Friday, July 24, 2009

Math Problem (A Proposed Addition to the Mathematics Content Level Exam for SAT)

Nine days ago I called Time-Warner to make an appointment to set up my computer and TV cable at my new address. I can’t remember how long we spoke on the phone, but the nice young woman on the phone (Deanna) assured me that everything was set up for Monday morning following the move.

This morning I called back to change two aspects of the work order—to notify the technician that he would have to drill the wall to reinstall cable because the renovations to the new place had eliminated the original portal for the cable, and to drop three premium channels I’m currently signed up for and don’t use, $27-$28 worth of unused services on my current bill.

The recorded message asked me to verify my phone number, told me my call was important to them, and advised me that my estimated wait would be five to ten minutes. Then the voice (or another indistinguishable voice) told me about an exciting telephone option with Time-Warner that would bring my communications with the world fully into the twenty-first century—“starting” at $39.95.

Ten minutes later I got Chemise. She said, “Hello? Hello? Can you hear me? Are you there? I can’t hear you.” I responded to each question, but she talked over me—apparently unable to hear me well or at all—perhaps a preview of what $39.95 a month could get me in state-of-the-art phone service. Then she said, “Wait a second.” I got another minute of the ubiquitous and nondescript sax solo, and then she was back. I said, “Hello?” She said, “Great. I can hear you now, ma’am.”

I told her it was “sir”—believe me, it’s the gay accent, and this sort of thing happens all the time with me—I am decades past being offended or annoyed.

I told her that I needed to make some changes to my work order. She couldn’t find the work order. I gave her my account number and offered to give her the work order number Deanna had given me. She told me the work order number meant nothing—but, lest it should go to waste, it was 54625606—and though insignificant in the eyes of its creator, it had a short though honored existence on the back of a Food Lion receipt.

Then, once she found it (I think), she told me the work order looked like it merely started a new account, without transferring the existing Time-Warner service. She attempted to make this correction, before taking the information about the changes I was now calling about. Apparently Deanna had seriously fucked up the appointment. So for twenty minutes (I clocked the time), Chemise would say, “Hmmm … Just a second … uh, sir [my gender not yet committed to memory] … oh … Thank you for your patience … Just a second …” Each ellipsis counts as one to two minutes of dead air—and repeat the sequence till the total reaches twenty minutes. She then explained that she should have been able to cut and paste my information onto a new order form, but the system wouldn’t let her, so she was having to transcribe the original work order by hand.

In the process, she made a thrilling discovery. If I would agree to a two-year contract, she, as a trusted representative of Time-Warner, could offer me substantial savings on my monthly bill. She then began to calculate the new charges based on my existing services, at which point I interrupted to say that one of my changes involved dropping three of the premium channels I currently subscribe to. She said that was all right; she would calculate the total without those channels, her voice barely containing her excitement. Then she announced the wonderful news that I could get a deal on Showtime for free for one year. I said okay, nice, but I really don’t want Showtime.

She then cited me a total that was $20.20 higher than my current service with four premium channels, including HBO, which was the only one I wanted to keep, and including the $9.25 for Showtime, which I should now be getting for “free.” I mentioned this difference and asked if she would explain, offering the (I thought) useful information that my current residence pays for basic cable as part of my rent. She said that that might explain the difference since complexes like the one I’m leaving sometimes pay $20-$25 for access to basic.

Still, politely, her tone of voice suggested that my inquiry involved some sort of breech in etiquette on my part—or perhaps she was just feeling a slump from her previous exuberance over the savings she thought she had to offer me.

However, if we subtract $27.75 for the dropped channels from my current bill and add back, let’s take the top figure, the full $25 my current rent covers, the “deal” she was offering was now a whopping $22.95 a month more—to get three fewer channels than I currently subscribe to.

She then invited me to look at the matter from a different perspective, since she didn’t want me to go away confused. She said that the full price for the service I was requesting, without the “special offer” a two-year contract would win me, was $52.11 more than my current monthly payment, not including the state sales tax. Keep in mind that this is a price for less service than I currently receive. So if we take the new, not-so-special total, and subtract, let’s say, the $25 my current rent covers at my complex, but add back on the $27.75 for the three channels I currently get but will soon be dropping—the monthly charge would be $54.86 more than my current bill. I was beginning to see the savings the special offer offered.

So I said, well, of course, given a choice between paying $20.20 more for fewer services and paying $52.11 more for fewer services, I am smart enough to pick the former—but I still didn’t understand why I needed to pay a good bit more for considerably less (at work—with the state community college system—I’m already being asked to do more with less—it doesn’t seem right that I should have to pay more for less for Wi-Fi and True Blood).

And, besides, I said, if I’m getting Showtime for “free” for a year, wouldn’t canceling it at the end of that year constitute a breach of my two-year contract, by which I’m getting the “special” pricing?

No, it would not, she assured me, because the “special offer” applied only to my Roadrunner service for Internet access.


Then, for my other question, about drilling into the wall of my new residence, Chemise informed me that an eighty-something dollar fee would be charged for that service. But the good news was that the $14.95 transfer fee Deanna was going to charge me (without, apparently, ever properly documenting the service appointment in the first place) would now be waived! AAAAND this new charge was “one time only.” That is, I would not have to keep paying for the hole drilling for the full 24 months of my contract!

By this time, I felt that Chemise had reached the limits of her abilities to explain her special offer in terms that my math-challenged mind could grasp. The reality was, as I saw it, I should pay the $20.20 extra for fewer channels, there not being a more enticing offer than the “special” one. Clearly, nine days ago, Deanna had taken the easy route of not even trying to explain the changes in charges to me and perhaps not even bothering to fill in the correct blanks on the Time-Warner service-request database.

So I said yes to the two-year contract. How could a resist a deal like that?

Chemise then asked if I had any further questions before she passed me on to a third party to verify the new agreement and the great new offer. No, I did not. She asked me to hold and she would transfer me.

What I got was a recording that repeated the following: “English Verification. Press 2 for Spanish Verification. Or. Press star after your customer is back on line … English Verification. Press 2 for …”


I hung up, and redialed the 866 number. This time I got Jarrod, who sounded less addled than Chemise had and somewhat more polished and assured, like Deanna nine days ago, only masculine—nobody would ever call Jarrod “ma’am.” He even seemed somewhat more confident in my own choice of gender identity.

I started out, pleasantly, informing Jarrod that I had spent (just this morning) over an hour talking with or waiting on Time-Warner. He said, “Oh my.” I told him that I had been misplaced during the “verification process” and described the recorded message I’d heard, obviously intended for the ears of Time-Warner employees, not customers. He offered to make that transfer.

“But wait,” I said, liking the commanding and confident, dare I say “masculine,” way Jarrod expressed himself. “Could you please double-check my work order? since, frankly, two calls in nine days have left me skeptical that I have accomplished much with my time spent on the phone. He helpfully pulled up my file, after verifying the last four digits of my Social Security number.

“Yes, sir,” he said. “We have you signed up for the [something] package: digital cable and Road Runner, home networking, and Turbo-Charge Road Runner.”

“And HBO?

“Oh, yes, that’s there, too.”

“And there’s a fee for drilling a hole or something. It was eighty-something dollars. Could you give me a precise figure for that? Just so I can make plans to pay it?”

“Of course, sir. That should be $80.”

“Eighty even?”

“Let me check that for you, sir. Yes, that should be $80 or $85. Different installers have different fees ….”

No fucking way I was going to ask what accounted for the difference of five dollars.

“Yes! You will be charged $85 for the drilling. You may want to ask your new landlord to go halvesies on that charge, since once the hole is drilled, it will be usable by subsequent tenants on that property, as well. I even once had a landlord who paid the whole fee, since it’s basically an improvement to his property ….”

[Note: Immediately after his conversation, I phoned Hsu, my new landlord, and floated Jarrod’s suggestion past her. She didn’t bite. Further, she said, the cable company shouldn’t be charging for the installation in the first place. Well, I said, they are. She then said that, yeah, the cable company would very probably charge me something.]

“… And, sir, we have you scheduled for service between three and five Monday afternoon.”

“But I asked for morning.” At this point, I’m just trying not to whine.

“Well, perhaps at this late date ….”

“But I made the request nine days ago … and the agent I just spoke with never mentioned that the time had been changed, even though I repeatedly referred to the appointment as occurring on Monday ‘morning.’”

“Okay. Well, sir, I can certainly arrange that for you. How is eight to ten?”

“Monday? Morning? … Okay.”

“Now, sir, let me transfer you, properly, to verification. In English.”

“Thank you.”

The Verification Process was an automated form of contract that made me affirm that I indeed understood and accepted the terms of the new two-year contract, including details nobody had mentioned before, such as that the penalty for early withdrawal from the contract is $150 and that, at the end of the two years, the two-year contract would be automatically renewed for another two years, with increases in charges being decided at that time, though I would have 30-60 days to cancel the new contract without penalty. (Will I have 30 days to cancel? or 60?)

Anyway, I said yes, yes, yes to it all. The computerized voice seemed exceptionally professional and authoritative. At the end of the process, it gave me a verification confirmation number, 6418, which may or may not mean something to the folks at Time-Warner.

So, here are the proposed questions for the SAT Math exam:

1. How much will I save on Time-Warner’s special two-year contract over the next 24 months?
2. If I had not moved, would my cable charges still have gone up $55, without the special offer?
3. Since I’m paying for an $85 cable installation, what does the extra five dollars get me? A. More accurate drilling. B. A cuter installer, without a shirt on. C. Free Showtime. D. None of the above.
4. Does my voice really sound that effeminate on the phone?


  1. Infuriating isn't it?! I've had similar conversations with DirecTV and I've a friend with Charter who has sent me hilarious recorded conversations he's had with their reps.

    For 7 of the 9 years I've lived in my apartment community a small company called MediaWorks provided cable and internet access and in those 7 years I had to contact them about a problem once and the rep was friendly, competent and when she determined a technician would have to come out the guy was there the next day.

    Then they were bought by DirecTV and everything went to hell. My cable was out more than it was up, reps were moronic automatons, and techs took a week and a half to show up. They also seemed to have a problem with the multiple residents of a single apartment community having different plans because over the next 2 years they 1) dropped the basic plan for the entire community, 2) put the entire community on the first level premium plan with options to individuals to upgrade, and then 3) gradually upgraded the entire community to the ultra, super, premium plan at which point my cable and internet was $150 a month. No pleading or cajoling could convince them to let me go back to basic rather than lose me altogether.

    I finally did drop them altogether. I got AT&T for my internet service and upped my Netflix subscription fro 1 DVD a month to 5. I now pay less than I did for internet and basic when DirecTV first took over.

  2. Oh, and I think your landlord should pay the entire fee for drilling the hole. I had a similar experience once and when the manager wouldn't pay for the drilling I pointed out that they advertised their apartments as being "cable ready". Mine was not and it was their responsibility to make it so. You may want to try this route.



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