I got an email from AT&T. It was alarming. I was overdue on my bill! They were going to report me to collection agencies, send it to all those companies that decide whether or not you deserve to have a credit card or a mortgage.

I was surprised because I paid the bill. On time. Online. I know I did.

Obverse side of a 1990 issued US Penny. Pictur...

So, after resetting my password — it doesn’t matter how many times I set my password … the next time I go to AT&T’s website, I will have to do it again — I looked at my bill. Somehow, I had underpaid the bill by a penny. One cent. $00.01

In retribution for my oversight, AT&T is going to sic the collection agency on me. I deserve to pay big for this lapse in fiscal responsibility.Though I actually think it was their error, not mine, but let’s not quibble.

Paying the bill!

Paying the bill!

There are many battles to fight in life. One must pick amongst them lest one be overwhelmed. This giant corporation is going to destroy my credit for want of a penny. This is what happens when computers run the world and no people monitor what they are doing. I’m sure this was all automatically generated. I am equally certain if I’d called them, they would have cancelled the bill. AT&T has pretty good customer service. But that would take even more time and effort. I fondly believe my time, even retired, is worth more than a penny.

So I paid the bill. I wasn’t actually sure my bank would let me pay a one cent bill, but they did.

One cent. Just one cent. Mind boggling.

Daily Prompt: Are you being served? Chaos and Madness at AT&T

Shortly before Christmas, Garry and I went somewhere and I forgot to bring my cell phone. I asked Garry if I might use Blackberry Torchhis. I was appalled when I could barely hear anything, even with the volume full up and using the speaker. I realized if I could barely hear it, he couldn’t hear it at all. Which brought me to the inevitable conclusion that Garry needed a new cell phone.

Good wife that I am, I figured I’d get him a new phone with better sound so he would not be stuck trying to hear on a phone with such awful audio.

This was early December and Christmas was a couple of weeks off. How long could it possibly take to get a new cell phone, right?

I went online at AT&T, our long-time carrier. I checked to see if he or I was entitled to an upgrade. It turned out both of us were entitled to upgrades, but my phone is just a year old, I don’t use it very much and although I’m entitled to a new phone, I don’t need one. Garry, on the other hand …

This seemed a fairly straightforward process. I checked to see what phones were available on super special, discovered he could get an updated version of the phone he already has for $29.99, with the usual 2 year committment, but we’ve been with AT&T forever anyhow and I don’t see that any of the other carriers are better … so why not? It was the middle of the night, but I called AT&T and was going to order the new version of the Blackberry Curve … but they wanted a credit card and I was already in bed, so I said I’d call tomorrow. I was too tired to get up and deal with it right then.

When I tried to access the website the next day, I couldn’t. Eventually, I called and discovered it wasn’t me, wasn’t a bad password or my computer. AT&T’s servers were being upgraded. I should have guessed. I should have sensed the crackling of crisis in the air. Why they picked early December to do a massive server upgrade is anyone’s guess. It would not have been my first choice.

Mar-iPhone-0nWhen I started to place the order, AT&T assured me that they needed to charge me $36 for the upgrade fee. “What upgrade?” I asked. “We already have all the services we need. The only service you are providing is putting the phone in a box and mailing it. You said it’s free shipping … but $36 is a shockingly high shipping charge. Since you aren’t providing any other services, that’s the only thing it could be.”

The young lady to whom I was talking said she couldn’t do anything about it, she was not responsible and everyone had to pay the fee. I said that I was not going to pay the fee and frankly, we’ve been long-term customers and this was shabby treatment indeed. I next learned that I was going to have to pay sales tax on the full list price of the phone, even though we all know that NO ONE pays full retail on anything, much less a cell phone upgrade. Thus this $29.99 had spiraled into around $100 …. which is more than our ultra tight budget could afford.

I said I wanted to talk to a supervisor. I was transferred and eventually, disconnected. Called back, went through the whole story again, was told — again — she couldn’t help me. Said she was transferring me to a department that could help me. When I got to that department, I was told it was the wrong department and I was going to have to go back and talk to the original people who had now two? three? times told me they couldn’t help me.

I would have been laughing but time was passing. I had started this on Sunday night and it was Tuesday. Christmas was creeping up on me and I had yet to actually place an order.

I don’t remember all the people I talked to, all the supervisors to whom I was transferred, all the deals I made only to find that the next person I spoke to had never heard anything about it. It has mercifully become a blur. My husband was cranky because he felt, since he hadn’t actually asked for a phone, I had no reason to expect a lot of sympathy or support. I pointed out he did need a phone and just being his wife ought to entitle me to sympathy and support.

It had indeed been my idea to get him a new phone based purely the uselessness of his old one. But that’s sentimental twaddle. I should have waited until he actually asked me for a phone, preferably begged me on bended knee. Generosity. That was my first mistake.

As the tale continued, it became the story without end. So many departments, so many disconnects. I ran down the battery on my cell phone and on the handset of my house phone, then switched to the other handset  And still, no order.

Finally, it was Friday, December 21st. AT&T agreed to waive the charge, give me back a few bucks to compensate for the insane sales tax, and include free shipping. By now, I’d changed from the Blackberry Curve to the iPhone 4 which was on clearance for $0.99 and they swore up and down the east coast I’d have the telephone in my hands on Christmas Eve. Shortly after this amazing promise, I got another call from someone who said whoever promised me Christmas Eve delivery should not have made such a rash promise because who knew if I’d really get the phone? It could be weeks away. Maybe never.

We had been planning to be away from the day after Christmas through the following weekend. If they delivered the phone during that period, it would sit outside in the ice, snow and slush until we got home. But not to worry, she said. If that happened, I could “just send it back.”

I could not cope with the idea of returning the phone. This was bad. Doing it twice would be unbearable. I had been on the telephone with AT&T for more hours in one week than I had been on the phone with everyone else I know during the entire previous year. Granted I’m not on the phone much, but this had eaten at least 25 hours of telephone time … and there seemed to be no end in sight. Ever.

Somewhere during this period, our plans for visiting friends post-Christmas were cancelled because my friend was ill. Despite assurances there was no way I’d get the phone by Christmas Eve followed by equally passionate assurances I definitely would get the phone by Christmas Eve, I simply had no idea when or if I was getting a phone. Would you like to take a guess?

I got the phone Christmas Eve. There it was, a little white box in a bigger brown box. Delivered by FedEx. No bubble pack. Just the phone banging around inside the shipping box. So I waited until the day after Christmas and called about the lack of padding in the box because I didn’t want to wind up with a dead iPhone 4 being told it was somehow my fault. I was assured by someone somewhere that this wouldn’t happen, so I went ahead opened the box and tried setting up the phone.

Nothing worked. What is more, due to the endless legal battles between Google and Apple, Garry’s gmail contact list could not be synchronized with the iPhone.

The first tech support individual, from AT&T, told me that Garry would have to enter all the information by hand. I said “up your nose with a rubber hose” or words to that effect. Garry’s address book has at least 300 entries and I think I’m being conservative. I pointed out that the iPhone is supposed to sync with Outlook and by now, a few disconnects later, I was on the phone with Apple tech support and my cell phone was recharging, the battery having run down to zero again and I was on the second of the two “house phone” handsets, having run through the first phone’s battery. We finally doped out, between him and me, that we had to delete the “cloud” function and NOT synchronize the two email addresses linked to Outlook because it created a conflict and would immediately spew error messages.

When I finally got the iPhone to synchronize with Outlook’s address book, it started demanding a password for voicemail. My head began making a funny buzzing sound that kept getting louder. Were those voices talking to me? Possibly … if only the buzzing would stop and let me think …

Neither Garry nor I has ever needed a password for our voice mail. Not his, not mine, not ever. We didn’t have any passwords to give them. When the Apple tech guy said I’d have to call AT&T to get it sorted out, I went into full meltdown. I could not face another long wait, multiple disconnects … and trying to interface with who knew how many morons before maybe … by New Year’s … I could get through to someone who would  know what the problem was and fix it.

Finally, the fellow at Apple who actually seemed to have at least a pretty good knowledge of the product managed to get the address book issue dealt with … said he himself would call AT&T and put us in a conference call and we’d sort the whole thing out. He said he’d call me back and I begged … I think groveling might better describe it … that he really call me back and not leave me hanging.

This was the day after Christmas, the busiest day of the year for tech support what with everyone getting a telephone, tablet, computer, or some other electronic widget under the tree. Likely this didn’t help. But he called back with a man who was obviously not an entry-level tech support guy. He was a Big Gun. You just knew it. He fixed it. He said it was a software artifact from older phones and he was going to delete it from the system and it would never trouble me again.

Then he gave me a $40 credit giving me a small profit on the transaction unless you count my time as being worth money in which case I’m far behind. Far, very far behind.

Garry has a new cell phone. He said “thank you,” and I said “you’re welcome,” but personally, I think I’ve earned a medal at the very least.

Image representing Apple as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

So for all the people who told me to “Get a Mac” to solve my problems, I will agree the iPhone is a fine, well-made phone. Was it easy to set up? No. Did it have fewer glitches than my other phones? No. If anything, it had more issues. I got it for a great price and it has, as I had hoped, very loud speakers so Garry can hear it. Hopefully, he’ll get used to the virtual keyboard.

I hate it even more than I hated the tiny raised keys on the Blackberry. I never voluntarily write anything on a cell phone and why Garry does is beyond me.

This whole trial by fire has made me aware of how pathetic my older Blackberry Torch (first generation) is and how I need a new phone. When I’ve recovered from this experience, I will think about replacing it. Why do cell phones need replacing so often? They are so expensive, shouldn’t they last more than a year? Just saying.

Meanwhile, I need to rest and recover my perspective. I have to wait until the story gets funnier. At least until I find my misplaced sense of humor. Then I’ll buy another cell phone.

A huge pink underbelly

Little things defeat me. An electrical blip — so brief as to go otherwise unnoticed — knocked out the time and date on the clocks and telephones in my house. It was so brief I didn’t realize it had happened until I went to bed and everything was blinking. Don’t you hate when that happens?


I would have noticed had I been in my office. That computer isn’t a laptop, so an electrical blip knocks out the computer. But I was using the laptop and it just switched to battery. I continued uninterrupted. But all the blinking in the bedroom was hard to ignore. Resetting the clock radio was easy enough, but then … there was the telephone. They are all networked, so I only have to set one and all three reset. It should have been no big deal.

Sadly, I do not get along with telephones. Not mobile phones or landlines. Nor the networked house phones. I can manage a computer and software, but I very quickly discovered I had no idea how to reset the date on these telephones. I was defeated by an AT&T multi-handset system I installed in our home about a year ago. For which the instructions are long vanished.


Every time something so miniscule defeats me, I am reminded how helpless I am — we all are — in the face of our technology. Even those of us who are technologically savvy have limits. All of us have a technical Waterloo. If anything goes awry with any major system in my house, not only am I helpless, so is everyone else who lives here. Three generations of people who use technology constantly and depend on it utterly. If we were without power for 24 hours our world would collapse.

It’s the huge, soft, pink, underbelly of our modern world. The aliens will not have to defeat us in battle. They just have to knock out our communication satellites and blow up a few power plants. Human civilization goes down like a row of dominoes.

aliens hubble

The image of a spiral galaxy has been stretched and mirrored by gravitational lensing into a shape similar to that of a simulated alien from the classic 1970s computer game Space Invaders Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage/ESA-Hubble Collaboration
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The only survivors will be the rural poor, those few who don’t depend on technology because they can’t afford it. Or maybe the survivalists in their compounds. Their lives will go on as before. Not me, though. Probably not you either. It’s just a thought to ponder.

Just one of those days …

This was basically a good day. Really. Gar and I went to a real party and saw people we almost never see. We didn’t stay long because both of us have trouble with loud parties, but it was a lovely home, good company. Pleasant and full of happy noises.


We got home with only one missed turn off and managed to correct it, even though our GPS, “Richard,” seemed to feel we could make a u-turn on the Southeast Expressway, also known as Route 93 … an elevated limited access high-speed road with perhaps the heaviest traffic in the region. At rush hour, no less. So instead of our GPS, we were forced to rely on a blind luck to find a route that would let us reverse our direction and get back onto the Expressway in the opposite (correct) direction.

If we hadn’t been just outside of Quincy, it would have been easier … probably. Massachusetts was one of the earliest settled parts of the U.S. and our roads are a mess. If you look on a map, they look like a bowl of spaghetti.

We have wrong way concurrence of road, incredibly complicated intersections, signs that don’t make any sense … and no signs where you desperately need them. For you foreigners (anyone not from around here), the town is actually pronounced Quinzy, leaving me with the eternally unanswered question: Was our sixth president called John Quincy Adams,  or John Quinzy Adams.

The roads in and around Quincy are totally illogical. To go south, you have to first go north, but not necessarily vice versa. The signs, although better than they used to be, can’t entirely clarify. Getting on and off of route 295 heading south on route 146 requires keeping right, then left, then right in rapid succession, and when coming back the other way, a high-speed dash across 5 lanes of rapidly moving traffic and the signage doesn’t begin to explain that you have to gun it and keep going, no matter how many cars and trucks are heading at you. If you are driving in a vehicle that doesn’t accelerate quickly, prayer is recommended.

And that is approximately where we missed a turn off. With our GPS shouting at us to turn around, then losing track of us completely. At one point, we were apparently in the middle of the bay, at least according to Richard. It’s wasn’t as bad as downtown Boston — few things are — but it’s bad.

typical Boston road sign. Try to read this going 30 mph.    Ryan39s Smashing Life!

We eventually managed to circle around, though we had to go a few miles.

We got home and discovered that Nan, our innocent, sweet lamb of a Norwich Terrier had chewed a very neat but sizable hole in the previously unopened 20 pound bag of dog food. It’s hard to tell how much she ate, but for a dog that is about 11 inches at the shoulder, she is astonishingly food-driven. Her need for food is hard explain unless you’ve seen it because she is such a little sweetheart … and willing to battle a mastiff to get to the food dish first.

After dealing with the dog food, I decided to take care of what I assumed would be a simple task: getting a new cell phone for my husband. His phone has gotten old. It’s just a couple of years old, but in cell phone years, that’s practically ancient. I can barely hear on it and I have normal hearing, so he probably can’t hear anything. It’s just old.

But AT&T says that Garry is entitled to an upgrade and they have the new version of his Blackberry Curve at the upgrade price of $29.99. So I logged myself in … it took three tries, even though it was unquestionably the correct password … and when I went to do the upgrade, I discovered they were going to charge me $36 dollars for “upgrade services” plus $18.69 sales tax. The phone is $29.99 … which would make the tax significantly more than 50% of the price of the phone. The “upgrade service fee” is more than the phone.

Both of us already have Blackberries. We are adding no new services. We are changing nothing. So the “services” consist of mailing us the phone, whereupon we insert the chip, the battery, charge it, configure it and all that jazz.


I have stuck with AT&T for years, not because they have the best signal — not even close — or the best prices, but because they’ve always had great service. I was seriously pissed off. Eventually, I talked to a supervisor who agreed that perhaps the $36.00 fee was a bit much, but the sales tax is based on the full retail list price of the phone … a price nobody ever pays. And oh, the systems at AT&T are down, so they couldn’t take care of it right now. By then, I’d been dumped out of my account and in trying to get back, was informed that I’d tried to get into the account too many times and was now locked out. Not that it made much of a difference anyhow since the system had stopped recognizing my password yesterday and only intermittently recognized the new one.


They said they’d call me tomorrow. I said I was going to be at the hospital all day tomorrow seeing the neurologist who I hope can do something about my back, or at least make some of the pain go away. I’d happily settle for less pain.

Of the 450 minutes we pay for (and they no longer offer that plan … you have to buy at least 500), last month we used, between the two of us, 17 minutes. Of my 200 MB data, I used 9 MB. Of his 200, Garry used 12. We don’t need more features. What we need are telephones with decent sound that can be used to make telephone calls. We aren’t going to play with apps. We just need telephones for emergencies. There doesn’t seem to be a plan for people like us.

I started to wonder if we really need Blackberries at all, but there are practically no phones you can get that aren’t smart phones that have even passable sound quality. We both have laptops and desktops on which we get email. I also have a netbook and Kindle … both of which get email. How many ways do we need to get email? We take everything with us everywhere we go out-of-town. If there was a decent telephone that isn’t a smart phone available, we could save $60 a month. But any phone with good sound quality is a smart phone and requires a data plan which we don’t need or want. Caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. Again.

Finally, I settled down, baked a frozen pizza and watched some television. I’m mentally preparing to find out if my spine is salvageable. I have a feeling that sleep is not going to come easily tonight.

I think I need to chill. Between dealing with my new HMO (that’s a whole other story) and AT&T, and the dreaded cable company … how did I ever find time to work a full-time job?  I’m way too busy to work.