Earlier today I called USAA. They’re my insurance company. I’ve been with them since before the big bang. Back then you could pick up the phone and a familiar voice would answer, “This is Phyllis at USAA.”

And I would reply, “Hi, Phyllis, this is Neil. I got a new car; please change my coverage.” And she would, and the whole exchange would take a minute or two including a few pleasantries about both our families.

But now after we’ve been banged – wait, that didn’t come out right. I meant now that we’re well into the 21st century making a phone call to any entity that employs more than three people requires more skill, patience, and persistence than cracking a diamond safe in Antwerp.

So here is the transcript of my last call to USAA:

Welcome to USAA. Before continuing with you call we’d like to to consider these offers from our travel department. This week only we are offering an all expense round trip cruise from Hoboken to… There were also offers to buy ladies handbags, dental floss, kitty litter, laptop computers, a mini camcorder kit, an ultra light vacuum, a reversible sports bra, m&ms, steak sauce, a combo pack of cutlery, and 1000 glucosamine tablets. I was tempted by the tablets, but hung up.

I dialed again.  You have reached a phone number that is no longer in service. It was the same number I had been using for years to call USAA. I went on the web and got a non 800 number. I dialed it.

Welcome to USAA. Using your keypad please enter your 4 digit PIN.

I did and was disconnected. I repeated the process and was asked for my name and city. After failing to recognize what I was saying three times, the last of which brought my wife into the room because I was screaming into my phone. Finally, I was given the phone number of the medical center where I used to work and discovered that I was calling myself. Somehow I had been transferred to information. I hung up and started again.

I then proved Einstein’s definition of insanity incorrect. I dialed the same number expecting a different result and got it. (Parenthetically, a lot of medical research also disproves Einstein’s definition.) I was connected to USAA not information and avoided the ads for sports bras, etc. I did have to certify that I was not a machine and that I did not work for NSA. I was then sent to a machine that while it would not talk to other machines would interact, albeit idiosyncratically, with humans.

Welcome to USAA. Using your keypad please enter your 4 digit PIN.

I entered the number.

That PIN is not associated with the phone you are using. 

“Yes it is,” I shouted.

No need to raise your voice. I’m not deaf. Welcome to USAA. Using your keypad please enter your 4 digit PIN. I did. We do not recognize you. You are being transferred to our main menu.

Welcome to USAA we value the opportunity to serve you. Please stay on the line for a short survey at the conclusion of your call. For insurance press 1. For insurance press 2. For insurance press 3, For anything else press 4. Option 4 is temporarily disabled. I pressed the # key.

Now pay careful attention as our menu options have changed. Please enter your 8 digit membership number. As I indicated above, I’ve been with the company a long time. My membership number only has 6 digits. I had to search the house and my car before I found the number. When I picked up the phone, I had been disconnected. I redialed.

Welcome to USAA. Using your keypad please enter your 4 digit PIN. I was directed to another menus without being admonished about the lack of correlation between my phone and PIN. I was beginning to doubt the verisimilitude of relativity. Eventually, through a different path than those described above I got to the request for my 8 digit membership number. I entered my 6 digit number – silence, an infinite amount of it. There was no doubt that the machine on the other end of the line was ready to wait until the first or second coming depending on you spiritual persuasion. I hung up and started over again.

Welcome to USAA. Using your keypad please enter your 4 digit PIN. I made one up. I got to another menu. This one wanted to know my ethnicity. I pressed 7 for none of you business. Most questions can be answered by visiting usaa.com, but if you really are a troglodyte press 1. I pressed 1. There is no bigger or no one more stubbornly troglodyte than I.

If you are calling about insurance press 1. If you are calling about investments press 2. If you are calling about your business press 3. If you are calling about your home press 4. If you’ve forgotten what you are calling about press 5. I pressed 1.

If you are calling about your car press 1. If you are calling about your home press 2. If you are calling about your business press 3. If you are calling about a personal matter 4. If you are feeling redundant press 4. I pressed 1.

If you need new insurance press 1. If you wish to change your insurance press 2. If you wish to cancel your insurance press 3. If you are depressed press 4. Four is just above 1 on a keypad and I hit it by mistake. In a millisecond I was transferred to the Department of Psychiatry at the medical center that used to employ me.

You have reached the Department of Psychiatry. Please pay careful attention to the selections that follow as our menu changes every day. If you are not insured hang up. If you are depressed call 911. If you are suicidal call 911. If you are really depressed press 1 and we will call 911 for you. If you are a homicidal maniac press 1 if you don’t own a gun and 911 if you do and in any case stay away from us. If you wish to change your gender press 2 and we will transfer your call to the Department of Surgery’s Gender Reversal Division. If you have fibromyalgia or think you might have it press 3 and we will transfer your call to the Pain Department. If you have borderline personality press 4 and we will transfer you to Homeland Security. If you have any other problem call back tomorrow as our electronic record system is down. If you wish to order a copy of DSM V press 5 and leave your shipping information and a credit card number. We will get the manual to you before DSM VI is published. For a gender neutral menu press 6. If you are here by mistake press 7 and we will send you back from whence you came. Since error was the order of the day, I hit 7.

Welcome to USAA. Using your keypad please enter your 4 digit PIN. I pressed # 7 times. Hello, this is Nancy, Whom am I talking to? I had to look at my drivers license before I could answer. How may I help you? I couldn’t remember. That’s OK Dr Kurtzman. We get that a lot. Is there anything else I can do for you? She accurately took my stupefied silence for yes. Please stay on the line for our customer satisfaction survey.