Desert Companion

Sir, there’s no need to shout


Illustration by Hernan Valencia

Illustration by Hernan Valencia

But sometimes you raise your voice anyway — and occasionally karma is on the other end of the line

I am generally a calm person. I mean, don’t you dare check with my wife about that. But I will concede to a distinct lack of calm whenever I have to call customer support. I’m not proud of going all Joe Pesci from Goodfellas on these poor anonymous souls doing their crappy jobs for AT&T, BofA and 1800FLOWERS. But the 35-minute holds, the multiple disconnections following the 35-minute holds, having to repeat my name and last four of my social eight times, all combine to drive me beyond the boundaries of not raising my voice like a lunatic.
And the anger is cumulative, building up over multiple calls until I’m inevitably conversing with the reason for every problem I’ve had since the fifth-grade playground.

Cox Communications was the target of a particularly heinous tantrum I threw in the summer of 2011. I had just been fired from my job at the Review-Journal, so I wasn’t in the chipperest of moods to start with. And my favorite means of escapism, pay-per-view, kept crapping out during broadcasts I couldn’t ever finish yet always got charged full price for. Cox had already sent two repair guys to tell me there was no problem they could find and that I must be mistaken (read: trying to scam free pay-per-view movies).
So I got on the phone with some customer support guy. Among the many unmentionables I mentioned during that tirade was something about Cox not being an entirely inappropriate name for their company. (I told you I’m not proud of this.)

Support comes from

I’ll get back to Cox shortly. First, I need to bring up Ernest Hemmings, easily one of the most creative playwrights working in Las Vegas. Hemmings, 40, writes, directs and stars in sketch-based multimedia plays, under the name TSTMRKT, that fuse a deep social conviction with a fetish for ’50s pop culture and a sadistic sense of humor.
I first encountered him while writing a story for the RJ about a 2011 play Hemmings directed, Why Torture is Wrong and the People Who Love Them, at the College of Southern Nevada. He struck me as so hysterically different, we joked off the record for a half-hour after our phone interview ended. (In the thousands of interviews I have conducted, this was the only time that happened.) I added Hemmings on Facebook and immediately enjoyed his real-life show as he cracked about the weirdness of being a black convert to Judaism (“neither side wants me now”) and a broke-ass dad with joint custody (“just got mugged by a giraffe — @ Toys ‘R’ Us”).

My Cox tirade resulted in another discount for the corrupted pay-per-view programs I ordered and another tech-service order, for which I had to be home “sometime between 11 and 3.” As I hung up to decompress, one of those little square message windows popped up on my Facebook page. “Was that just you I talked to?” it asked. The message came from Ernest Hemmings. He was the Cox operator. Suddenly, I felt I was in a scene from one of Hemmings’ plays. What were the odds of this actually happening? All I could think was how perfect this was, that karma really does work, and that everyone who ever called me an asshole was correct. My belief in the acceptability of tantrums under certain conditions had cost me this new friendship with a rare creative soulmate. Hemmings was such a better man than me, however, that he felt the need to offer me plausible deniability: Was that you?, he asked. OF COURSE THAT WAS ME! He already knew my unmistakable, helium-tinged man-boy voice, and, besides, my full name was on the screen in front of him.

I avoided Hemmings for a long time after that, out of the deep shame that motivates so much of my behavior. I also avoided 800 numbers and, frankly, mirrors. I played my rant over and over in my head, suddenly seeing all the operators I had eviscerated over the years as the working-class people with families that they were the whole time.

For his part, Hemmings joked with me about it. It was no big deal to him, he said. He continued commenting on my Facebook statuses, and he even invited me to his latest birthday party, at which I regaled all the other attendees with this humiliating story.
On Dec. 19, I took my wife to see Ernest’s latest play, JFKFC, at the Scullery Theatre. He offered to comp me tickets, but I insisted on paying. Please, it’s the least I could do.
The slapsticky tour de force, co-starring the lovely and talented Breon Jenay and painstakingly synced to a backdrop of video and audio effects, featured a battle with a sentient Siri app that cracked up the audience but unhinged my jaw. Hemmings’ character yelled into his phone, using many of the same words and phrases I had. I recognized “$&**!” and “*&(%#!” And derivations of “Cox” were in there, too.

Was I in a scene from one of Hemmings’ plays after all? 
I obviously have a complex about this. Still, watching Hemmings lose it into a phone with such a familiar, inappropriate ferocity was unbearable. My wife even elbowed me to ask why I wasn’t laughing. By the time the sketch arrived at its karmic climax, it was like an intervention: Siri called the cops and had Hemmings’ character arrested. The charge? Verbal abuse.

After the performance, I had to ask, despite my wife being adamant about bolting home. (Screw the thoughtful babysitting friends we promised to relieve at 10 p.m. Nothing trumps the guilt-confirmation impulse to an obsessive-compulsive Jew.)

“I wasn’t thinking about that in particular,” Hemmings said as I heaved a 60-pound audio mixer out of the Scullery, across the street and into his car, powered solely by relentless remorse.

“In particular,” huh?

Regardless, I no longer yell at customer service people. Well, I try not to.

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