Playing the Old-Person Card

I was making breakfast when I heard the man from the phone company knock on my neighbor’s door. (I live in an apartment building in a huge retirement community.) I thought nothing of it—the neighbor had just moved in. 

But an hour later when I picked up my phone, it was dead. And when I tried to go online to report the problem, my server didn’t respond either. 

I knew immediately what was wrong because it’s happened before in my community. When the phone company connects one resident’s phone, quite often it succeeds in disconnecting someone else’s line. 

I got out my cell, navigated the phone company’s automated maze and was finally put on hold, only to be cut off 10 minutes later. Back to square one.

Eventually, I reached a human being and explained the situation. She tested the line and informed me that it might be “dried out,” whatever that means. She said she’d send a repair person on Thursday—six days in the future. 

I work from home. I use the phone and the Internet constantly. She might as well have said six years. 

A call to my computer guru brought Frank to the rescue. He tested routers, modems and phones until he was 100 percent sure the phone company was to blame. After he left, I called again and explained again what I thought had happened. I pleaded with today’s new rep for an earlier service call. She talked to her supervisor but concluded that Thursday was the best she could do. Apparently, it cut no ice with the company that it had created my problem or that I work from home and can’t afford to be cut off from the Internet.

But after I mentioned that I live in a retirement community, the woman asked whether I had a medical problem.

“Well, I’m old,” I told her lamely. I can’t imagine why I said that. 

“Right,” she responded. “I’ll put down that you have a medical problem and we’ll send someone tomorrow to fix the phone. Have a nice day.”

I was flabbergasted—and embarrassed. I’d just done the equivalent of parking in a handicap space when I had no handicap. And I definitely don’t equate being old with having a medical problem. For Pete’s sake, I work for a website that strives to dispel degrading myths about aging. 

When I told this story to a friend that evening, she laughed. “You played the old-person card,” she said.

The following day, a repairman—I’ll call him Sam—appeared at my door at 9 am. I suggested he visit the building’s central phone room, but he politely rejected my diagnosis. 

Sam then dismantled every phone jack in my apartment even though he had to move almost all of the furniture away from the walls to make sure he’d found every last one. There wasn’t a troublemaker among them, and he soon broke a sweat. So did I. My dog sheds and dust bunnies were drifting out from behind the furniture. My mother would have had a fit.

Finally, unable to figure out what was wrong, Sam headed off to the central phone room. He came back looking sheepish.

“I should have listened to you,” he said. “The guy who fixed your neighbor’s phone on Saturday cut your line.”

I didn’t start laughing until he was safely out the door. Afterward, I wished there were some way I could thank the compassionate phone rep who speeded up the repair for me by deciding that if I was old, she was entitled to assume I had a medical condition. It’s not true, and I suppose I could have said so, but it was unfair for the phone company to wait six days to correct a problem it caused in the first place. If that ever happens again, I’ll remember to reach for the old-person card. 

I could hardly wait to get online. But first I had to vacuum.