‘Thank You for Using AT&T?’ I’m Still Waiting

dam thoughts, barry currin, beaverdamusa.comUpdate 4/9: Following publication of this blog, AT&T contacted me and told me that someone would be in touch with me within 72 hours to talk about the situation. Hopefully, common sense will prevail, after all. We’ll see, and we’ll keep you posted.

Hop in the Way Back Machine with me. We’re going back to December, 1986.

“Walk Like an Egyptian” was the No. 1 song. We were watching The Cosby Show. MTV still showed videos, and “Sledgehammer” — complete with dancing rotisserie chickens – played about 18 times a day. Reagan was president. Gas was 93 cents a gallon.

I was fresh out of college with a new job, a new apartment in a new town, and my first-ever telephone number. Kim, who was still in school in Knoxville, bought me a bright orange Trimline telephone. I even got an answering machine. It made me sound like I had been kidnapped and was explaining the ransom demands, but I loved it anyway.

Trimline_phoneFor the next 20 years — first I, then we — wrote a check to BellSouth. When AT&T gobbled up Ma Bell’s babies in 2006, we started writing checks to them. In late 2010, we converted the number to an AT&T business account because we needed a Yellow Pages listing for the business we had opened.

We closed the business a couple of months ago. Subsequently, I called AT&T to cancel the number. I didn’t want to part with it. I had been a loyal customer for almost 30 years, and that phone number was part of me.

I wasn’t expecting an award, but I did expect a gracious and heartfelt thank you for my years of loyalty.

Exactly 41 minutes into the call, I was informed by the idiot on the other end that instead of a thank-you, I would be getting a bill for an early termination fee of $660. And the line went dead.

You know those solar flares that mess up digital communication from time to time? I think one of them must have passed over right at that moment, because I know AT&T didn’t hang up on a customer since 1986.

I called back. I was shaking. Trembling. I would’ve been appalled, but I knew there had to have been a mistake. I’m weird like that. Sometimes I actually think common sense can still prevail.

This time it took me 58 minutes to learn from Idiot No. 2 that when we changed from a residential line to a business line we entered into some kind of a contract, and according to AT&T, we were bolting in the middle of it.

Now, I’m also the kind of guy who prescribes to the theory of catching more flies with honey than with vinegar.

Not this time. This time, I let ‘er rip. Who needs to catch flies anyway? I have never totally lost my temper in a business situation in my entire life until that day — and I have had plenty of opportunities. I could feel my heart beating in my ears. My eyes were watering. The hair on the back of my neck stood at attention. I was in Jerry Springer Zone.

Guess what. They didn’t drop the fee, believe it or not. Idiot No. 2, bless her heart, did say that when I got the bill, I could file a written dispute.

So I waited for the bill. A couple of weeks later it came. I truly thought it would say, “Thanks, Barry. Thanks for being a customer for so many years. Here’s a pizza coupon.”

Guess what.

But I still held out hope, because the letter did give me another number to call.

Enter Idiot No. 3, who was less help than Idiots No. 1 and 2 combined. I asked him to let me speak to the person with the authority to reverse the fee.

“There isn’t anyone with that authority,” he said.

“Yes, there is,” I said. “Somebody, somewhere can drop this, and I want to talk to them.”

“It is very rarely that a fee like this is ever dropped,” he said.

“Well this has to be one of those rare times,” I said.

So he said he would go check, and he put me on hold.

I figure he went to take his clothes out of the dryer.

Guess what.

Before we hung up, he asked, “Is there anything else I can help you with today, Mr. Barry?”

No. Go fold your clothes, Idiot No. 3. Click.

So here I sit, an AT&T customer since nineteen hundred eighty-six, writing a check for a $660 early termination fee.

After I returned from putting the check in the mailbox, I asked Kim, “Do you think I shouldn’t have paid it?”

“I’m just glad it’s over,” she said. Apparently, she didn’t care for Jerry Springer Zone. Neither did I. Life’s too short.

I heard this expression for the first time recently: “Just because you have the right, doesn’t make it right.” Never before has it been more applicable.

You win, AT&T. And not that you care, but Ma Bell would be very disappointed in you.

About Barry Currin

Barry tries to be funny and poignant, and he's usually satisfied when he succeeds with one or the other. (Being both is awesome. And sometimes that happens.) Email him: currin01@gmail.com


  1. Barry, sorry to hear of your loss. It’s a bummer. But Kim is correct. The Jerry Springer Zone does no good for nobody. You hit the nail squarely on the head when you acknowledged, “Life’s too short.” So … feel better now? If not, go take Kim out to dinner. You’ll feel better. But if not, take three aspirins and call me in the morning. Oh yeah, I always love your blog … or column … or perspective … or whatever they call these things in Cyberspace. Excellent writing with a great sense of humor!

  2. Ha, Rick. No I don’t feel much better. I’ll tell you what would make me feel better, getting my $660 back. But I’ll probably have to rely on the emotional eating and aspirins you suggested. Thanks for the kind words! Glad you enjoy it.

  3. Jody Hooven says:

    Great post! This kind of encounter seems to be the ‘norm’ these days. Why can’t companies just say what they mean and mean what they say, without all the hidden crap and fine print used to lure one into a shady relationship where the customer NEVER wins?

    I know all too well the ‘Jerry Springer Zone’ you speak of. When I get in one of these situations, I am reminded also of another early 80s TV show that rises up in me. Remember The Incredible Hulk?

    As I type this, I am currently waiting on Direct TV/AT&T to send me a $100 VISA Gift Card promised to me when I signed up for their services. I promptly received the inflated bill, but have yet to see the promised VISA Gift Card. It’s been 6 weeks. There is a followup call to resolve this slated for Friday. I hope to get what I was promised. I have my doubts.

    I hear Lou Ferrigno is supposed to be in town this weekend.

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