November 8, 2001

Ladder

Ludwig Wittgenstein

I was being charged for collect calls I had not made, so I called the phone company to complain. After some difficulty, I was finally transfered to someone in customer service. I explained the problem in careful detail, hoping to demonstrate through the reasonableness of my tone and the clarity of my language that I was a decent person with a legitimate grievance. When I finished, the agent surprised me by saying that he would connect me to customer service (I don’t know where he worked, but clearly he didn’t work in customer service), only as I was waiting to be connected, I received a call on the other line from an operator who said that she had a collect call for me from Michael Barrish.

I said: “I can’t be getting a collect call from Michael Barrish, because I am Michael Barrish. In fact I was just on the other line with someone else from your company, making a complaint about a collect call I never made.”

“Does this mean you won’t accept the charges?”

“Well, yes, obviously.”

“Okay, I’ll tell him that,” she said, and was gone.

Switching back to the other line, the one in which I was waiting for customer service, I was greeted by the same operator, the one I had just spoken to, the one I had told that I would not accept the collect charges. She reported that my collect call could not go through because Michael Barrish would not accept the charges.

I said: “Look, I’m Michael Barrish. I’m the same person you just talked to. And I’m not trying to place a collect call; I have a complaint.”

Here she said the only thing that followed the logic of all that came before and yet trumped that logic, rendering it null and void, much like the ladder Wittgenstein speaks of at the end of Tractatus, the ladder that must climbed in order to be discarded.

“Okay,” she said, “I’ll connect you to customer service.”