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So, like many of you, I was doing the Christmas thing this morning with my family. It was a tight year so we agreed just to give presents to the three year old and take pictures of her to email to everyone. And while this is going on, my phone rings. I don’t know about you but I have never felt the need to turn my phone off or leave it at home on this occasion, particularly since you want relatives to be able to call you. I called relatives. It’s a phone-appropriate situation.

And just as I was helping the three year old get her mom’s laptop to display fewer ads on (ironic as my wife works for Nickelodeon, right?), my phone rings, the text to speech loudly announcing that it was the old man in charge of one of the organizations I’ve done a fair amount of consulting for this year (started with Google Apps and evolved). Had to take the call. And you know why he called me? He called me, all agitated too, uninterested in how engaged in family Christmas things I might have been because he couldn’t get into his eBay account, that the system screwed up his password again, and he needed to get in to bid on something.

So I started explaining to him, not the first time, that I only have control over the company system his company hired me to create, not his eBay account, and that I was powerless over those other systems he uses, suggesting he hit any Forgot password link or emailing the site’s account people. He wasn’t buying it, that I wasn’t involved in this plot to ruin his Christmas morning. He even said during the call he’s had the eBay account longer than I’ve been around, but couldn’t make the connection that that would absolve me of responsibility over the eBay account and capability to manipulate it.

You see, he’s one of those men who got into computers in his eighties, has almost ten different accounts on various sites he relies on daily, all of which have different passwords, none of which he’ll give to people who will keep track of them for him; and when he forgets them, he blames the system and the guy who set it up, even if that guy whom he’s paid claims he did set the system in question up in the first place, and so he gets furious. You know the type? I hope you don’t. Really, even if you need money, this is the kind of client you try to unload on someone else you want to punish.

I stayed cool and tried to get myself off the hook without burning my bridge with him and his company so I could get back to my family, a rare moment of most of us being together. Though he relies still on his AOL account (another recurring nightmare, don’t get me started) more than the Google setup, his company’s been pretty good to me and it’s his signature on the checks. But for Pete’s sake, can any of you think of a more sacred time not to call someone with crap like this? Even if it were my fault, an eBay bidding crisis? Christmas morning? Really?

I kept trying, gently, to end the call with some success for him (walking him through password recovery), but then his Internet connection drops so he gets even more pissed. Told him to pop the cable, put it back in and reboot, reminded him maybe a fifth time about my administrative limitations over his eBay account. Start playing with my little niece, begin forgetting this extraordinarily rude incident, then the phone rings, it’s him. I instinctively drop the F-bomb I’m afraid within audible range of the child and her mom, which made me more incensed about this, because not only is that a bad thing to do, I managed to fail to restrain myself from doing that in one of the least appropriate contexts you can come up with to drop that word. That is not cool. Chased it fast with an apology, and another apology that I was taking these calls in the first place.

Just needed to vent. Thank you. Back to more family stuff, phone off this time. Merry Christmas everybody and use discretion when taking on new clients especially if they’re in their seventies or worse. You know what? On my next invoice I’m going to list this so that it’s on the record but with a $0/hour rate out of my form of innocuous spite.

Doug Simmons