Whatever happened to the days when you got what you paid for and contracted services were provided in a congenial and timely manner?

Recently we had a bad phone jack, formerly a simple problem. In the old days one notified the repair person, who soon stopped by and minutes later solved the problem. Today the same problem has taken on completely different proportions.

After calling the Northern Virginia repair service, I waited for a free line. A pleasant woman finally answered, but I couldn't hear her well -- nor could she hear me. Yelling across the wires, she explained that on her line she could not call out; so I called her back, but got cut off. I called back again, but the line was busy -- for 15 minutes.

Finally I got through. The repair people could be there the next day, sometime between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. -- was that all right? My wife and I both work, and the cat isn't tall enough to open the door. No, it wasn't all right.

I dialed the district manager at the number I was given, in Richmond, Va. That number was out of service. Next I wanted to speak with the president of C&P; local information gave me the number of the "C&P locator." After 15 minutes on hold, I threw up my hands in despair. There must be a Yuppie's guide to self-phone repair. Somewhere, Ma Bell, I'll find it, and I hope that will be before I find you.

WILLIAM PENN

Alexandria