Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Dell Guy

There is something truly intimate about a conversation with the Dell guy. In the absence of other identification elements the voice of a person gains a colossal potential for exploration. The tone, the timbre, the amplitude of the pitch and the laughter – especially the laughter – are all factors that determine how we feel about people we have never met. Movies want to make us believe that a conversation on the phone can be conducive to an amorous relationship in much the same way as a bump-into-each-other encounter is in a supermarket. I remember a Seinfeld episode where Elaine develops an interest for the guy who delivers her wake-up call service. But it turns out that the match is not well made. A voice can be as deceiving as it is arousing, I suppose.

The Dell guy is concerned with making my computer work. He tries to strip my comments of artistic irrelevancies (“My screen looks like a clown with a running nose”) and match the symptoms to an entry in what I suspect is the Dell Tomes of Most Common Problems Version 528293892892.3 Abridged with Annotations. To reach a diagnostic, often times he needs more information than what I provide. So the Dell guy proceeds to instruct me about running a variety of tests. The duration of these tests is variable, so that it is possible to stay on the phone with the Dell guy for an hour or more. This buys me time for my own agenda.

I imagine that the Dell guy wears a headset. It would be cumbersome to have to hold a phone while shuffling through the Dell Tomes of Most Common Problems. As I sit waiting for the tests to complete I find myself switching the phone from one ear to another in search of a comfortable position. But if the Dell guy does indeed wear a headset then how come I cannot hear him breathe. I listen carefully for the sound of lung activity. There is nothing. Yet the microphone is close to his mouth. I hear the cadence of his voice in minutest details. Perhaps he does not have lungs. It could be a fish or a robot I am dealing with here. After all, this is somebody whom I have never seen in flesh.

The Dell guy must be the unhappiest man on earth. In our minutes of silence, when we wait like sycophant humans for the mighty computer to reach its verdict, I can hear the voices around him. At first I do not pay attention to the content of the voices. They are just soothing, like background noise, like static. I imagine the confluence of voices to be an intellectual discussion of some kind. It could be one of those polemics that colleagues carry at work to take their mind off official matters. My Dell guy is probably impatient for this call to be over so he can join in the conversation. Even though we have known each other so little, I desire the best for him. I wish that my computer were quicker, more responsive. I want to set him free. But then I listen more carefully. “Thank you for choosing Dell,” “Can I have your service tag number?”

They are all Dell guys in the line of duty, just like mine. And since I can hear them all so well, discern what they are saying, I gather that they are closely spaced. I picture hundreds of them in an office like a warehouse, segregated in small cubicles where they attend to their callers and meekly bear their crosses. My Dell guy lives under the supervision of a Big Brother who records calls and prohibits his workers from flirting or joking. He answers calls with his hands tied with the cord of a keyboard and his skull fettered into a headset. My Dell guy lives in Orwell’s 1984.

His name is David. Or so he is told to say. This is not an American story, so we do not meet after twenty years, recognize each other and live a sweet, mellow love story in our old age. He gives me his employee number, which is the closest he can get to asking me for my phone number. Big Brother is watching. “If you have any more problems” he says. I wish that I were the kind of person who can say something cute at the right time without messing up. But I am not and I know it. Our farewell is deadpan, professional, resigned. He would betray me, I know it. I can already feel the rats crawling under the mask, eating my face, like in the novel. “Do it to her, not to me! Do it to her!” How can a love affair with a Dell guy turn out? How does one love after the carnage of thoughts which are mutilated to fit into the Procrustean bed of the headset? Is this a man or an automaton? Is it David, or... Hal?

The post-it with his employee number is gone forever. David, the Dell guy, my Dell guy, took another call and went back to his 1984. And I, listless and sated, went back to mine.

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