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<truth or consequences>

Two weeks ago, my girlfriend's infant niece was double-immunized, putting her at risk of autism and brain damage. How did it happen? A nurse neglected to record the first immunization. The baby is fine and her parents can stop trembling, but I have that Travis Bickle feeling.

Today my girlfriend's old doctor's office sent a form letter stating that they had failed to send requested information to her new doctor. The form letter did not explain why they failed, nor did it include any way of contacting anyone about the failure. (The previous doctor died; the office is closed and the phone number no longer works.)

My girlfriend called her new doctor, prompting the new doctor to check her records. Thus, by accident, the new doctor discovered that a blood test my girlfriend took a month ago was misplaced by the lab that did the test. The new doctor should have called the lab when the test results failed to appear, but the doctor wasn't paying attention.

It's not just doctors. Last week MCI cut off my long distance service without notice for the second time in two months, after they made an outrageous billing error for the second time in two months. My girlfriend could not call Los Angeles to find out if her baby niece was all right, and did not know why the phone stopped working.

I placed my second two-hour-long phone call to MCI's toll-free support number, and was told I'd have to pay $400 for a $16 phone call because the tech folks weren't "authorized" to correct the error. They put in a "request" for a bill correction, accepted my $400 payment via credit card, and told me my account was now "okay" again.

Today in the mail I received a past-due invoice for the $400 I paid last week, together with a notice that my account was being cancelled for a third time because of my "failure" to pay the invoice that accompanied the cancellation notice.

Could you stay in business if you treated your customers or clients that way? I wouldn't even like myself if I treated my clients that way.

And honestly, I was okay with all of it until my friend Steve asked a technical question about A List Apart mail. And I had to explain that A List Apart can't serve mail at all, because Network Solutions points to an unrelated company's mail server. I can't fix this error or the many other Network Solutions errors because Network Solutions lost all my account information and transferred A List Apart's records to the company that used to host it. In Network Solutions' eyes, because of their error, I am not the owner of my domain.

Network Solution's mission is basic enough. It's like holding someone's lunch money and charging them annually for the privilege. Yet the company never suffers the slightest consequence for its well-known failure to competently serve many of its customers. My friend Steve confided that he built a custom mail application to spam Network Solutions every five minutes until they finally accepted his email form and updated his records (at which point the spam discontinued). That was the only way he could get them to do what they're supposed to do as a matter of course. If I were half as incompetent as this company, I couldn't get work as a Central Park mime.

I know that I have a wonderful life—anyone with friends has a wonderful life—and that none of this really matters, except as a possible indication that things are screwed all over. And that's the part that worries me. If teachers and janitors and policemen and art directors live in a world where actions have consequences, shouldn't companies be held to the same rules?

I have a great partner and a wonderful new client who liked the work we showed her today. I wish I could go to bed thinking of that success, instead of brooding about stupid things beyond my control.

21 March 2001
The author and his opinions.
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