One of my favorite movies of all time is Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil.” If you haven’t ever seen it, I’ll give you a quick primer. The movie is set in a future dystopian English society in which bureaucracy has run amok and a simple typo starts a Kafkaesque plot into motion. Okay, that’s possibly the worst word trailer for a movie ever written, but there is so much inspired lunacy (it IS Terry Gilliam) that I don’t want to give too much away. You should just see it.
One of the things I love so much about the movie are the bureaucratic bungles and the way in which they dehumanize everyone. Michael Palin is especially brilliant as a very cheerful torturer. (Actually, this is the perfect movie to watch in the shadow of the Bush Administration.)
Today, I felt like I was living my own personal “Brazil.” All I wanted to do was download Adobe Shockwave. My kid wanted to play a game on Cartoon Network, and after he hocked me about it for a full hour, my only having had one cup of coffee, I bent to his skillful breakdown (His Eight-Year-Old’s Techno Geek Will versus My Fear of Screwing Up the Laptop–not a fair fight.) Fine, I said. I’ll download shockwave so you can play Ben 10 Now Goes to 11 or whatever it is. So I go to Apple.com. I click on Adobe Shockwave. I install said Shockwave. My computer, Hal, does not say, “I’m sorry, Libba. I can’t do that, Libba.” No, it gives me the big thumbs up and a wink–“Hey, babe! I’m installed! I’m on the job. Go have another cup o’ joe.” I love my computer when it’s like this. I make googly eyes at it, and say, “My, what a big, strong computer you are! I’m gonna bake you a virtual pie!”
So I’m feeling mad love for my computer, and I’m feeling rather macho about installing shockwave all by my lonesome, because usually, when faced with computer stuff, I feel like I’m in any generic action movie in which the sweaty cop (that would be me) is standing before a bomb with a pair of wire cutters going, “red wire or blue wire? Red wire or blue wire…?”, hoping I don’t blow up Nebraska by attempting to install a basic application.
Okay. Fine. The kid goes to Ben 10, now with the power of MegaShockwaveGameAction and Scrubbing Bubbles, and…nothing. Nada. Zip. Pfffft. I’m sorry, it prompts rather politely, but you must first install Shockwave to perform this action.
I look and I see the pretty Shockwave icon on my desktop. It mocks me with its very presence. “Hello, Libba,” it seems to say through its pretty tidal wave of red-orange-yellow bars. “My name is Shockwave, and I will be f**king with you today.”
“No, Shockwave,” I inform it. “Boy needs to play Ben 10 so mom can make more coffee and try to clip cat’s nails. You must install. I once survived a Wiggles concert with a bad head cold. I am owed this small nugget of karma. Give me an effing break. Please?”
So I install that bad boy again. We go to Ben Freaking 10 and it’s the same scenario. “Me no likee the loading for you,” it taunts. “You lied to your mother when you were a teenager. A lot.” (It’s amazing how a site can anthropomorphize like that.)
This time I pull out the big guns. I call Apple support. Because I am the Jessica Simpson of technology, I call Apple support a lot. I call Apple support so much that I think they draw straws when my number pops up. The guy who drew the short straw today listens to my techno-angst and walks me through some computer choreography (And step and kick and grapevine and set your browser to this…) and we got nothin’. “Right,” he says, “you need to talk to Adobe support. Here’s the 1-800 number. Have a nice day.”
I call Adobe.
A: Hello, welcome to Adobe, my name is _____. My I have your first and last name, please?
L: Hi. Yeah, it’s Libba Bray.
A: May I call you by your first name?
A: And Libba, what is your phone number?
L: It’s XXX-XXX-XXXX.
A: And what is your email address?
(I’m starting to wonder when they will ask for blood and urine samples, but I give him my email addy.)
A: No. That’s not right.
L: Um, yes it is.
A: That is not what I am showing here.
L: I swear that’s my email address.
A: No, I’ve got an “N” as in Nancy?
(Suddenly feeling like a kindergartner being directed to give the right answer on a test.)
L: No. No “N.” I’m sorry.
A: I have a “b” and a “g” also.
(Now feeling as if I’m being “Punked.” Will I get an electric shock if I still insist my email address is what it is? Suddenly, I realize he’s talking about my husband, though I cannot imagine why my husband’s name pops up for my computer. This is discussed.)
A: Can you verify your address, please?
A: How may I help you?
I tell him the trouble, how I can’t install Shockwave, and every time I do, it redirects me to a Tech Note page that tells me I need to relaunch my browser in something called Rosetta Emulation mode, which really does sound like something that could destroy Nebraska. I tell him I am reluctant to do this because I don’t know what it means. Does he know what it means? Can he explain it?
Apparently not, for he only asks me to go to the same page.
L: Okay, the same thing is coming up, the Tech Note page.
A: I’m sorry for your inconvenience. Please go to Adobe.com/shockwave…
L: Um, you mean the same thing we’ve just done three times?
L: O-kaaaay…Wow, shocker–I’m getting the same message.
A: Let me redirect you to our Download Department. Here’s your customer ID number.
(10 minutes of insufferable hold music commences. Do we really need muzak versions of Kansas’s “Dust in the Wind”? Doesn’t it already qualify? And more importantly, doesn’t the Geneva Convention forbid this? A New Person answers.)
NP: Can I have your first and last name, please?
L: Ahh, sure. Libba Bray. Do you want my customer ID number?
L: It’s XXXXXXXXXX.
NP: Thanks. Could I have your phone number?
NP: Could I have your email address?
NP: Can you verify your address?
NP: What seems to be the trouble?
(I tell the story again. He takes me to the Adobe Shockwave download page, which I could now quote verbatim if caught behind enemy lines.)
NP: I’m sorry for your inconvenience. Could you tell me what it says?
L: (dutifully reciting) Relaunch browser…Rosetta Emulation…quit browser…um, excuse me, but can’t you see all this? Don’t you know it?
NP: (ignoring me) Go to downloads…
(10 more frustrating minutes later)
NP: I’m going to transfer you to our support center.
(More muzak. “What is it?” my son asks. “Idiots!” I snarl. “Morons! I’m dealing with morons!” He wisely slinks away to the kitchen for a doughnut, leaving me muttering on the couch. A woman answers. She is eating something. I hear her smacking in my ear. I will call her Eating Person, or EP)
EP: Can I have your first and last name? Email address? What seems to be the trouble?
(Now I feel like I’m living in my own personal “Groundhog Day” without Bill Murray to lighten the tension with an ice sculpture. I tell her the trouble. We go through the same damn thing.)
EP: You need Adobe Flash Player and Reader, too. Anything else you want to download?
L: Yes. A Valium.
EP: I’ll transfer you to Downloads.
(I’ve now been on with Adobe for an hour. I could bite the head off a dove and call it lunch. Humorless Boy answers phone. We will call him HP, not to be confused with a certain boy wizard who, I’m sure, could get me shockwave in a jiffy.)
HP: Can I have your first and last name please.
L: (snarling) Libba. Bray.
HP: Can I have your phone number.
L: X. X. X. X. X. X. XXXX.
HP: Can I have–
L: Do you want my customer ID number?
L: It’s XXXXXXX!
HP: What seems to be the trouble?
L: (Approaching Jack Nicholson in “Five Easy Pieces” stage) Look, you have my customer ID number, right?
HP: Yes, ma’am.
L: Can you see what it says there? What does it say when you pull it up?
HP: You are having trouble downloading Adobe Shockwave.
L: Excellent! Necco wafers all around! Now, please. Tell. Me. How. To. Fix. This. Please.
HP: I’m sorry for your inconvenience. Go to Adobe.com/shockwave/downloads…
(I suppress a torrent of Tony Soprano-esque language and explain that I have now done this enough for it to qualify as an OCD trait at this point.)
HP: I’m sorry for your inconvenience. Go to Safari. Do you see Block Pop-Up Windows?
HP: You have to enable that.
L: Enable? You mean like Dina Lohan?
(Humorless Boy gives me nothing. birds chirping.)
L: (clearing throat) It’s already unchecked.
HP: Excuse me?
L: It’s not blocked.
HP: Click on it, please.
L: But…if I do that, it will block the pop-up windows, correct?
L: But…you want it unchecked, is that right?
L: Okay, here’s the thing…It is currently NOT. BLOCKED.
HP: It’s not checked.
HP: Go to Adobe forums.
L: So this is a complaint forum?
HP: There are people who have had problems downloading shockwave. You can search through the forums and see if you find an answer to your problem there.
(It is all I can do not to say, “You are totally shitting me.”)
L: So you can’t help me.
L: Let me get this straight, there are millions of people who have Macs, and you can’t figure out yet how to support shockwave on their computers? This is ridiculous.
HP: I am sorry for your inconvenience. Please have a nice day.
Customer service. RIP.
Have a nice day.