Friday, December 10, 2010


Steve Allen's book Dumbth devotes a lot of time to hours* he's wasted in conversation via telephone with people who just don't get it and never will.

I had such a conversation today.

Our office is participating in a program whereby employees are screened for common health conditions that can potentially raise insurance rates.  I am not here to go into the pros and cons of this plan -- I've heard enough grumbling from co-workers on the subject to last a lifetime.

Unfortunately, I'm in the position of coordinating this project, which will take place in late January.  Yesterday I retrieved a phone message from a young lady whose speech was full of hiccups and "up-talk" -- you know, when every statement is phrased as a question.  "My name is Jennifer Smith?  I'm calling to set up your screening?"
She starts off by mispronouncing my name.  Understandable if she was reading it off a piece of paper, with the name having been recorded incorrectly by someone else.  But then she corrected herself, showing that she's simply a poor reader.  "I'll be off tomorrow?  But you can leave a message and I'll return your call on Friday?"

I left a voice message, speaking in a slow, clear, relatively loud voice, being sure to pronounce my name carefully.  Today she called back.

"Hello, I'm calling for [name again mispronounced]?"
"Yes, this is Correct Pronunciation."
"Yes, this is Jennifer Smith?  I'm calling to set up your screening?"

We went through the whole routine, with her asking questions about our building, where they'd be setting up, what time they'd arrive, primary and secondary points of contact, etc.

Then she said she'd need directions to our office, and I knew I was in for an ordeal.  I asked if she'd like to have the screening team call that morning or the day before, rather than relaying the directions to Jennifer and having her attempt to read them to a third party.  But no, she was quite insistent that she should be the one to take down the directions.

All righty, then.  Right off the bat I knew this was going to be difficult, because she expressed bewilderment at such basic concepts as interstate highways, compass directions and exit ramps.  I kept having to go back, more slowly each time, and repeat the information.  The directions to our office are fairly simple.  You just have to have your "listening ears" on, as my son's kindergarten teacher used to instruct the class.

Jennifer continually interrupted me to read back what I'd said, and I was soon in a semi-permanent state of face-palm, listening to her interpretations of what I was trying to tell her.

I give directions to visitors every day.  We're located on a service road that some GPS systems pick up, but others don't.  So I give the most common landmarks, such as streets that have signs -- many of them don't -- and related markers such as the "airport ahead" sign.  It's a simple drawing of an airplane on a dark green background.  Then I always tell the caller that they will know they've arrived at our road when they get there -- it's easier than trying to describe it verbally.  Just look for the street names I give you and the airport markers, and it's really quite difficult to lose your way.

Ah, but this was Jennifer!  Jennifer is, I suspect, approximately 19 years old.  She's never been to the South, and she has a very limited knowledge of popular music.

It was at "Old Dixie Highway" that she became hopelessly confused.

"Okay, so, you go past Old Highway Sixty, then make a left?"

"What?  Old Highway Sixty?  Where did you get that?  No, I said Old Dixie Highway.  Dixie.  D-I-X-I-E."

And again, I get this "Old Highway Sixty" crap.

Feeling very old by this time, yet managing to resist the urge to address her as "Honey," I spelled the name again, clarified that it is NOT a number, but a name, and even debased myself by singing a line or two of the popular song:  "I wish I was in DIXIE, hooray!  Hooray!"

"Oh...?"  That one little word told me all I needed to know:  Jennifer has NEVER heard the song, and probably never even heard the name "Dixie."  She wouldn't have the slightest idea, from either a history class or a music class (do they even have music classes in schools anymore?), what the name connotes.

So I asked her to repeat my phone number, so that the poor souls who try to find us on "Old Highway Sixty" will manage to get to us so that our all-important health screening doesn't need to be rescheduled.

I wonder if she's ever heard the phrase "Oy vey."  Somehow, I suspect not.

*"Hours" can denote actual clock-hours or merely minutes that feel like hours...


Kay Dennison said...

Yuck!!!! Are they doing this so they can fire people? If so, it's probably illegal.

Volly said...

Oh, Kay, it's just capitalism run amok. The first glimmer I had of this was 4-5 years ago. Insurance companies that cover big corporations are increasingly forcing employees to take privacy-violating "health surveys" before they can sign up for benefits. No one is turned down, but the thinking now is, "If you're not healthy, YOU'RE the reason your poor co-workers are having to pay more for health insurance. It's not the greedy insurance companies or healthcare syndicates. No, it's YOU!" The latest twist on this is having people physically come into the office and invade your actual body by taking blood samples and measuring your girth. If your screening results are positive, come next June you can save something like 5% off your annual premium (don't have the exact figure in front of me, but trust me, it's paltry). If, however, you're a normal average person who falls short on some of these "guidelines," you will be paying more for your insurance halfway through 2011. So if you're overweight on January 25th but manage to drop 30 pounds, it doesn't matter in the least. You will still be paying more after June 30th. No re-screens until January of 2012.

We're trying not to be too furious about it -- most of us are realistic that leaving the company and going somewhere else isn't a likely scenario, at least for the foreseeable future. I'm trying to hang in at least until my 401K is fully vested, another 2 years or so. Also, I like the idea of "staying put," which is something I haven't done enough of throughout my career.

This is the reality of employment in the second decade of the 21st century.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Oi! Is it wrong that I was laughing my head off the entire time? I can imagine you wanted to slam your head against the desk repeatedly, but despite your pain, that was an entertaining story. You know they will never ever find your office, don't you?

Volly said...

Yeah, and Jennifer probably went on her blog upon arriving home: "Today I had to deal with this crabby old lady who didn't know how to count to 60 and covered it up by singing off-key..."

Skepticat said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one who has a conniption when someone acts clueless and constantly interrupts. I had that problem when ordering at Sonic last week. The girl taking the order had us repeat everything and, when we repeated it, she'd cut us off with, "Hold on a second!" I didn't think she'd ever get the order right and I was ready to scream.

As far as this insurance thing goes, my anger and frustration are growing. The day someone shows up at my job to stick a needle in me is the day that person gets a kick in the stomach. I refuse to be traumatized by a needle just so some fat cat insurance guy can make more money this year.

Al Penwasser said...

Stupid is as stupid does, I suppose. And she does sound stupid. Is being a moron something an insurance company would cover?

Charlie said...

You asked the question, "Do they even have music classes in schools anymore?"

I'm wondering if they have English and History classes in schools anymore.

Great post, Volly, but I'm not about to start on health insurance because I'll be writing for a day or two.

Al Penwasser said...

I used to think the same thing, but believe it or not, they do have music classes in school nowadays. Also, English and Social Studies (although I'm guessing you're kidding around). And, what's even more surprising to me, they recite the pledge of allegiance and have a moment of silence (they don't call it 'prayer.' I'm okay with that-I'm sure some kids just go on mini-mental vacations during that time anyhow!).
But, alas, we don't have Veterans Day off and next week, we go on a "Winter" Break.