By Mordechai Schmutter

I’m on the phone.

No one loves sitting on the phone with customer service, but you’d think that the most efficient companies for this—the ones that the others should look up to as the model of how things should be done—are the cellphone companies. They should have it all figured out. But instead, using a phone to call a phone number to activate an entirely different phone than the one you’re on is not any easier than buying a new computer using the computer you have that you’re looking to replace.

“Is this the number you’re calling about?”

“No, the number I’m calling about doesn’t work yet. That’s why I’m calling.”

I used my home phone, which is my primary number, despite doctors’ offices insisting it is not.

I do have a cell phone, which I basically use for emergencies. Most of the conversations on this phone begin with either “What do we need from the store?” or “Come pick me up.” And I give this number to nobody. My students are asking me for it all the time. They ask, “What are my grades?” And I say, “I don’t have them on me; but if you want, you can call me at home and I’ll look them up.” And they say, “OK, what’s your cellphone number?” And I say, “I’m not giving you my cellphone number.” And they say, “Why not?” And I say, “Because what’s the point?” And they say, “Well, what if we call and you’re not home?” and I say, “If I’m not home, I can’t look up your grade!”

These are not the kids who are passing.

So anyway, this is the cellphone I’m trying to replace. It’s not even a smartphone. It’s that flip phone that every rebbe has that is subsidized by the government. I wonder why our government is subsidizing phones from companies whose customer service floors are in foreign countries. Whose economy are we supporting?

So now I’m switching from the old rebbe model to the new rebbe model. This is the rebbe model that has a panic button on the back, so that if you’re chas v’shalom in a bad situation and you can’t make a phone call, you can just hit the panic button three times and it’ll call a specific number, and then that person can hear what’s going on and come to your rescue. I plan on putting in my principal’s number.

So I bought a new phone from that same company, but the plan I had—wherein I pay nothing and I try not to give out my phone number—was not available. I was told that I had to pay for a month of service I wasn’t going to use, and then I would have that entire month to call and transfer the old service to the new phone. And I figured that once I’m doing that, I can also transfer the old phone number to the new phone so that the five people who have this phone number—two of them by accident—can still continue to call it.

So anyway, I tried calling the phone company last Thursday (last Thursday for me; I don’t know when you’re reading this), and the first thing the automated system said, once I put in the number I was calling about, was that they’re in the middle of processing a transaction for me and that I should call back in 15 minutes. Which was weird, because I was not in the middle of processing a transaction. I was calling to start a transaction.

But I had a feeling I knew what they were talking about. A couple of years ago, I started getting texts from the phone company every single night, usually during Ma’ariv. And I don’t turn off my phone for davening, because there are five people in the world who have my phone number, and what are the chances any of them are going to call me? My wife knows about Ma’ariv.

They don’t even say they’re from the phone company. I had to figure this out myself. The texts say I should call a certain 800 number “to complete this transaction,” and I’ve called the number and spoken to someone who didn’t understand what I was talking about, and I didn’t either, and who finally, after a lot of back and forth, said it was taken care of, and, sure enough, after that phone call, the texts kept coming. But it was taken care of, and I definitely did not want to call them for some more back-and-forth. So I learned how to ignore Ma’ariv texts and also how to change the settings on my phone so that a text would notify me once and not every three minutes until Mashiach comes over to ask me to turn them off already because I’m waking up the meisim.

But now this is turning into a real hassle. First I call and they say they’re in the middle of a transaction and I should call back in 15 minutes. “Goodbye.”

Yes, I’m sure that this transaction that you haven’t cleared in two years is going to be cleared in the next 15 minutes. And also that you can’t actually put me through to talk to a human being about it even though this number I’m calling you on is the same exact number you’ve been encouraging me to call every day for two years.

So I’m not waiting 15 minutes. I call back immediately, and I press a different option to speak to customer service. And it says, “Enter the number you’re calling about,” and I do, and it says, “We’re in the middle of a transaction. Please call back in five minutes.”

Is that progress? Or what?

So I wait five minutes, call back and press the extension to transfer a phone number, and they say, “15 minutes.” It’s not progress; it’s just a machlokes.

Anyway, by this point I’d reached the limit on how much time I was able to give this matter on a Thursday, so I pushed off calling them again until after the weekend. But apparently 15 minutes is a lot longer than I thought, because when I called back this morning, after four days, the system said, “We’re in the middle of processing a transaction. Give us 15 minutes.”

It didn’t say this right away. Every time I called today, before the system even gave me choices of what to press, a voice came on and said that because of the weather, it might take the operators time to get to my call.

OK, #1, there’s no weather where I am; #2, there’s always weather somewhere, especially since #3, this is a national phone chain; and #4, the customer service floor is not in this country. Since when are phones affected by weather? You’re a phone company!

So I called back and listened to the weather speech again, and then as soon as they started asking me to say the number I was calling about, I started pressing 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, until I got an actual operator. Though the system didn’t want to give me an operator at first. Its job is to make sure no one gets through to the operators. Especially since every system has the same easy password. So it kept pretending it thought that I thought that all those zeroes were my phone number. And it said, “I didn’t catch that.” You definitely did catch that. I pressed “zero” seven times.

Every phone system pretends that if you nag them like that, you’re not going to get an operator. Whereas in reality I’ve found that if you just keep pushing zero—well, you’re not gonna get a competent operator; you’ll get an operator that has never heard of the thing you’re requesting. But the good news is that he or she is not allowed to hang up on you. Though they could fool you into hanging up on them. Which they try to do almost exclusively.

So anyway, this guy gets on the phone, and he says, “What can I help you with today?” And I’m thinking, “How do I not overwhelm this guy who might not speak English as his native language? Do I tell him I want to transfer my phone plan? Do I tell him I want to transfer my phone number? Or do I tell him there’s a transaction that’s not letting me do anything?”

So I decided that I’m going to tell him the things I want to do, one at a time, and let him discover that third thing on his own, in terms he can understand that he can’t quite explain to me. And sure enough, he did. At first, he said, “Transferring a phone number! I could do that for you!” Like he’s relieved that I called about something phone-related. “I can do that! I work for the phone company!”

And then internally, I said, “10, 9, 8…” and then he says, “I can’t do it. It looks like there’s a transaction going on.”

And I said, “Yeah, that. There is no transaction. It’s been saying that for at least four days.” And he said, “Oh. So I need to transfer you to someone else.”

So then the system comes on and says, “We have a new feature! You don’t have to wait on hold! You can press 1 for us to call you back or 3 to stay on the line! The wait time is one minute.”

And I said, “In what world would I have them call me back? Why would I risk this over one minute? That makes no sense.”

So I push 3, and the voice says, “Thank you. The wait time is—” and the phone hangs up.

To be continued, unfortunately. 

Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of seven books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send questions, comments, or ideas to Read more of Mordechai Schmutter’s articles at


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