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  Sex, Lies, and Verizon
By Chris Pedro Trakas
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I hadn't planned on spending my birthday weekend with Verizon. I had planned to have fun, go dancing, party with friends. Instead I got screwed, and Verizon had all the fun. Like a rotten lover, the kind who tells lies through a smile, makes false promises and falls asleep after getting what they want, Verizon left me dry.

It started Friday with a scratchy, static line, the kind Verizon customers have come to expect. When the lightning came that evening, even the remaining static failed. Dead air. Went to the corner payphone, called the repair hotline and to my surprise got an appointment for the next day, the monthly fee I pay, the maintenance plan, seemed to carry weight with the operator I spoke with. Lucky me. I wasn't expecting any critical calls that evening and a next day repair was not so bad. A good night's rest was in order anyway, as tomorrow I'd be dancing. Little did I know the Verizon payphone on the corner would be my main partner. For four days.

Mr. Verizon-repair man, a jovial fellow, showed Saturday morning around 10:00 a.m. I showed him the phone box in the basement, where he remained for about forty-five minutes before emerging to declare the problem remote, elsewhere, in the main cable. Then he disappeared for two hours, his Mr. Verizon-repairman equipment dangling from the phone jack in my wall, so I knew he'd come back eventually. When he did he said the main cable had fried, but that he'd gotten a line working. He looked like he'd been underground. A few final tests and he was gone by 1:00 p.m. He called fifteen minutes later to check one more time and his was the last I received until 3 p.m. the following Tuesday. My dance with Verizon had begun, and it would be a blind date from hell. I got a lot closer to the corner Verizon payphone than I ever intended.

First it was the 24/7 repair hotline. A busy signal, or a message saying "no calls" could be taken "due to high volume" was the order of the day, a very hot day, and my temperature was rising. After an hour of fondling the phone with no response I went for a long walk. I walked home thinking I'd try calling Verizon a few more times, then take a nap so I could stay out 'til dawn.

Busy mostly, or the recorded voice saying to call back later or referring me to the website I couldn't access because I have a dial-up ISP. It uses the same Verizon phone line that wasn't working. I tried to call the Public Service Commission, but they're closed on weekends, with no emergency line (curious that). I was starting to get that my phone wouldn't be working for a while, and I wasn't happy. I left messages via the payphone for friends I'd hoped to meet later, but they weren't home and couldn't very well call me back, now could they. I napped fitfully with the notion I'd be going to the Roxy alone.

And I did... apparently with flames of pent-up frustration shooting out of my head. Every effort I made to talk with people failed. Those who'd normally be friendly ran in the opposite direction, my vibe decidedly funky. Verizon had harshed my buzz, mangled my birthday mojo and I just couldn't shake it. The beer wasn't helping. I switched to Scotch. Scotch makes me stupid. I came home alone and hung-over.

I went to the now familiar corner phone and on my first try, at 7 a.m., actually got through. I was elated when the fellow who answered said he'd put me at the top of the list for Sunday, that they'd attend to it before 6 p.m. I told him it was my birthday and I was expecting calls. He wished me a happy one, said it was his mother's birthday too! We chatted a bit. But when I asked whether I needed to wait for a repairman at home, we hit the wall. Well, I'm not sure, he said, you see, the dispatcher doesn't come on until 8 a.m. and I don't really know about the crew today. Should I call back at 8, I asked. Yeah, that's good, he said, call back at 8 and we'll help you out, for sure.

The next several hours were spent napping and calling, all the while thinking Verizon might show up at my door. He'd told me to call back at 8 a.m. When I finally got through again it was 2 pm. I was informed they were working on it. Should I stay in my apartment? Well, I don't know, sometimes they don't need to get into your apartment, I was told, so maybe you don't need to stay. Maybe I don't need to stay?! Well, it's up to you, she said. I stayed, calling back from the corner (I can see my front door from the phone) three times, getting the same assurances. They were working on it.

At 5 pm I called one more time and was told a repair was scheduled for tomorrow between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. Tomorrow? TOMORROW??!!!!! Yes, Monday the 5th (my actual birthday), but we can offer you the first appointment, she said politely. I demanded to speak with a supervisor, who first offered to call me the next morning but when I said "now!" she told me my repair had always been scheduled for Monday because they don't have any crews working on Sunday. No crews? Oh no, never on a Sunday. My Greek blood started to boil. I asked why I had been lied to all day. The supervisor, Ms.Barbay(?), said that was impossible, that her workers don't lie, but that there were 5 offices open in the city, taking repair calls, so maybe I spoke with a different office. According to the monitor she was looking at, my repair had always been scheduled for Monday, which had to be the case because, she repeated, there are no work crews on Sunday. She had to say it twice, I guess, to make up for the four times I'd been told the opposite by her staff that day. Five offices open on Sunday to take emergency calls but nary a crew to fix them. And lies to keep the customer at bay.

Now I was pissed. And it would get worse.

Monday morning, calling from the payphone with an eye on my apartment door, I first go to the Public Service Commission. Busy. All day busy, probably with a lot of calls about Verizon. And of course the Verizon line was still not accepting calls. Back to the apartment, where a Verizon technician shows around 10 a.m. He sticks his repair phone into my jack and says, yeah, the problem isn't here it's in the cable. You don't need to get into the basement, I ask. No, it's in the report from last Saturday, the problem is in the main cable and now I have to report it to my boss who'll report it to the construction crew because I can't fix it.

That's when I blew my top. I told him that I'd had enough and was cancelling my account, that I'd been lied to about a crew working Sunday and now Verizon comes to repeat a worthless procedure, the outcome of which is already known so as to further delay my repair. Seeing I was serious, the guy opened up. He said he would have loved to make some money yesterday, but Verizon refuses to pay overtime for weekends and evenings, that Verizon was trying to fire 900 workers. I told him I was a union man (SAG, Equity, AGMA, AFTRA) and I understood. He implied a work stoppage/slowdown, using the word "retaliation" regarding the apparent internal labor dispute. He even mentioned that he'd parked 10 blocks away and walked casually to my appointment. And he told me it didn't matter if I switched carriers, because Verizon owns the lines and even if I was an AT&T client, Verizon would still do the repairs. Then he told me to call the "Presidential hotline" and complain, though he didn't know the number.

Back to the payphone, furious. I'd located a customer relations number in the Verizon phone book and called it. I spoke with a Miss Healy, who located my service request and told me my phone would be repaired by 8 p.m. on Wednesday. WEDNESDAY?! I said not a chance and let her have it with both barrels. She assigned me to a complaint manager, a friendly guy named Thomas who as much as admitted that all he could do was contact "construction" and find out what was going on. He gave me a number and told me to talk only with him from now on. And by 5 p.m. when he was leaving work, he still had no answers.

Tuesday morning. 9 a.m. sharp and I'm finally talking with the Public Service Commission. They take my complaint and tell me to call back since they can't call me.

I try to call Thomas but the line is busy so I go back to the presidential hotline. I speak with a Mr. Barbelli (?) who tells me he can't comment or report on my service request because I called the Public Service Commission and now they were handling it. I said give me a break, but he insisted he couldn't discuss my phone service problem with me any further. This they call customer relations.
I launched into a speech even I was surprised to hear coming from my lips. I told him Verizon had treated me horrendously, that I was lied to by a hotline staff that had obviously been instructed to keep the customers at bay and who would probably be given a raise rather than fired for their lies. I said it was ridiculous to fund five offices on Sunday to receive calls but not have a penny for an emergency repair crew. I said that the full page ads in the NY Times (and every other media outlet) cost millions more than what it would cost to pay labor a little overtime, and that executive decisions insuring executive salaries that impact negatively on the consumer were stupid decisions. I told him the whole telecom industry was in meltdown and Verizon, too, would fail. I mentioned that Verizon's own technician had confessed about the work slowdown. That got his attention. I could hear him tapping madly away at his computer, taking it all down. I told him I could hear him typing and that it was curious how, suddenly, he was very interested in what I had to say, probably to track down that worker and fire him. I asserted that a public utility used 24 hours a day, seven days a week, required service 24/7 as well. And finally I told him to look around and see what happens to employees like himself when corporations, like the one he works for, are revealed as liars and thieves, and that after he'd lost his job and his future it would be too late to take my call seriously. I hung up as he started to babble in response.

My phone was working 2 hours later. Tuesday, not Wednesday. Verizon called at least 6 times afterwards to see if everything was okay. I finally answered on Wednesday morning and tersely said yes, the line was working, but no, everything was decidedly not okay and that I was writing this article.

So, what's the moral of the story? Don't piss off a guy on his birthday? No, it's much simpler. We all need to ask; how did a private company kidnap the public utility phonelines so that we are at their mercy, their time-schedule, their lies? This is like the highwayman of old, owning the roads, exacting their tolls, legal and illegal, however they can. Verizon's corporate greed requires them to crush labor and to control the public service commissions (co-conspirators it seems) and the public-phone-roads.

They cook the books and there are audits that prove it, but Congress has zero interest in pursuing those who bankroll its corrupt political cronyism. This has got to stop once and for all.
More to the immediate point, don't patronize Verizon if you don't have to. Deny them your dollars. And complain to your political representatives at the city, state and national level, all of them. Finally, wish TeleTruth luck in their multi-billion dollar lawsuits and filings aimed at getting your money back. We're being screwed. Scream about it.

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