I yelled at someone the other day. It doesn't happen often, maybe once every couple of years.
You have to push the right buttons in proper sequence to set me off, but a state employee who works in the Maryland Board of Pharmacy office had my combination. I'll call the employee Wendy. (It just seems unhelpful bureaucrats shouldn't have names that contain more than two syllables.)
My mission was simple. My wife is a pharmacist. She has a license in another state and wants to practice pharmacy in Maryland. I was to call the State Board of Pharmacy for the proper forms. On the board's Web site, there is a series of reciprocity instructions, one of which is to "Contact the Maryland Board of Pharmacy to obtain the Reciprocity Application Packet."
"This is Wendy. May I help you?"
I knew immediately that Wendy didn't want to help me. She already seemed annoyed and in a hurry, like she had a plane to catch or a bus pass that expired in 15 minutes.
"Yes. I want to get a reciprocity packet for my wife. She's a pharmacist."
Wendy started to rattle off a list of Web sites.
"No, no. I've already been to the Web site," I said. "It says I need a reciprocity packet."
"You can't apply on the Web site."
"I'm not applying. I just want the packet. I'm not the pharmacist."
"No, sir. You're not understanding me. You have to go to these Web sites."
"But I've already been on your Web site. I just need the packet."
"You're not listening to me."
This was the first button, the one that powers up the system, gets the engines running.
"I don't think you're understanding," I said, but she refused to let me finish my sentence. "You can't apply online. Go to this site and it'll tell you exactly what to do."
I needed a rest and agreed to do what she said. Maybe there was some link I missed. Maybe it was me and not Wendy. But I didn't miss anything. I wound up in the same place, on the same Web page, staring at the same set of instructions. I called back, followed a series of prompts, endured a couple of transfers, and was hung up on. I called again. More transfers. Ringing. A voice.
"May I help you?"
It was Wendy.
"Yes. I'm trying to get a reciprocity packet for my wife."
"I just spoke to you a few minutes ago. Didn't you do what I told you?"
"Listen. I've been on the Web site. I'm just asking for what it told me I need."
Button number two. I didn't know what she was doing while I was on hold. There was nothing to investigate. She was probably telling one of her two-syllabled co-workers -- Bonnie, Tammy -- what an idiot I was.
"Sir, listen to me. You're not listening to me. You have to " This time, I interrupted.
"I'm listening. I don't think you're hearing me. I'm looking at the instructions on your Web site."
There were only two possibilities. Either a Reciprocity Application Packet as described by the Maryland Board of Pharmacy didn't exist or she just didn't want to send me one. Maybe Maryland has enough pharmacists.
"I told you. You can't apply online," she scolded.
"I'm not applying," I said, my voice raising. "I'm looking at a Web page that says I can submit information and get a packet e-mailed to me, but it won't work.
Can't you just e-mail me one?"
She huffed an enormous breath.
"You just don't want to listen to me, do you?"
Button number three. I launched.
"With all due respect ..." I always like to qualify my tirades. "You don't know what you're talking about! I've been on the Web site. I know how to use the Internet. I just want the packet!"
Then music. A lone piano. I thought perhaps that I had fainted, until I realized something -- Wendy had hit the "hold" button. I sat listening for a few seconds. She came back.
"Have you calmed down now?"
The funny thing was, I had. Five minutes earlier I wanted to reach through the phone and pull her tongue out. Now, I was positively helpless. "Could you just send me the packet?" I begged, like a patient pleading for medication.
"I'm going to give you these Web sites. Write them down."
My will was gone. I had underestimated her. Wendy was, in fact, a genius.
"Wait. I'll get a pen."
Richard Manieri is a media consultant and writer. His essays and articles have appeared in publications including the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.