came a low cut to the right side. My call was being transferred. The ugly scene repeated itself once more. I bounced from one operator to the next. I’m a tough guy, but three against one has never been a fair fight.

Finally, I got the number for the unlisted online billing department.

“How can I provide you with outstanding service today?” growled Chuck.

I explained my problem. Chuck checked his computer — for fifteen minutes.

My head hurt. I noticed I’d been banging it against the pay phone.

“Okay, it’s fixed,” he hissed. “Next time you pay online –”

“I’ll write a check, thanks.”


Josh Braun is the Daily Nexus science and technology editor. He is a junior in the Individual Studies program and is currently considering switching to MCI. His features run every second Tuesday.