For a technopeasant it is especially disheartening to experience multiple technology failure. This week I contracted both CCPD (crazy cell phone disorder) and WMSD (washing machine shut down) on the same day. I wondered for a moment if the machines also felt the end of year approaching and decided to take some early time-out, like the folk who start going home from work at four in the afternoon from the beginning of November.
It could not be tolerated, of course, so I swiftly reached for the landline to sort things out. Defy will send, I suspect, the same guy they have for the last four or five years, as the Automaid has required a bit of TLC on a regular basis ever since I moved to Killarney. Maybe moving house four times in her lifespan just took the spin right out of her. I am proud, actually, of how she shakes ahead unwearyingly, week after week, in spite of her creaking cylinders.
The guy is called Ricardo, or something like that, and lives in Rosettenville. He arrives, usually, at about eight, smelling like cigarette smoke. He is earnest and talks a lot. He tries to show me troubleshooting tricks with the Automaid – things that I could do when the going gets too tough for her, but normally after a visit from Ricardo she settles down for a year or more, by which time I had forgotten my repair lesson. Then, as I pay, we talk about how expensive things are in the North, how oxtail per kilo is half the price at the butcher around the corner from his home, and I express surprise about the fact that he has never heard about the Troyeville Hotel. You’d think the Portuguese community was tightly knit, but it seems you have the Rosettenville Portuguese and the Troyeville Portuguese. Just like, as Kay often indicates unintentionally when she talks about curry, there are the Durban Indians and then the Nelspruit Indians. No single cultural or racial group is a homogenous one, the lesson is, I think. Ahem.
Just like all cell phone providers are not homogenous, for example. Look, I believe that they are all thieves and liars, but as thieves and liars go, they are a diverse bunch. I am with Virgin because 1) you do not have to sign a 2-year contract (freedom!), or even if you do, you can still give a month’s notice before you skedaddle if they piss you off (but then again, where would you go?); 2) you pay what used to be the cheapest possible rate for only the seconds you use; and 3) there are no monthly “contract fees” (you all know that there is no such a thing as a free phone, right?).
In spite of all these wonderful Pros, I have never walked into the Virgin shop in Sandton (I am the only person I know who really likes to go to Sandton City, any day of the week) without feeling that I am a being terrible and unreasonable burden to whoever is behind the counter. They are fucking rude, and if you want to buy a new phone, usually don’t have any stock. These Cons have made me consider packing up my number and moving it to somewhere else. But freedom… freedom… as our history has shown, people will pay a lot for freedom. Except in the case of political freedom they seem to expect freedom to pay them back.
But anyway. Back to the Virgin shop in Sandton. The Virgin shop-assistant clones talked in vernacular amongst themselves for a long time while establishing that my sim card was in need of a “vernac-vernac-vernac-sim swop-vernac”, and then they asked for my ID. I gave them my driver’s licence. They made a copy and started fiddling with the computer. Look, they explained, because you don’t have your original green ID document, we have to ask you some questions to establish your ID. I was OK with that. More time passed. Then they asked me if I lived at – and they read out my address from the computer – and I said yes, except it was number one, third street and not thirteenth street. They did not look impressed. Then they asked if I ever worked at a place called “Stan”… or something. I was very confused, because I had not. Let me write it down for you, one offered. She wrote down my surname on a piece of paper. This is my surname, I said, I don’t work there. Still no flicker. She looked back at the screen.
Is your payment on your Edgars account R150 per month? What? I have not had an Edgars account since before they invented cell phones, I said, so no. I closed it when I was still in my TWENTIES. Later it would turn out that it was not the scorn I heaped on the age, and the implication of its utter stupidity, that caused her to raise an eyebrow.
Is your payment on your revolving credit account R1500 a month? Again, I was astonished. I have not had a revolving credit account for more than ten years. But you did have an account there? Yes. Ten years ago.
They conferred amongst themselves in vernac. They went “vernac vernac vernac Standard Bank Edgars vernac.” Is this going to take long? I asked. I really have to get to work. This test, one of them said, is just to establish your identity. I understand that, I said, perhaps a little too forcefully. I want to know if it is going to take a long… time. That appeared to offend her. Well, there is problem, because you failed two of the questions.
Failed? FAILED?? I failed questions about my identity? It was an alarming existential moment. How can I fail these questions? I asked. How could you possibly know whether or not I closed my account? This is ridiculous! I could hear my voice amplifying with incredulity and this caused a shift of some kind on the other side of the counter. One hit back with: what is the month before your birthday? It’s APRIL! I shouted, and that seemed to do the trick. She slunk off, leaving another one to activate my new sim card and take my fifty-five rand. The ordeal was over.
I went into MTN to RICA my data card and a woman called Francine was friendly, keen to help, and keen to find a solution for me when I did not know the number of my card. I will photocopy your rates bill, she said, and your ID, so just e-mail me the account and I will RICA the card for you. It took a few minutes. I wished the Virgin girls were like her.
So there. Even technology failure has its uses, and its lessons. About homogeneity, diversity and about the pros and cons of being a with Virgin.