When I picked up the phone to call the DWP today, I made a vow to myself. No matter what they said, I would be civil and unfailingly courteous. Extremely so. Why? Not because I am a spiritual giant. Quite the contrary. I just thought it would help my cause. I have now, after all, made five calls to them about the buzzing power line out front. Rational discourse, an appeal to common decency, even a minor amount of prevarication have achieved nothing at all.
So I will kill them with kindness. I will go Jesus on them. I will turn the other cheek. I will turn my whole body. I will turn repeatedly. I will spin like a dervish.
All this in mind, I dialed the phone.
I warmed up on the automated guy. He asked why I was calling. None of the choices he offered applied. As unctuously as possible I said “it’s something else.” He asked me to repeat myself. I did. More unctuousness, just louder. That’s harder than you think. Still, you could have oiled a bicycle chain with my voice.
He asked for my CAN number. What the hell is that, anyway? Why can’t they just call it an account number like everyone else?
But I kept my cool. “I don’t have it,” I crooned, my voice like warm honey on silk.
The voice asked for my zip code instead. No problemo. I sang the numbers smoothly, even legato — like a Gregorian chant. “Nine oh OH six FIIIIVE.” It was breathtaking. Heartrending. Too bad my kitchen has no echo.
There was a pause. Then a human came on! A woman!
The civility, kindness — even love! — started to flow off of me like sweat off of Bikram. I became the Dalai Lama, but female. And not bald. And not in exile. And not — well, I’m sure you get it.
The lady read my file. She read and read. Finally she said that she could see that I had “called a few times,” (hah!) that she was “sorry for the inconvenience” (double hah!) and that a truck would be out soon to remedy my probelm.
“How soon?” More elegant singsong.
Four hours, she responded. And I’m a giraffe’s ass! But I did not say this. Instead, I oh-so-gently, like a lamb with vocal chords of kitten fur, murmered:
“Please don’t take this personally, but you’ll understand if I’m a little skeptical at this point.”
Harsh sentiment, perhaps, but uttered so gently. How gently? I would not have been surprised to hear Ms. DWP giggle on the other end. “Gootchy Goo!” I may as well have said. “Gootchy gootchy goo!”
She placed me back on hold to “see what she could do.” Gootchy that!
The despair-inducing hold music welled from the phone. I smiled beatifically. I did not kill myself. I did not kill anyone. Not even an ant or a spider. Instead I summoned joy…and hummed along.
Dum. Dum da DUM. Dum da DUM. Dum da DUM. Dum. Da. DUM. Is it me or have they slowed it down even more since last time? Hardly seems possible. It is a veritable dirge.
Finally the lady came back on. She had, she said, spoken to her “power line liaison.” I am not making this up. He was “aware of my case,” she said. He had promised her he would send a team out. He really would. He was truly sorry. They were simply short staffed. So the window was a bit longer than the 24-48 hours I had been promised — weeks ago.
“How much longer?’ I asked, my voice oozing benevolence.
“I really can’t say. Apparently it’s at least two weeks. That’s how long it’s been already, right?” She said this last part brightly. I think it was supposed to be a joke.
She is not the enemy, I told myself. Even if you do want to reach through the phone right now and poke her with a fork.
“You know, it’s hard on our end,” Ms. DWP went on. “We’re in a hiring freeze, so when someone gets sick or, you know — ”
“Takes a nap in their truck?” I said sweetly.
“– goes on vacation, we just have no way to replace them. So that’s hard. For us. On this end.”
“And yet,” I responded, the comity dripping like nectar from my voice, “– and I know this isn’t your fault — but my bill seems to be — wow! — high. Surely if I pay so much, you guys can afford to –”
There was silence on the other end.
“Or,” I stammered, genially. “I guess you can’t.”
I sighed. “I’m going to be waiting a while to get the buzz repaired, aren’t I?” My tone was melancholy. No bitterness, no animosity. Just grief.
“You may. But it’ll happen.” She was the one to speak kindly, now. Like a mother, comforting her fear-stricken child. Like me. When I comfort MJ…about the f-ing buzz outside!
I took a breath.
“Do you think I could have a credit?’ I murmured. “For all the trouble I’ve been to?” So much tenderness flowing back and forth. A river of warmth. How could it stop now?
“I’m sorry, Ma’am,” she said flatly. “After all, your lights are still on.”
And that was that.
Look, when all is said and done, I am proud of myself. I was nice. I was decent. I behaved like a gentlewoman. And I do think, in the long run, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.
But that doesn’t make them stop buzzing.
Or anything else, for that matter.