washingtonpost.com
Week 827: Caller IDiot

Saturday, July 25, 2009

To the customer service line for Sylvania Double Soft White Light Bulbs:

Gene: I have a complaint about these products. They're not soft.

Robert: I'm sorry?

Gene: Your package says they're soft, but they're not. They smash just like any other bulbs. I've smashed 12 of them already.

The other day, the Empress received an instant message from her comrade-in-toilet-humor Gene Weingarten, writer of the Below the Beltway column in The Washington Post Magazine. "I am making 800-number calls," he reported. "You know, you could do an Invite on that. First lines to ask."

The Empress thought this was a pretty swell idea, and she and Gene continued to talk at length about how the contest would work -- who would judge, when we'd do it, would you need the real phone number, etc.

It was not till three hours later that it dawned on the Empress that she had done the identical contest three years ago -- and that Gene had chosen the winners.

So if neither of us remembered, what better excuse to do it again? This week: Name a real product or company and supply a stupid question or complaint for the consumer hotline person. This year's twist: Not only will Weingarten choose the top winners, but he also promises to call the top four 800-numbers for customer questions and complaints (the ones on the packages), and ask the questions, provided they're supplied along with the entry. So: You don't have to send in the 800-number; your entry doesn't even have to be for a product that offers one. But you won't make the top four. See http://washingtonpost.com/styleinvitational for a link to the 2006 results; one way not to be duplicative is to write about a new product or to use a current angle.

Winner gets the Inker, the official Style Invitational trophy. Second place gets, courtesy of genuine economist Russell Beland, a Magic 8-Ball imitation that advises, "Buy now," "bear market ahead," etc. This is the same model that Tim Geithner uses. Ben Bernanke juggles several and goes with the most promising answer.

Other runners-up win a coveted Style Invitational Loser T-shirt or Loser Mug. Honorable mentions get one of the lusted-after Style Invitational Magnets. First Offenders get a smelly tree-shaped air "freshener" (Fir Stink for their First Ink). One prize per entrant per week. Send your entries by e-mail to losers@washpost.com or by fax to 202-334-4312. Deadline is Monday, Aug. 3. Put "Week 827" in the subject line of your e-mail or it risks being ignored as spam. Include your name, postal address and phone number with your entry. Contests are judged on the basis of humor and originality. All entries become the property of The Washington Post. Entries may be edited for taste or content. Results will be published Aug. 22. No purchase required for entry. Employees of The Washington Post and their immediate relatives are not eligible for prizes. Pseudonymous entries will be disqualified. This week's honorable-mentions name is by Kevin Dopart; next week's revised title was submitted by both Kevin Dopart and Michael Turniansky.

Report From Week 823

In which we sought haiku about current events -- "haiku," for our purposes, being any three-line poem with five syllables in the first line, seven in the second and five in the third. Many, many fine entries this week, although a lot of entries weren't by any stretch about any current event, and some people seemed unable to count to five or seven. The contest week coincided with the Iranian riots, the deaths of several celebrities, and the odd Father's Day vacation of South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford.

The Winner of the Inker

Sanford and Spitzer,
Blagojevich, McGreevey:
All NEED governors. (Dave Zarrow, Reston)

the winner of the It's Happy Bunny incense:

2. I remember when
"Folding newspaper" meant we'd
Make a pirate hat. (Lois Douthitt, Arlington)

3.Brave Iranians!
We hear your cries of liber--
Whoa! Michael just died! (Tom Scocca, Silver Spring, a First Offender)

4. Saint Peter asks if
Jacko can show ID: "You
Don't look familiar." (Brendan Beary, Great Mills)

Lower on the Haiku Test: Honorable Mentions

Appalachian Trail?
The Andes? What's the diff? My
Wife said, "Take a hike!" (Ellen Raphaeli, Falls Church)

Just as with Elvis,
Michael's selling more albums.
But from the flip side. (Judith Cottrill, New York)

First, Michael Jackson;
Then Billy Mays -- the same age.
Fifty's the new dead. (Craig Dykstra, Centreville)

Ousted in a coup?
The Honduran army says
Manuel's Zelaya. (Chris Doyle, Ponder, Tex.)

"Dear Occupiers,"
Says Iraq. "Good riddance. But
Don't abandon us." (L. John Martin, Bethesda, a First Offender)

The great recession:
A case of the subprime and
The ridiculous. (John O'Byrne, Dublin)

"Economy sucks.
Roadkill is our food again."
"Food? You have some food?" (Richard Rosen, Mount Vernon, N.Y.)

Ahnold's state is broke:
Pays with paper IOUs.
Best hope: They'll be baaacked. (Phil Frankenfeld, Washington)

Ahmadinejad
Deemed winner by imams: Sic
Semper Tehranis. (Brendan Beary)

Madoff goes to jail
A century and a half:
May he live so long. (Russell Beland, Fairfax)

Al Franken
I'm good enough, right?
Doggone it, people like me!
(Just enough of them.) (Phil Frankenfeld)

Obama's had, what,
Five months -- and all's not fixed yet?
What's taking so long? (Pie Snelson, Silver Spring)

Socialism here!!
Televised execution!
(Of a fly -- but still!) (Michael Woods, Arlington, a First Offender)

Sarah Palin's Resignation
To stay in office:
"That's a quitter's way out." As . . .
Opposed to quitting? (Frances Hirai-Clark, Columbia)

Like Jacko, the Nats --
For no apparent reason --
Wear gloves on one hand. (Ira Allen, Bethesda)

Jon and Kate plus eight,
Plus two in rendezvous, we hear?
Where do they find time? (Andrew Langreich, Annapolis, a First Offender)

Leader Kim Jong Il
Out of sight, not out of mind.
Only out of his. (Christopher Lamora, Arlington)

CEO Jobs gets
Non-Apple replacement parts.
Warranty canceled. (Kevin Dopart, Washington)

'Virginia Closing Half of Rest Stops'
New test for license:
You must drive your car safely
While your legs are crossed. (Ellen Raphaeli)

Strip this girl! Find the
Bomb! Drugs! Knives! Guns! Oh! My! God!
An ibuprofen? (Emery Walters, Reston)

And Last:
Only Farrah and Michael,
Palin, Sanford, Kim Jung Il?
Weak haiku news week. (Dave Zarrow)

More Honorable Mentions can be found at http://washingtonpost.com/styleinvitational.

Next Week: Jestinations, or City Snickers

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company