I got into a shouting match with another man today on the phone. It was not one of my better moments.
After yesterday’s mass shooting in Florida, I knew I would call this morning on my commute and try to convince one of the staffers for Kansas Senator Pat Roberts that perhaps it might be time for their boss to do something, anything about the epidemic of gun violence and dead children in our country. Pat Roberts’ staffers are notoriously rude, very rarely answering the phone with a pleasant tone. Most of the time they don’t even give you a name when you call, which makes it very hard to follow up. They also generally lack basic empathy, especially the guys. When I used to call over the summer and tell them our story, they would say, almost mechanically, “I’ll let the senator know.” Sometimes they would tell me just how wrong I was about the senator, his politics, or life in general.
For the record, when I’d call Jerry Moran’s office, his staffers—especially the women—wouldn’t immediately launch into a correction. They would actually tell me, politely, how sorry they were that I was calling them and talking about my dead child for the tenth time. They would let me speak. And more often than not, they didn’t betray a sense of impatience when I’d invariably have to take a second to compose myself or simply break down in tears while talking to a complete stranger.
None of them have ever listened to me give my name, address, and ZIP Code and then say, “Well, ma’am, we’ll pass those concerns along.”
As someone with a voice that isn’t particularly deep, I’ve been called “ma’am” in restaurant drive-thru lanes more than a few times. I’m not bothered by the misgendering, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with women or femininity.
But something today made me snap. Maybe it was the staffer’s response to the question, “What does the senator plan to do to stem this epidemic?” with “I’ll pass this message along.”
I told him, “No, this is not a message. This is a question. And it’s a question that you should be comfortable answering, as it invariably gets asked again and again.”
He did not have an answer.
So I asked him a follow-up, which was what I as a middle-class Kansan had to do for my voice and concerns to carry the same weight as the National Rifle Association, from whom Roberts has received thousands of dollars in total campaign donations.
“I’m not going to answer a hypothetical question like that, ma’am,” he said.
And that’s when it happened. A full year’s worth of pent-up rage at being ignored on virtually all issues burst forth, and I started yelling.
“Stop calling me ma’am. You’ve done it four times. My name is Doug. D-O-U-G.”
“Stop yelling at me,” he said. “It’s not fair to yell at me because I called you ma’am on accident. I didn’t get that your name was Doug.”
And that was the most upsetting part.
Since Donald Trump’s election, I have called my elected officials hundreds of times in regard to issues of importance. I’ve followed all the rules set forth by people like Celeste P. and others, to give my name and address and phone number and ZIP Code.
But if the person on the other end of the line isn’t even going to get my name right, how closely are they really listening?
The next few minutes were spent yelling at each other, trying to scrabble and crawl over one another to find the moral high ground. He said it wasn’t his fault that he misheard me, that he didn’t deserve to be abused; I told him his job was to listen to the abuse, and that I wasn’t going to be lectured by a senate staffer in a DC office on whether my anger and annoyance at being unheard was warranted.
We went back and forth like this for a while. And I finally apologized. Because maybe I did overreact. His job is not easy, I’d imagine. I’ve worked in customer service. I’ve dealt with angry customers yelling, cursing, etc. I thanked him for his time. It can’t be fun to be told, repeatedly, that your boss is a racist, sexist, rotting soulless ghoul*.
I imagine he went back to answering the phones or got up to stretch and grab a cup of coffee. Maybe he hung up and found someone to vent about the giant prick who just yelled at him.
I pulled into the parking lot at the office and dialed the next number to beg Jerry Moran to do something about the glut of corpses in our classrooms.
No one answered. I had to leave a message. Maybe that was a good thing.
If you want to make a difference, I still believe the best way to do so on a daily basis is to call your elected representatives and make some noise. Even with my bad experience today. I use the 5 Calls app to reach out to them about the issues that are important to me. Of course, you can always donate to the candidates who share your beliefs or even run for office yourself.
*Make no mistake: Pat Roberts is a ghoul. He doesn’t even live in Kansas anymore. We haven’t had a town hall for years. For all intents and purposes, Virginia has three senators. He’s the worst.