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July 27, 2013

As Time Goes By: I want to talk to a real person before the robots take over

The Daily Star

---- — Every now and then, I need to vent about things that irk me. I am starting to dislike my telephone with a passion. 

The reason for this is that, when you dial a business, instead of a flesh-and-blood person, you get a disembodied voice that sounds like a bad thriller movie from 1952. Even Farad, my good buddy from Bombay, India, was better than that tinny voice that sounds like the days when you opened a can with that can opener that left those jagged edges. 

Case in point was a phone call I made to a dental office seeking information. I dialed the number and my conversation went like this:

“Thank you for calling the dental offices of Dr. Yankem, Dr. Hurts and Dr. Wealthy. Please press one if you want to make an appointment; press two if you want something else.” (I pressed No. 2.) (Long pause to let you gather your thoughts.)

“Please listen closely as we have changed things around since the last time you may have called.”

“If you need want to discuss a bill, please press one. If you are unable to pay this month’s installment and want to plead your case and give a rational reason why you will be late and want to avoid the $50 late fee, press two.” (Tinny laughter is heard in the background. Far in the background, you hear a grating voice say “Oilcan.”)

“If you are bleeding from a recent tooth extraction and need help from a dentist, please press three. If you are really bleeding badly from two or more teeth or if you have fractured your jaw, please hang up and dial 911. That way you will become someone else’s problem.”

There is a long pause now, and you hear noise in the background like people getting up from a chair, a book falling on the floor and uncontrolled laughter reminiscent of the fat mechanical lady that used to be in the front of the funhouse. (Remember those days?)

The voice comes back and says, “If you are still on the line and haven’t hung up out of frustration, please press four. In order to ensure the accuracy of this conversation, please state your name and then spell your name starting with your first name. Please enunciate clearly and do not use nicknames or names your spouse uses when the garbage bag breaks and spills garbage all over the carpeted floor.

“Please state the four-digit number of the year you were born.” I respond with “1937.” (There is laughter in the background and a whispered phrase is heard, “We got an old one.”)

At this time, I am very frustrated because the blood from the extractions that were made to make room for an upper plate is now dripping all over the floor. I look in the mirror and see  ... Dracula. 

Finally after a series of clicking noises a real live person comes on line and announces that our conversation was being taped to ensure quality control. She says her name is Tanya and asks how she can help me.

Without any upper teeth, I sound like Gabby Hayes from the days of the old Westerns. I try to explain my situation to Tanya with my mouth full of gauze sponges.

“I’m bweeden,” I say, “helfme.” (As I write this my spellchecker is going crazy.)

Tanya parrots back, “You’re bleeding from a recent extraction?” I answer “Yef.” She then announces that my troubles are over — all I have to do is gently rinse my mouth with lukewarm water loaded with salt.

Tanya closes our conversation by wishing me a happy day and to call if my situation worsens.

I rinse my mouth with the salt water and the bleeding almost stops except for a little seepage. I had been worried about bleeding out after seeing all the blood on the sheets and my nightgown. How many gallons of blood do we have?

We are slowly moving into a world where “robots” are making inroads every day. 

There is that round thing that runs around your house vacuum cleaning the floors while you sleep. I always wanted to get one and have it under the bed so I could skateboard it for a fast trip to the bathroom.

Our truck talks to us all the time. It’s like having a backseat driver. To add to the insult, we have a GPS that keeps telling us, “At your earliest convenience, make a legal U-turn.” We followed her instructions to the letter and got hopelessly lost in 15 minutes. We knew we were in trouble when the GPS told us to drive the truck into the ocean and start swimming.

This is the way it starts. The mechanized voice asking us questions and ultimately it will resolve itself into servant robots that are programmed to do our will. Maybe we could elect them to the Senate or the Assembly and then we will get something done.

As time goes by, we will remember this opportunity when we could have taken back our world before the robots took over. 

“What’s that honey? To resist is futile? Oh oh, we’re in trouble.”

Henry Geerken is a three-time NYSUT award-winner writing humorous articles addressing retiree and senior citizen concerns. Geerken also writes for Sail-World, World Cruising Newsletter, regarding his many humorous sailing episodes through the years. He can be reached by email at ‘Senior Scene’ columns can be found at