Opinion: Column: Time to Kill

Opinion: Column: Time to Kill

(Again, not a cancer column. Given the title, it would be a pretty gruesome reference to my life in the cancer world if it were.)

No. Not even close to a cancer column. But I am writing about a similar mind-numbing experience. However, this experience has nothing to do with disease/dying. Instead, it has to do with the effort, patience and excruciating lack of success in attempting to contact, meaning speaking to an actual person, at the Internal Revenue Service and/or at the Social Security Administration. The phone numbers you're "googled" to call are the opposite of hot lines. They are frigid. Almost too cold to tolerate, but since your financial life expectancy may be at risk, somehow you have to hold on for dear life. Or else pay, or rather be unable to pay, the consequences.

So I'm on hold for 14 minutes and counting, sort of. More like listening to some unrecognizable instrumental between looped messages that say (A) You're still on hold and (B) They haven't forgotten you and your call will be answered in the order in which it was received. (Actually, you're hoping they remember you.) Unfortunately, you have no choice but to hold on. The answers you seek are only found at these places/numbers and unless you go to the source, you'll be barking up the wrong tree and/or not squeaking the right wheel. I'm fairly certain that if you don't call them, they're unlikely to call – back, or forward, especially if the reason for my two calls is to secure money coming to me instead of negotiating how I'm planning to pay them. So sit tight and be brave – and be near a bathroom to make sure nature's call doesn't interrupt your interminable wait on hold and/or be sure there are enough bars on your phone so a draining battery doesn't end your pursuit.

However, presuming the time it will take to speak to someone to be hours, not minutes, it can be an opportunity to while away your wait by multi-tasking and have the music offered up for your listening pleasure to serve as a kind of white noise as you go about some other personal business. In short, you can get things done rather than become increasingly frustrated that you're stuck by the phone accomplishing nothing. But you have to prepare and anticipate. This wait is not going to be a pleasurable experience. It's a means to an end, hopefully a rewarding one, but hardly one that's guaranteed.

If you can only talk yourself into realizing how good you'll feel once this phone task is completed. Rolaids has nothing on the relief you'll feel when you're finished with this day's work (almost literally). Moreover, knowing you don't have to call them back tomorrow is nearly motivation enough. Crossing this task off your to-do list frees up not only time but mental space, as well. It's almost as if you've given your life back, at least for a few hours, anyway.

As I sit and continue to write this column, it is 38 minutes since I began this exercise in time utilization. And it's just now happened, a representative from the Social Security Administration has just interrupted the music loop and offered their assistance. Let me get my bearings and organize my thoughts so I'm clear in what I'm saying. I don't want to have to make this call again. I already have once before. I have called previously and after telling my tale, was put on hold while the operator researched my claim only to be disconnected when the operator returned to address my question. But this time, there was no disconnect. I received my answer in a reasonably timely manner and off I now go into the rest of my day. Next up: the IRS. Do I dare test my limits and call them on the same day as I called Social Security or do I reward myself and take a well-deserved break? Either way, it's one down and one to go. I think I'll call tomorrow. I don't feel like testing my patience yet again, and besides, I'm finished with this real-time column.