It is not my intention to be the nation's foremost chronicler of customer-support phone-call tales, but things break. Items fail to work. Calls must be made.

To bring you up to speed: Had a new coffeemaker. It wasn't fancy. It just made coffee. One day it didn't. The display said CLEAN and it wouldn't make coffee, because it felt unclean.

You don't have leprosy, I told it. You have a new filter. You're fine.

I unplugged it, which is your way of saying, "All right, little missy, you just sit there and think about what you've done." And when I plugged it back in, the display said BOLD. Except the LCD letters made it look like BOLO, which is cop talk for Be On the Look Out.

10-4, I said, expecting it would now make bold coffee. Forthright coffee, unafraid to speak its piece and challenge existing norms. It made 3 teaspoons, sighed, and died.

First call to the company: "It's under warranty, we'll send you a new one. Just send us the receipts." This I did. Heard nothing for a month.

Second call to the company: "Hello, who do I have the pleasure of speaking to?"

Bolo McSleepy, you want to say. And how do you know this is going to be a pleasure? But you have to be nice; you must be nice. Unless you are speaking to the person who designed and built this particular device, the phone rep has no responsibility for your problem and has to spend the entire day in a windowless hangar talking on the phone to angry people while a fat man stripped to the waist walks up and down the aisles, beating a drum to set the tempo for call resolution. If reps spend more than four minutes with callers, their pay will be docked and the tires on their cars in the parking lot will be slightly deflated.

I explained my situation, and, of course, he was "very sorry to hear about that." The crowned heads of Europe were less distressed to hear about the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand. There'd be long faces around the break room table when he told them about this one.

He said they had not received my receipts, and I said I was very sorry to hear about that, but I'm looking at the e-mail and it hadn't bounced back. He said he would send me another e-mail that I could answer. I thanked him and complimented him on his swift resolution of our difficulty.

Be nice. It's easy.

A week passed, and the e-mail had not arrived.

Third call to the company: They called up my file, because there was now a file about my coffeemaker, and read back the e-mail address I had supposedly given. They had it as jameskikecks. Made sense: If your name was James Lileks, you'd have an e-mail that said jameskikeks, just for the fun of constantly correcting people.

The nice support person — who, by the way, was "very sorry to hear about your problem" — said they would send me an e-mail, and —

"Can you give me an e-mail address you can read now, while I'm on hold?"

Pause. I could envision what she was thinking: "He is on to us. Shut everything down." But eventually she came up with an e-mail address, and I sent my receipts. Then I listened to hold music while a screen grab of an Amazon order teleported across the country and was reassembled in an inbox somewhere in Boca Raton or Manila.

Eventually the woman came back on the line and thanked me for holding — she was "very sorry you had to be on hold and the entire corporate structure of the firm is united in its appreciation of your patience" — and said they would look at my receipts. If the return was approved, they would send me instructions for sending them the electrical cord of the coffeemaker.


"You will need to cut off the cord and send it to us."

And this is where I went just a little bit daft. "You want me to cut the cord and mail it to you? What am I, a kidnapper? Do you want me to include a copy of today's newspaper with the current date to show the coffeemaker is still alive? Sorry, I know it's not your idea, you've been really helpful, but if this call is being monitored for quality assurance, I have to ask: Do you think this is some elaborate hoax? I painstakingly faked some Amazon receipts and spent two hours on hold so I can scam you out of a coffeemaker?"

Sometimes when I rant they chuckle, but usually they go to script.

"Sir, I understand, and if you cannot cut off the cord you can send a picture of it."

But I wanted to point out that that defeats the entire purpose of sending the dismembered remains. I was tempted to say, "OK, I'm cutting it right now" and then make screaming sounds of someone being electrocuted.

But no. Be nice. Be the person you'd like to hear from if you had that job.

Conclusion: Phone support is no fun for anyone, but I really wonder what they tell people complaining about defective Viagra pills.