Saturday, November 15, 2014

This Call Maybe Recorded

This Call Maybe Recorded
Dr. Mouhamed N. Tarazi

Following advice from my brother in-law, I decided to join the millions who have retired online. It was easy and fast! It took me literally 20 minutes. From the comfort of my home, I applied online for social security benefits. There was no need to drive to a local Social Security office (generally difficult to find), to be received by a frowning security guard staring at you all the time, get a number, sit in an uncomfortable chair, and wait to see a Social Security representative. Better yet, no forms to sign and no documentation were required.

Two weeks later I checked online on the status of my application and read, under ‘Application Status Information’:

 “The following statements are informational only. They are current as of today. You will receive the official notice of any decision made on your claim by U.S. mail. As of today’s date, a decision has not been made on your application.”

I got busy and forgot completely about the application. A month passed and I did not receive an ‘official notice’, let alone a check. I went again online and got the same message, “as of today’s date, a decision has not been made on your application.”

When reading a bit farther, the website provided an 800 number to call if more information was needed. After two rings a voice came: "Thank you for calling social security."

 You're very welcome! I wanted to reply by way of back-greeting, but stopped. It sounded like a recording, though not a usual recording; it was an ‘intelligent interactive talking machine’, a machine that can converse with you. Then I heard something that sounded like,

 para espanol marcar siete”

 This strange message was certainly not for me. Espanol sounds like Espanya, the way the Arabs call Spain. Marcar sounds like the English verb mark. Siete sounds like the French word sept (p is silent) which I know to be seven. Therefore this strange sentence must mean (in Spanish of course): For Spanish dial seven.

It’s very thoughtful of the federal government to provide services, in Spanish, to our brothers and sisters from the Hispanic community. But I was baffled; how could someone who does not speak English be eligible for social security retirement benefits?  To get Social Security retirement benefits you need to earn at least 40 ‘Social Security credits’. This would take about 10 years of work in America.

Pause, then the intelligent talking machine, hereafter referred to as ITM came back to life,

“To insure quality, your call maybe monitored or recorded.”

I loathe these ITMs, especially with my foreign accent. They don’t always understand me and I keep angrily dialing, pressing 0 after 0 after 0 trying to get a live person to speak to. But to no avail. Some of those ITMs react to zero-dialing and some completely ignore them. Those that react will say, “Okay! I understand you want to talk to an agent. So I can transfer you to the right agent, tell me what is the nature of your call!” So here we go again, you’re still hostage to these ITMs. When the call is monitored or recorded, it should put an additional restraint on you. You can no longer shout, gripe if needed, or even change your story and you will certainly watch your language.

After 5 minutes of exchanges, back and forth, repeating myself at some points three times and shouting, the ITM understood I needed to check a claim status. It asked me to say or dial my social security number. That was easy. I dialed it and after confirming back with me it asked me, “Now what is your date of birth?”

“December eighth, nineteen fifty”

The ITM ignored me, “Please say the month, day and year that you were born or enter it on your keypad. For example if you were born on May fifth nineteen forty five you would enter it 05051945” 

I punched in 12081950.

“That was December 8th 1950, right?”

“Right! …Right!”


“That was December 8th 1950, right?”

Louder “right”

“Sorry! Please say yes or no! …That was December 8th 1950. Right”.

Apparently ITM was not getting my ‘right.’ With my French sounding R, ITM may have been hearing ‘hight’ for ‘right.’

“Yes!” I said.

“Sorry! That was December 8th 1950, right?”

“Yes!...YYYYes!...Yes!” I started to lose it.

“Thank you! Please hold on while I look this up. It may take a few seconds. All right, we’re all set. Now let’s look up your claim. When you first submitted your claim you should’ve received an eight digit confirmation number. Please say or enter your confirmation number now or say I don’t have it!”

I entered 12345678.

“Just to make sure, your confirmation number is 12345678, right?” 

Earlier, the ITM understood some but not all of my “rights,” so I decided to go, this time, with “Yes!” and it worked.

“Great! Thanks! As of today a decision has not been made on your claim. Once a decision has been made you will receive an official notice in the mail,” bla bla bla bla bla bla,  “ would you like to hear that again?”

Back to square one! I thought.

I hung up shouting, “No! No! No!” One thing came to my mind, circulus in probando .Circular reasoning!


Yesterday I was furious, very upset, humiliated and I needed to take care of another business. I have been dealing with this electric company for over a decade now and never missed a payment. Every month I read, “thank you for your prompt payment”, or, “you are such a valuable customer”, or, “great to have you as a customer”, or blablabla blablabla. Last month I was hospitalized for a week and with all the drama that came with hospitalization I completely forgot to pay my electric bill. In fact it was lost inside a stack of hospital bills of all varieties that I was not even keen on opening. I opened an electric bill and read

“D I S C O NN E C T   N O T I C E

Disconnection of service will occur after January 17, 2014 unless, before that date you pay $34.51, which will be 30 days past due.

In the event that service is disconnected, a reconnection charge will be required and a security deposit may also be required before service can be restored.”

I dialed the customer services 800 number and after three rings a voice came, “Thank you for calling…. blablabla blablabla,  Para espanol marcar uno” This no doubt meant, for Spanish dial one, since everybody on earth knows uno to be one.

Long pause. I did nothing. The line went dead then this new ITM, with a female voice this time, came back to life, “this call maybe monitored or recorded.”

Oh! No! Not again!

Research has it that, on average, women talk more than men; an ordinary woman speaks a little more than 16,000 words a day and an ordinary man speaks a little less than 16,000 words every day. The good news is that the difference is statistically negligible.

 If we settle the dispute of who is more bavard (talkative), a women or a man, and say that a person, male or female, speaks about 16,000 words/day, then in a life time (80 years) a person would’ve uttered:

 16,000 x 365 x 80 = 467200000 words (neglecting the additional 16,000 words for every leap years)

This is about one million pages of text. That is 2,000 thick books, which, if stacked, would produce a stack 18 yards high (as high as a 15-story building).

Yesterday, I went to the local mosque for the night prayer and it so happened that the Imam, leading the prayer, recited the beginning of Sura 17, Al-Isra’ and stopped at:

“We have tied everyone’s fate around his neck; We shall bring out on the Day of Judgment for him a book, which he will find spread open”

When a man dies his book of life-long records (deeds and speeches) is closed and fastened to his neck. Three angels worked tirelessly on this scroll; one wrote the good deeds, one scored the evil deeds and one inscribed the speeches.

I would imagine that the amount of recorded deeds would be less than that of the recorded speeches. Combined for a person who’d lived 80 years, it would not exceed two million pages of text. Then how could such a humongous volume of texts be put in a scroll and hung on the neck?  


  This morning I see a student with a keychain strapped on her neck.

 “Khadija!” I call.

“Am’ I in trouble?” She replies.

“No Khadija, you are such a good student, never in trouble” I assured her,

 “What is this around your neck?”  

“My keychain. I carry my home key and my memory stick. I keep it around my neck so I don’t lose it”

“Memory stick?”  I ask “what for?”

“I keep my word documents and PowerPoint presentations in it”

“How big is it?”

“Four Gigabyte memory stick, I bought it at Walmart for five bucks”

“Four Gigabyte? How much does it store” I quiz her.

She looks at me and proudly says: “More than two million pages of text.”

Wow! A man’s life-long records can be stored in a four Gigabyte (GB) memory stick and hung around his neck. 

Allah (SWT) cautions us that every word we utter will (not may) be recorded. So remember, before you say a thing:

This call will certainly be recorded.



1 comment:

  1. This was a very interesting entry, Dr. Tarazi. Thank you for sharing!