By Hardy Jackson
Roy Blount, Jr. (the funniest man alive) in Roy Blount’s Book of Southern Humor (the funniest book ever put together) tells a story he got from Loyal Jones. (Stealing is okay as long as you give credit to the one you stole it from, which, you will note, is what I am doing right here). It goes something like this – actually, it goes exactly like this – I am copying it word for word.
A woman moved from Kentucky to Dayton, Ohio. One day, a fire started in her house, and she called the fire department.
“Hello, I’ve got a fire out here in my house.”
“Okay, where is it?”
“It’s in the kitchen.”
“I mean, how do we get to it?”
“Well, you come in off the back porch or through the living room, either one.”
“No, I mean, how do we get from here where we are to you out where you are?”
“Ain’t you got one of them big red trucks?”
Now, if you told this story to someone who was either under the age of 10 or was from, say, New Jersey, they might ask, with a straight face, “did that really happen”? To which all you can do is answer “yes” because telling anyone who would ask such a question that it doesn’t really matter if it did or didn’t happen would take the edge off the whole story, and in Southern humor, the edge is pretty important where it is.
Or you could reply, “It might have,” which would leave them to ponder the circumstances under which such a conversation could have occurred and to conclude, ultimately, that you were lying.
But not only might something like this have happened, the other day it did.
Let me explain.
Our phone was full of static, so my wife called the phone company and talked to a computer that asked a lot of questions, then told her they would fix it by Thursday.
Thursday came and the phone was still full of static.
She called again and talked to a computer that asked a lot of questions, and it told her that a technician would come out on Saturday.
On Saturday, no technician appeared.
Now, my wife was not happy. She wanted the phone fixed. But she was not about to call that computer again and answer the same questions, and then sit and wait for a technician not to arrive.
So she told me it was my turn.
And being a dutiful husband, on Monday I called the phone company and talked to a computer that asked a lot of questions, then told me they would have it fixed by Tuesday.
And I hung up.
Then it hit me. I am at the mercy of a machine. I call the phone company, a computer answers, it asks me questions, I reply, then it tells me what will happen and I settle down to wait.
The computer has me programmed.
It was then that a voice within me said, “fight back.”
And I did.
I called the phone company.
The computer came on the line and began asking questions.
And I didn’t answer.
Phone company computer: “What is the nature of your problem?”
Phone company computer: “I did not understand your answer.”
Phone company computer: “Would you speak more slowly.”
This went on for a few minutes. I could tell the computer was getting frustrated.
It is pretty hard on a voice-activated machine when there is no voice to activate it.
Then, as if by magic, a real person came on the line, a lovely lady in Kentucky.
I explained the static and that a technician was supposed to have come on Saturday but didn’t. Then I asked, polite as could be, “could you give me the number of the technical center in my area so I can talk with someone, close by, who can send someone out to fix my phone?”
Phone company lady: “There is no one in your area you can talk with.”
Me: “Isn’t there someone down here that sends out the technicians?”
Phone company lady: “No, I send the work order to the technicians.”
Me: “Then will you please tell the technician who is supposed to fix my phone to call me if they are not able to keep the appointment.”
Phone company lady: “The technicians have no way to call you.”
And today, somewhere in the files of one of our great public utilities, among the conversations we are told were being “recorded for quality assurance and control” is my voice saying: “No way to call me? Don’t they have one of them little telephoney things?”
The next day, a technician appeared and when he left, he took the static with him.
Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is professor emeritus of history at Jacksonville State University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.