I no longer fear Hell, for I have spent two days dealing with AT&T customer service.

Honest, I cannot remember the last time I was so angry. It was the kind of experience that makes you think this must be a movie, or the Soviet Union. And it’s still not over! How are these people still in business?

In November, Julie set up phone and Internet service through AT&T for our Louisiana house, and asked it to be activated on December 12 — this, even though we didn’t arrive till December 19. When we got there, there was no phone service, and no Internet. Yesterday, Julie spent two and a half hours on the phone with AT&T customer service, trying to sort out the problem. I’m going to spare you the exceedingly dull ins and outs, but Julie kept being passed around from machine to person, having to start over from the beginning every time. At one point, AT&T’s wireless service, which we also have, dropped the call — it’s unbelievably bad here; if you walk from one room to the next in my house, the call will drop. Unless it doesn’t. Sometimes it drops while you’re sitting still.

Anyway, as Julie later told me, she thought at one point they had gotten so good at artificial intelligence that she was talking to a machine that sounded like a real person. Then she figured the customer service person — or persons, as she ended up talking to a few of them — must be a foreigner. She said they spoke English words, but didn’t seem to understand clearly what they were being told. I heard her in there finally giving up talking to them in a normal tone of voice, and rather enunciating as if she were talking to a small child. And still! Finally someone she talked to said yes, it was their fault. They screwed up. They would have it up and running within 24 hours.

Well, the deadline came and went, and no phone service, and no Internet. I phoned AT&T myself. It took four minutes and 56 seconds of navigating through the automated customer service system before I finally got put through to a human being. And off we went again. It was as if the entire set of conversations Julie had had the day before had never occurred! After 45 minutes or longer on the phone with this particular person, and getting absolutely nowhere, my head was throbbing, and I lost my temper. I asked to be put through to a supervisor … and was transferred back to the automated system, at the very beginning.

I really do lack the words to describe how incandescently angry I was at this point. I had to give the phone to my wife to handle from that point on. I heard her say the words, “What do you mean it won’t be on till Friday?! That is unacceptable. You all have had over a month to make this work!”

I took the phone at that point. At least 30 minutes later, and three different customer service representatives (“Sir, I don’t know why they transferred you to me; this is not my area”), I reached the end of the line. The man told me there was nothing to be done. He said if it didn’t come on by midnight, that I should call this particular number. I realized there really was nothing else I could do at that point. There was no one left to talk to. He told me he lacked the authority to transfer me to a supervisor. I believe he was lying, but at that point, all I was capable of was screaming. (Julie had already asked me to go to the back of the house to carry on these conversations, because I was frightening the children). I gave up.

I decided to drive the six miles to my mom and dad’s house so I could update this blog. On the way out the door, I checked for the umpteenth time to see if we had a dial tone — and lo, we finally do. But the Internet was still dead.

Here’s the thing: I am not that angry at AT&T’s initial screw-up. It happens. One has to be tolerant. The absolutely gob-spittingly infuriating aspect of the whole experience was the customer service. I have never, not once in my life, dealt with a more dysfunctional system. AT&T has made a permanent enemy of me. I’m stuck with them for some time, but the very moment I can sign up with someone else, I’m gone. Let me repeat: This is because of horrible customer service, not the original error. No wonder people hate them. I hate myself for having ever gotten involved with AT&T. There ought to be business school graduate theses written about AT&T’s special gift for alienating customers.

I find myself taking mean satisfaction in the frustration and misery AT&T executives may be feeling over the Justice Department stopping their planned merger with T-Mobile. T-Mobile customers, you dodged a bullet. Analysts say consumers win by the merger failing. So do I! Lord have mercy, so do I.

I apologize to all of you for the light blogging. It’s AT&T’s fault.