This morning, I awoke to find that my sister, Jamie, had fallen asleep on my plush microfiber couch in her clothes last night and neglected to return home. In honor of the occasion, and since I do not have a toaster, I decided to order in bagels. Not yet functional enough to traverse my apartment, go to the computer and Google the number for the neighborhood bagel vendor, I took the old-fashioned route and dialed 411 from my bed.
It has been some time since I called 411, as I tend to rely on the web for my yellow paging. I was somewhat surprised when a robot lady not unlike the one who lives in Kiki’s cell phone picked up instead of a human.
After forcing me to make what seemed like 70 choices but was probably just a few — whether to speak English, Spanish or Portuguese; what borough of the city my listing was in; and whether it was a business or residential number — the robot lady finally asked me what I wanted.
“Tal Bagels, on Broadway.”
After a weirdly long time and a sound effect that sounded like, “Bee boo bee bop bee boo bee bop,” the robot lady said, “Harouni Persian Carpet Importer. Is that the number you are looking for?”
Actually no. No, that is not the number I am looking for. I do not think Harouni Persian Carpet Importer sells toasted blueberry bagels.
I repeated, “Tal Bagels, on Broadway.”
I’m not sure what Robot Lady thought I said, but suddenly she seemed incredibly offended.
There was an awkward pause and I could practically hear her gasp in disbelief. Her robot voice conveyed her infuriation: “PAR-don me?”
Now, I realize there are many a number seeker out there with tendencies toward the obscene, but in my case any rudeness was inadvertent and I really didn’t like her tone. Maybe in robot culture, the words “Tal” and/or “bagels” are equivalent to our “bitch with a capital ‘c.'” I don’t know. But I find it pathetic that you can’t order a few mediocre bagels without getting lip from the 411 Robot Lady. I trust that next time I call 411, I’ll be put on a four-second delay the way SNL does with its more raucous guests.