Jim worked in the IT department of a university and one of his many jobs was maintaining the dial-up system.

Yes, that's right. Dial-up.

Back in the 90's the university promised all their faculty members that when they retired they would get free dial-up internet service, forever. Retired people tend to be pretty set in their ways, so Jim wasn't surprised that they still had users in 2010. But nothing could have prepared him for the call he was about to receive.

When the phone rang, Jim only said "hello" and was immediately greeted by an angry woman shouting "My dial-up isn't working!"

Although Jim was the right person to handle such a problem, he was a bit startled. Despite the fact that his phone number wasn't published anywhere this person had somehow managed to completely bypass the help desk and call him directly. Since he hadn't identified himself as being in the IT department, Jim told the caller "Sorry, you've got the wrong person. You need to call someone else."

He had barely gotten the words out when the caller launched into a tirade like nothing he had ever heard before. "My name is Mary B. I used to be head of the Music Department, and I was assistant provost, and I just had dinner with the university president last night and . . . ." on and on, barely pausing to take a breath, finally ending with "John said I should call you directly whenever I have a problem because you're the only person there with any sense".

Jim was flattered by the compliment, but, wait a minute. John? As in university president John Smith? His boss's boss's boss? Holy crap, this is real! Jim knew he had no choice but to start working on her problem.

"OK. In order to make sure I get this right, could you please spell your username for me."

"Sure, M-A-R-Y-B"

Jim checked everything he could think of -- server logs, connectivity between the modems and server -- but the entire system seemed to be working fine. Not only were there no failed login attempts in any of the logs, there was no record of any recent logins by Mary. The use of real-names in user ID's fell out of favor in the late 90's ...maybe she just doesn't use the system very often?

Jim told Mary to hold on while he tried to log in to his account to see if anyone else was affected or only her. "So you singled me out to break my account?" Mary asked, sounding very irritated.

"No, that's not it at all", Jim tried to explain, but Mary didn't want to hear it.

"John said you were smart and I just want my dial-up to work."

After quite a bit of digging and fumbling around, all the while giving Mary vague assurances that he was doing something helpful, Jim managed to find and boot up his old laptop that had a modem so he could try dialing into the system himself. It had been a while since he had done this but eventually, he heard the sound of a successful 56k connection.

Jim was able to successfully connect to his account and the logs showed everything working perfectly. "When was the last time you were able to connect?" Jim asked. But Mary didn't answer. Instead she insisted that he play the "internet noise" again, but louder this time so she could hold the phone up to her computer and she wouldn't proceed any farther until he tried it, "just to be sure".

Wait. Did she say that her computer wasn't making "internet noises" anymore? So Jim had her check all the wires, but everything seemed to be connected properly. Then Jim asked if she had a phone she could plug into the wall jack to make sure there was a dial tone.

"I don't know what good that would do", Mary said, "my daughter bought us cell phones and we cancelled the phone line last week."

There was a long pause as Jim just didn't know what else to say. Finally Mary broke the silence. "Well, I guess my husband was right".

Jim knew he would regret asking the next question, but his curiosity got the best of him.

"Right about what?"

"He said whenever we have a problem I should just call a random number at the university and yell until I find someone who will help me. He says it's way better than AOL's support."

Jim was confused. "I don't know how AOL could possibly help you with our dial-up, and, as a retired faculty member you can just call our help desk any time you want."

"Oh, I just told you that so you would help me. I'm not even sure where the university is."

As Jim hung up, he was sure about one thing. He really hated Mary and he wasn't the least bit ashamed of it.

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