The milk shake displacement

Thoughts of customer service or something like it on my mind. Big establishments, small establishments: they say they have my back. Reasonable books. That was the name of the mom and pop, second-hand biblio that I sauntered within, thinking about the name. If it was bigger, it wouldn’t be reasonable, I thought. I glanced over at a diffident clerk: head down, ensconced in a text, uninvested in my business. Now that’s familiar, I next thought. I considered troubling him with questions, making him work for a living. I’d be what I long to be to bigger establishments, the ones I quasi work for plus the one I’ve been writing and soon-to-be publishing about—an irritant. The prices. Is that the reasonable part, I wondered? Or would it be about something else, this quaint moniker? Might the clerk bend over backwards to find a title on one of the back shelves of this cozy little store? Would he make a phone call, place an order, and have something not in stock in my possession within a week or two?

I left the man alone. I further bit down on a quip about the store’s name, thinking that several others had trodden that path already. After all, there would have been nothing worse than hearing a weary chuckle of someone pretending to enjoy originality. Torture. This man had done nothing to merit my torture. This contrasts with the dispatchers of Cigna, an insurance company that near employs me and decides, roughly four times a year, usually at the end of fiscal quarters, to mess with my head and income. It’s a good thing that I’m not wholly dependent upon them, but when they are in an obstreperous mood, their marching orders to claim support staff can do enough to dent an otherwise good month. Take this last month, for instance. I’d sent in a claim worth several hundred dollars for a beneficiary, and usually the turnaround of reimbursement takes about three weeks. Something hadn’t felt right, however, and as I scurried to complete one or two other claims, I noted a box on one to be filled out and felt in my gut the mistake I’d made on that first claim of the week. Cigna would not be forgiving, I predicted, about the un-checked box in my head. On cue, I received a letter indicating that not only had my earlier claim been denied for the reason suspected, but that the beneficiary didn’t exist. That’s what they do if you’ve made a mistake: it’s like you and your patient don’t exist. I duly sent in a replacement claim, but that got lost in the system too, and I received another denial letter, again referencing the first claim, as if the mistake upon that would infect all others. The die was cast, and I’d been here before in Cigna’s version of a Kafka short story. A hapless second dispatcher simply reiterated that there was “no record” of my submission, but kindly offered to process the claim himself, giving me his personal fax number. What customer service! One might think.

Not really. Well, it was letter-writing time. Teeth-gnashing time—time to let someone have it, give them a hard time, make them wonder why they work for Cigna; have them consider the corruption of the insurance industry; have them feeling used by higher-ups, forced to absorb the bereft anger of unhappy providers like myself; to have them break ranks, ultimately, and stop working for the man; to make them cry. I got the beneficiary involved, had him calling after the claims, letting them know that their “no records” dictum wouldn’t fly when we were holding letters with Cigna letterhead emblazoned upon them. Wouldn’t that be embarrassing, to deny the existence of a claim when the customer was holding a letter proving otherwise? Apparently not. It seems that some are impervious to irony, to embarrassment, tears and shame. These dispatchers—they’re trained in impassivity, or else they’re drugged and told to feed us lines like, “I’m sorry for your inconvenience, you can go ahead and re-submit to our black hole department. The fax number is…” Is this what the social justice crowd are telling us? Is this what they’re really pissed about: that too many in society can just stare back at them, unmoved, un-dislodged from their complacency; insufficiently bothered to acknowledge wrongness and make something happen with the system.

After weeks involving tiresome crap like this, Saturdays are a languid, somnolent haul. Leisure is made difficult; even hard-ons, as Martin Amis once wrote, are hard. Pulling up (ha-ha) to a McDonald’s drive-thru, I knew I was letting the standards drop, but I didn’t think I was in for a hard time with a dispatcher. However, as I idled behind a phalanx of other hungry but lazy diners, waiting to exchange words with a man in a box with a warbly microphone by his side, I felt again that sense that something easy and routine was about to be anything but that. My passenger, an old-school afficionado of Mickey D options, called out for a filet O’ fish. I, gazing up at a rangy, schematic menu that was actually hard to follow, settled upon a side of fries and an Oreo shake, having just caught the word “Oreo” with a passing glance. Choices, packed together, or bundled, managed to confuse me.

“We don’t have Oreo shakes,” said a weary, officious voice. He’d obviously explained this before and was indignant that benefic—sorry, customers—weren’t getting the hang of social change. “We have an Oreo McFlurty”

“A What?

“A McFlurty” Was is McFlurty? Or was is McFlurry. I couldn’t tell, but I had the impression that if I’d asked again the man’s bottom would have exploded and I’d be getting spittle in my dessert no matter what kind of shake it was. Still, I pushed my luck, venturing a minor quip.

“I take it that’s similar to a shake?

There was a pause during which someone might have been questioning their place in this world, only to return, sounding reasonable, patient, and ready to give an eminently just answer:

“Yes. It’s like a shake”

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