I once phoned a company called EcoShield to try and sort out an ant problem we had in and around the house, but, as it turned out, I transposed some digits of their number. After the usual warnings that all calls were recorded for quality purposes, I was given an automated menu of choices. One of them, bizarrely, suggested that I should press 5 if I was over 50. I found this strange, but there was surely nothing that stopped someone in their fifties from getting a discount on pest control.
I pressed 5. A lady answered and identified herself as Jessica. She said something I couldn’t make out, but then asked what the problem was.
“I have ants,” I said.
“Oh,” Jessica answered with what I now know, in hindsight, was puzzlement.
“A lot of ants. Inside, and outside.”
“What kind of ants?” Jessica asked after a brief pause.
“Small ones,” I said. “But they’re the annoying ones, aren’t they?”
“We have a device,” Jessica said, “which is new but very good for someone over fifty.”
I couldn’t quite understand this but before I could ask, Jessica continued.
“You can keep it on you, or even wear it around your neck.”
“So,” I hesitated, “I just walk around and scare the ants? Or what?”
There was a lengthy silence.
“The device will alert us if anything goes wrong,” Jessica added.
“But what if I’m not around?” I asked. “I want you to take care of the ants. I don’t want to do it.”
There was another pause.
“A device is really best,” Jessica resumed. “Especially if you’re over fifty.”
I was baffled by this.
“I wanted to ask,” I said, “what do you give to people under fifty? I thought you’d come out and spray my ants, regardless of my age.”
“Yes, with some kind of poison.”
Jessica cleared her throat. “We don’t do poisons,” she said.
“But what kind of pest control can you do if you don’t use poisons?” I asked.
“Sir,” Jessica said, “what number did you dial?”
I felt an all too familiar cold hand around my heart.
“I called EcoShield. Is this not it?”
“No,” Jessica said, “we specialise in medical alert devices,” and hung up.