Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Dear "Ms. Reid"

Ms. Nordia Reid, Customer Service Representative
P.O. Box 7051
Utica NY 13504

Dear Ms. Reid:

Thank you for your recent reply to my query. Although I’m not sure ‘thank you’ makes much sense when addressing a computer. You see, ‘Ms. Reid’, I know ‘you’ are not a person at all but a pre-programmed answering system. Since ‘you’ are really just a series of electronic impulses zipping around the insides of a server somewhere, it is a bit creepy to add ‘thank you’ for an act that had no more consciousness of itself than a stone rolling down a cliff—perhaps less. But I am Old School and tend to say ‘thank you’ for minor cordialities even when not really merited. By the way, ‘No problem!’ is not really a proper reply despite what these perky youngsters all say nowadays. I hope you’ve been programmed to say ‘You’re welcome’, it’s much nicer.

Now, how is it that I know ‘you’ are not real? It’s quite simple, really, and I’d like to explain. I wrote to your creator’s parent company, ACS, which as you ‘know’ (in a manner of speaking, that is to say, it’s in your database) is an educational loan servicer charged with collecting college loan repayments and reaping a fairly handsome, government-subsidized reward for doing so. That s probably already too much information for ‘you’ given your limitations!

Anyway, I took this step because it was impossible to use your sister service, the online go-to-for-everything account management system, even though I have been making my loan payments on time for six years. That’s because it refuses to recognize me unless I answer a series of personal identification questions, including a telephone number that I got rid of in 2005. Since I am not the Harry Houdini of memory, I no longer know this magic code and thus do not exist for the ACS Web site. That is, ‘you’ in one of your alternative avatars.

Oh well! I don’t mind writing an old-fashioned letter. (Forgive me for ‘bothering’ you with all these details, even though I know you are incapable of being ‘bothered’—only electro-magnetically altered. But I digress.) So I wrote one asking for some help in establishing my existence within the ACS universe. Please recognize me! I said. It was a bit like the lament of Pinocchio—I am a real boy! with a touch of whimsy and pathos. Only my nose didn’t grow because I don’t tell lies and furthermore, I pay my bills on time, which Pinocchio did not, being a piece of wood. (‘You’ can certainly relate.) Nonetheless this fact ‘you’ already ‘know’, not in any human sense, of course, just that it’s a fact embedded somewhere in there among all your 1s and 0s.

So now I’m coming to the point—please bear with me patiently (even though I know you don’t have a concept of ‘impatience’, that would be silly. I can leave my home computer on all night, and it immediately responds when I hit the keyboard at 6 a.m. Imagine treating a friend like that! They’d drop you in a minute.) So in response to my simple request, ‘you’ (not Ms. Reid who, if she exists, I’m sure would be more alert) wrote to say the following:

Thank you for your recent letter notifying us of the discrepancy in payments applied to your student loan account.

‘You’ then go on to ask for photocopies of checks, and ‘you’ kindly offered to attend to my difficulties by telephone. That was very kind of ‘you’! Except for the problem that whenever I attempt to call ACS, your sister telephone screening system just won’t let go of that 2005 telephone number and blocks my access. Which is why I wrote ‘you’ that letter in the first place. It’s all rather circular, don’t ‘you’ ‘think’?

Please note (not that ‘you’ can really ‘note’ anything, being a collection of wires and microchips sitting under a desk in Utica or Bledsoe, Kentucky) that I did not at any time say the first thing about a payment discrepancy. ‘You’ made that up! ‘You’ little devil! I guess that’s what happens when ‘you’ take over the chores that poor old Ms. Reid can’t see to—things just get all mixed up. I completely understand—being a human being with a rational faculty, I know exactly how that happens. Trust me, I have made some mistakes in my life as well. (I know that ‘trust’ is probably a pretty remote concept for ‘you’ too, but let’s just say, ‘Correct input, verified data’ for simplicity’s sake, and leave it at that.)

However, since ‘you’ are not really in the same category, ‘you’ really can’t do much about this little mix-up ‘you’ have been sent out to handle. ‘Don’t send a boy to do a man’s job’, my grandmother used to say, which in this case could be amended as, ‘Don’t entrust your correspondence to an inanimate object’. Things are likely to go wrong if ‘you’ do! As they did here right before our eyes. So Grandma was right, as usual.

Anyway, I don’t know why I’m even writing ‘you’ about all this in the first place. Somehow, I suspected that someone like ‘you’ would be charged with responding to my letter and that ‘you’ wouldn’t really be up to it. So I returned to my old college alumni office and tracked down a special telephone number that the loan officers had, through which I finally managed to get a human voice on the telephone. At least I think it was a human voice—she was quite convincing. My accounts are in order, and if things continue to go well for me, I’ll be paying off this loan faster than ‘you’ can say ‘Bob’s ‘your’ uncle’ so that the money spent by the government to pay ‘you’ for my servicing needs can be put to some socially beneficial use. I’m sorry, ‘Ms. Reid’—it’s really wasted on ‘you’.

Don’t take it personally!

Sincerely ‘yours’,

Timothy Frasca

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