Sometimes I wonder why I still own a phone. You know, one of those landlines that plugs into the wall and only ever rings for wrong numbers, telemarketers and old people. I’d chuck it, but it’s the only phone I own. I don’t have a cell or a smart phone or one of those 1967 Star Trek communicator thingies – whatever the state of the art is. Never had one, never wanted one. I have enough things in my life trying to give me a brain tumour.
Sometimes, every few weeks, I’m reminded why I let this thing take up a few inches of valuable real estate on my desk. I get a call. A special call. One of THOSE calls.
A long distance ring, an unfamiliar number on the call display.
I answer. Say nothing.
Caller (reading from a script with a heavily accented, halting call-centre voice): Hello, my name is Melvin. I am calling because our records show that your computer is currently downloading an infection.
Me (instant full-volume screaming hysteria): OH MY GOD, AN INFECTION!!!!???!!!!
Pause. Silence on both ends. Momentarily shaken, “Melvin” returns to his script.
Caller: Yes, an infection. We wanted to let you know…
Me (instantly back to full-volume screaming hysteria): I’LL GET RIGHT ON IT!!!! THANKS MELVIN!!!!
I hang up.
My wife missed my performance because she was down the hall, behind a closed door, with the air conditioning and headphones on.
I’m afraid this moment was between you and me alone, Melvin. But it was good for me. Was it good for you?
These guys call at regular intervals. They’re not telemarketers, they’re criminals. Fishing for gullible tech-unsavvy rubes they can remotely manipulate into downloading a virus or malware under the guise of unsolicited technical assistance. What nefarious purpose lies in the code they so desperately want to get onto my computer, I don’t know. Maybe they’re after online banking information, identity-theft data. Or maybe they just want an algo running in the background that will get me to look at more ads for boner pills. I don’t know. I don’t want to find out.
They’re sitting in a call centre on the other side of the planet, safely out of any jurisdiction that might try to come after them, being paid a pittance for what amounts to cold-call sales of evil intent. I’d pity them if they weren’t trying to fuck up my life. But since they are trying to fuck up my life, I might as well milk them for some entertainment value.
Much as I enjoyed my interaction with “Melvin,” it was all over too quickly. I resolved to work on my stamina for the next time I got a call from one of his compatriots. The problem was, I never knew when they might come, when they might catch me. Would I be prepared, would I be on my game, would I be able to slip into character at an instant’s notice? Several weeks later, the phone rang again with another indecipherable number.
I had, I was told, downloaded a new virus that, fortunately, this anonymous stranger could attend to if only I followed his careful instructions.
Me: A virus?
Caller: Yes, I virus. You must take care of this or we will have to shut down your internet.
Me (giving a purposely stilted, absolutely flat line-reading): Please don’t shut down my internet! I sure wouldn’t want that!
Caller: I need you to press a key on your keyboard.
Me: Which key is that?
Caller: You see the key next to the control button on the left-hand side? What is it?
Caller: That’s the Windows key.
Me: No, it’s the “W” key. I have a custom keyboard.
I actually don’t, but this throws him.
Caller: Do you have Windows?
Me: I sure do! Box-frame, crank. You can see right through them.
This also throws him.
Caller: What do you see on your screen?
Me: Well, this is rather embarrassing, but it’s pornography.
Caller: What is it?
Caller: I am going to get my supervisor. Please hold.
Apparently pornography issues were reserved for a higher pay grade. The next voice that came on the line was a little more polished, a little less accented. By this time I had relocated to my wife’s office so she could listen in on my tech-support call. She’s a tech professional of the less-malignant type, so this shit amuses the hell out of her.
Unfortunately, having her listen to me do an improv workshop with an unsuspecting tele-scammer gave us both the giggles. Chortling into the ear of my long-distance confidence trickster might have spoiled the solemn mood of my serious computer problems and I nearly choked myself trying to supress a laugh. This led to a horrible coughing fit I was more content to direct into the phone’s mouthpiece.
Me (apologizing earnestly): I’m sorry, I have tuberculosis.
Despite upgrading to a “supervisor,” the quality of the crackling phone line remained poor.
Me: You know, for a telecommunications company, this is a terrible connection.
Me (louder, so he can hear over the static): The connection is really bad!
Supervisor: We are having problems with our central communications hub.
Me: That must be very embarrassing.
Supervisor: I will call you back.
Me: Sure thing.
We were reconnected a minute later. The phone line was hardly improved.
Supervisor: Is that better?
Supervisor (undeterred): What do you see on your screen?
Me: As I mentioned earlier, it’s pornography.
Supervisor (unfazed – which is probably why he was the “supervisor”): Press the Windows and R key as in “Roger.”
Me (not doing it): Okay.
Supervisor: What do you see?
Me: I see…The Matrix.
Me: It’s all ones and zeroes and they’re floating up the screen.
Supervisor (baffled): What do you see?
Me: The Matrix. It’s green.
Supervisor: Green, sir?
Supervisor: You need to restart your computer.
Me: Oh yeah?
Supervisor: Restart your computer and let me know when it comes back on. I’ll hold.
When in doubt, reboot. He sure knew his stuff. I carried the phone extension into the next room.
Me: Are you still holding?
Supervisor: Yes, sir.
Me: Okay, hold the line and I’ll let you know as soon as it comes back on.
Supervisor: Yes, sir.
I set the phone down and returned to my office to continue work. I checked back twenty minutes later.
Me: Still there?
He wasn’t. So I hung up the phone.
They haven’t called back since, and I find myself missing these interactions terribly. It’s been four months since our last exchange, and so far, nothing. Did my sarcasm break through the language/culture barrier and land me on the “Do not call this asshole” list? The possibility has troubled me. I miss Melvin and the rest of the call-centre crew, I really do. Every time an unrecognized or blocked number appears on my call display, I snatch up the phone eagerly, hoping for a repeat performance from my favourite gang of international compu-criminals. But it’s never them. It’s just some routine telemarketer, a wrong number, a robocall. Or family.
How utterly disappointing.
Even as I was in the middle of writing this, the phone rang. It was a local number, but one I didn’t know. I picked up, hoping it was somebody trying to rob me or con me or waste my time.
It was my old university, trying to solicit a donation from me. So I guess it was a little of all of the above.
It’s something. I’ll take it.