Ma Bell’s Help Line of the Future.

“Hello. This is Bell Atlantic-Nynex-MCI-TCI-America Online customer service. May I help you?”

“Yes, I’d like to report a problem with my telephone.”

“Our records show you don’t have local phone service through us.”

“How’d you know who I am? I didn’t give you my name.”

“We have ways.”

“Well, I’m pretty sure you have my phone service.”

“Our records show you have long-distance, cellular, satellite TV, Internet access and your MasterCard through us. Your phone service must be through one of the other three big communications companies. Have you looked at your bill?”

“My bill is 134 pages long.”

“Oh, you’re one of our light users. But we’d be happy to become your local phone provider. If you sign up, you get one-third off long-distance calls made on your cellular phone to friends and family members who have an Internet home page.”

“It’s tempting, but I just want my phone fixed.”

“Fine, sir. Just a reminder: Next time you need to contact us, try our Internet site. And when you get there, you can sign up for a free showing, through your satellite TV system, of Hamlet starring Bell Atlantic-Nynex-MCI-TCI-America Online CEO Ray Smith.”

“Thanks. Goodbye.”

Click. Dial. Ring.

“Good morning! This is SBC-Pacific Telesis-Sprint-GTE-Little Caesars.”

“Little Caesars? You do pizza?”

“You buy it over phone lines. It’s content. Would you like one? You get a medium with two toppings when you order HBO on cable.”

“Uh, no. I called because my phone line isn’t working right.”

“I see. Do you have your phone over your cable line or do you have your phone over a phone line.”

“A phone line, I think.”

“OK, then that’s not SBC-Pacific Telesis-Sprint-GTE-Little Caesars. My file shows that you get cable TV and video games on demand from us, but in your area, we only offer phone service over cable lines. If you use a phone line, it must be one of the other companies.”

“Thanks. I’ll call them.”

“And sir? We’re testing some new products in your area. We’re offering electric service and natural gas service for 10% less than the public utilities. One-stop shopping. We want to provide you with everything that comes into your house and connects to a device or appliance.”

“No, thanks. Bye.”

Click. Dial. Ring.

“Hello. Endorphin Enterprises.”

“I’m sorry. I must have dialed the wrong number.”

“You’re probably in the right place. We just changed our name. We used to be US West-UUNet-Universal Pictures-Ameritech, but that got pretty cumbersome. I guess they wanted to call it UUUUSA, but then decided to start fresh. So we’re Endorphin Enterprises.”

“Clever.”

“Personally, I thought we should call ourselves Youse Guys. Get it?”

“Yeah, that’s good. Um, I was calling because my phone line doesn’t seem to work right.”

“Ohhhhh. What services do you have with us?”

“I’m not sure.”

“We offer everything: local, long-distance, cellular, cable TV, satellite TV, Internet access, music on demand and so on. But so does everybody else these days.”

“Yes, well, it’s gotten a little confusing. I’ve already called those two other companies with long names.”

“Oh, right. OK, see, it looks like you don’t have anything at all with us. Now, we could make your life easier by giving you all the services so you’d know who to call. Except in your area, we only offer movies on demand over the Internet, so that could be a problem.”

“No, really, I just want to get my phone fixed.”

“My guess is you must have your local phone service through AT&T. That’s the only other company left in the business.”

“OK, I’ll try AT&T.”

Click. Dial. Ring.

“Hello. AT&T. Mike Armstrong speaking.”

“Mike Armstrong? The chairman? I’m sorry. I wanted customer service.”

“No problem. Hold on a moment.”

Pause. Rustling sounds.

“Hello. Customer service. Mike Armstrong speaking.”

“Mr. Armstrong, I really just wanted customer service.”

“This is it. We spun off everything but my office. It goes totally against the megamerger trend. Our shareholders love it. I’m getting paid $55 billion this year.”

“Well, sir, my phone line doesn’t work right, and I think I need someone to come fix it.”

“Be right there, as soon as I can find my tool belt.”