Phone Demons

Written by Lord Lansdowne

I used to hate snow. Yes, I know snow is as Canadian as hockey, but this fluffy crap that falls from the sky loses quickly its appeal, when your first task in the morning is to grab a shovel. Especially where I lived, where the snow removal duties relied solely on myself, and if I intended to get out of my house, I had to shovel tons of this stuff just to work my way towards the sidewalk. Fortunately where I live now there is a sucker called the Superintendent who has to do it, and I've began the slow healing process of reappreciating the white shit falling from the heavens.

That was, of course, until it got just a tad warmer for the two feet of snow to quickly turn the equivalent of two feet of water, turning my grandmother's basement into her own, personalised swimming pool.

Now, for reasons that I cannot explain even to myself, whenever I am around members of my family, they all seem to forget essential things they have been doing without me. My father forgets how to use a computer. My mother forgets how to use a car. My grandmother, who arrived here in 1948, forgets how to speak English. Most of all, they all forget how to deal with society.

They also seem possessed by the phone demons. The moment you don't show your face or call them for a period longer than 24 hours, they quickly call and fill the answering machine with messages of them talking to themselves. They would leave messages that go something like this: "Hello? Leandro? Are you home? Hello? Are you there? Pick up the phone. Hello?". Never mind that I explained the difference between voicemail and an answering machine.

To keep my family at bay, I visit them on a weekly basis. So, while I was paying my regular weekly visit in order to keep the demons at bay, when I found myself in charge of the sewage problem. I'm not sure how it happened, other than suddenly it was my problem. Being too nice, I sighed and went on to deal with it.

First thing I did was call the Emergency Department of the City to see if the problem was on their side. A few hours later, they showed up, put a long flexible pipe down some exhaust vent, and less than 15 seconds later, determined that the problem was a clogged sewage pipe (no shit?). Because the city only handles the sewage pipes on the side that belongs to the municipal property, they determined that their side was okay, and left. I'm sure we're dealing with professional workers from the City, so who am I to argue with them?

So it's now time to call a plumber. My grandmother's friend suggested someone and shortly after Johnny the Plumber arrived. Johnny must've been a little hard of hearing and short in memory, cuz it was necessary for him to introduce himself about 16 times with a loud, booming voice. Maybe that's why it said in large letters "Johnny the plumber" on the side of his truck, just in case he forgot what he was driving.

After about two hours in my grandmother's flooded basement of inserting long flexible pipes down some hole, Johnny declares there is nothing he can do. He blames the city. I tell... I yell at Johnny that the city was here earlier and determined it was our problem. Johnny tells me to call the Engineering Department of the City and find out the drainage plan of the house. That way one could more easily determine where the problem might be. It also means that floors will need to be torn up to reach these pipes.

I call the Emergency Department of the City once again and I ask for their Engineering Department. "It's Friday night, nobody is here until Monday. Call them again here on Monday". Well, so much for this being an emergency.

On Monday at work, I call back and someone else answers, totally shocked that I am looking for an Engineering Department at the Emergency Department. In fact, he is so shocked that he has to tell me about four times that this is the Emergency Department of the City, and what they deal with. I tell him what was said to me, and he tells me to call 392-7797.

I call the number.

"Transportation Department, how may I help you?".

Well, this clearly wasn't Engineering. I patiently explain why I am calling, how I got there and who I am looking for.

"But this is the Transportation Department".

Well, no shit. There must be some rule somewhere in the City that whenever someone calls you have to tell them more than once that this is not the department they are looking for. Fortunately, after some whimpering, the woman finds what the number for Engineering was and gives it to me. It's 342-7787 instead of 392-7797.

Calling that number gives me the shrieking sound of a fax. I was tempted to send a fax with my request for the drainage plan of the house, but I could only expect a reply of several faxes stating this was some other department.

In a flash of greatness, I decide to change the first three digits from 342 to 392 seeing as all the other numbers so far started with that.

"This number belongs to the City of Toronto and is no longer in service. If you're looking for someone specific, call 340-8340 and ask for the person you are looking for".

I call that number and another woman answers. It was just a "Hello" so for a second I thought that I had hit someone's house. It turns out it was some receptionist of some other department I did not catch the name of. I explained in long, painful detail how I had gotten there and who I was looking for and if she could help me. She puts me on hold and returns shortly after with two different numbers I could call.

It went on from there for a while. First I hit the Parks and Recreation department. Then I was transferred to the City Works department. Then somehow I went to the Snow Removal department. And so on. It was like dealing with the bureaucracy of the movie Brazil. This was of course in between phone calls from my mother and my grandmother ensuring themselves, every 15 minutes or so, that I was finding out what they needed.

Eventually I arrived to the Archive Department of the City. Once again, I explained my extremely long story to the woman, querying if there even was such a thing as an Engineering Department.

"Well, it depends. Which one are you looking for?"

"You mean, there is more than one?"

"Well, yes. What are you looking for?"

"The drainage plan of a house" and I give her the address.

"Is this for Toronto?"

No, Phoenix, Arizona. "Yes"

"Well, I'll see if archives has it, you'll have to call back tomorrow and I'll let you know".

We'll see what the City has set aside for me tomorrow.

I get a fax the next day with the plumbing schematics of my grandmother's house, showing how her home's sewage pipe is latched on the City's. The fax shows a badly drawn square and a large Y representing the pipes and a date that shows her house was built in 1907. There are no measurements and the whole thing looks like it's nothing more than a vague approximation badly drawn in crayon by a tourette-suffering four-year-old.