I just had a go 'round with the phone company. Of course, it's not just my phone company anymore. It's my Internet and my cable-TV company. It wants to be my credit-card company, healthcare provider and it wants to groom my dog. Soon, they plan to get into lawn care and car insurance. About two years ago, this "phone" company said that I should think about getting my bill online. It would save trees, time and paperwork, and it would be so much faster than snail mail. "Besides, we'll charge you $5 a month if you want us to send you a paper bill." What could I do?

You can't fight progress, so I signed up for and e-bill. I also signed up for one of those plans that gives me everything I need for $100 a month phone, cable, Internet, twice yearly teeth cleaning and a buy-one-get-one Whopper. For 26 months, I got an e-mail that said "We're charging your credit card $100.03. Click here to look at the details." What details?

So I never looked. This month I get the same message with a variation in the language: "We're charging your credit card $300.05 " Say what? For the first time, I actually want to see the details on the bill. So I go to their Web site, where it tells me to enter my account and PIN. My account number?

They are the phone company. Why don't they ask me for my phone number? PIN? Are they afraid some imposter is going to pay my bill? Since I don't have a paper bill, I don't know what my account number is, much less my PIN. I'll just call them. Guess what is not on the "customer service" page of their Web site? If you guessed "their phone number," go directly to "Go figure" and collect $200. The phone company's phone number is also not on the "contact us" page or any other page for that matter.

I had to use Google to find it. I'm sure you have "customer service" horror stories of your own, so I won't bore you with all the details. Let's just say that my call was "very important" to the phone company. Just saying my call is very important to them doesn't mean anything to me. It's like having a rubber stamp made that reads "sincerely" that you use at the end of all your letters. If it was really so important to them, they would hire enough operators answer my call.

If the phone company won't answer the phone, what chance have you got when you call the electric company or your credit card company? Do you really think anyone at any of those companies is dying to talk to you?

Do you really think they think your call is important?

Jim Mullen is the author of "It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life" and "Baby's First Tattoo." You can reach him at jim_mullen@myway.com