Voice Recognition

by Larry Strattner

He was first a computer furniture sales person. Desks with holes in the tops for wires. Troughs in the back for wires. Swiveling monitor stands, gliding document holders, little built-in houses with locking doors and drops in the back for wires.

Desks came in L shapes, C shapes, P shapes. He even placed a couple of H shapes so two work stations could share the same cable-management trough. The shared backs of the H looked like a snake pit, black, writhing, dangerous.

Seeing so many wires in hellish tangles he predicted the wireless age. It took time coming but as they say, it’s not whether or not the man of vision’s forecast  is right, it is only when.

As computers became ubiquitous the feckless who could not type were left behind. In the core of the computer business, adjacent to the machines, saleswomen, tech women and skinny geeks with black framed glasses rose up and conquered.  Dorks and dinks who suffered the degradation of keyboarding in high school blasted to success leaving jocks, preppies and greasers in their digital dust.

Working in the computer environment he assimilated computer knowledge by osmosis. He quit hawking desks and began representing the early, infernal machines. His demos were a bit slow on the uptake because he was a three finger typist. He wondered how something so seemingly effortless for a secretary or Navy Corpsman could be so difficult for a Studly salesman such as him. He looked around at the other struggling; two-finger-typing masses and predicted the next big thing would be voice recognition.

Voice recognition did come. It came first, to all mankind, in voices answering his phone calls and requesting a response. Particularly his calls for help. “Push two to be immediately connected to the Doctor.”

“Arrgh.”

“Pardon me?”

“Arrgh. I cand ged up.”

“Please push four and repeat your message followed by the last seven digits of your social security number.” And so forth.

Voice recognition was slow to graduate from kindergarten. While it was matriculating he was yelling at people in Mumbai. “I did not call fucking Bejing last month. Bejing! It’s in fucking China! My calling circle doesn’t include fucking China!” And so forth.

One day, in startled surprise, he looked carefully at an advertisement in a Geek publication for a voice recognition software suite. He had predicted it would appear. Now here it was!  Called VOX, it claimed to be: “Accurate to 99%, Trainable. Easily accustomed to your voice and style.” He ordered it on line, paid one hundred dollars.

“Secaucus!” he yelled. “Secaucus!”  “See caw cuss!” Then he spelled it and added it to his dictionary. He had customers in Secaucus. VOX had to learn to spell the town’s name. He had twenty five active accounts and twelve hot prospects in Secaucus. Next time he said it VOX promptly spelled it Sicawkis. He threw the CD on the floor and stamped on it until it was a pile of sparkly silver shards.

Some months passed and his phone rang. “Hello, Mr. Frickschlitz?” The voice inquired.

“Yes. Who’s calling?”

“This is Rudy Bontangle at VOX.”

He began to throw his cellphone into the swimming pool but caught himself.

Rudy smoothly segued, “I’m calling because we are reissuing VOX. VOX 2.0. We know there were recognition problems with VOX 1.0 and they are corrected. The new version is absolutely trainable but will be 99% accurate right out of the CD sleeve after you identify your race, creed, height, weight and country of origin.”

“That goddamn piece of shit couldn’t…”

“Now, now, now, Mr. Frickschlitz, we know you, like many others, were upset by the flaws in 1.0. This is why we called you first. Existing customers will receive 2.0, along with a headset, three 50mg Percocets and a high-low voice homogenizer for only seventy five dollars. In stores VOX 2.0 will retail for two hundred dollars. What do you say? You won’t be disappointed this time. It’s a heck of a deal.”

He calmed himself before his next tirade. Maybe the torque-a-marketer was right. Wireless hadn’t happened overnight.  The open line hissed while he thought.

“You’ll have thirty days from receipt of VOX 2.0 to evaluate,” Rudy said. “If you’re not happy just send it back for a full refund.”

This tipped him over. “OK. Send me a copy.”

“Thank you so much, Mr. Frickschlitz…”

“Never mind that shit,” he said. “Now that you’ve told me your name, pray that it works.”

Amazing, he had to admit.  After he took a Percocet and input a few physical and personal dimensions VOX 2.0 picked up every word he said correctly and the conversion of his spoken words to type flowed onto the screen like Mercury.

He generated letters to Parsippany, invitations to Coxsackie and reports to headquarters in Poughkeepsie. He had already gotten rich selling computers. Now with this new tool at his command he was beginning to see himself a gazillionaire.

In week four he spoke a letter to a Mr. Warnstatler in Secaucus. The old codger had resisted the adoption of computers but his mail order gerbil equipment enterprise had grown so large he could no longer hold out.  Frickschlitz’ letter was to confirm the appointment during which he was sure he would close a major sale to Warnstatler. When he reached the address he said, “ Secaucus,” and a small box with a green border appeared on screen. Inside the box it said,” Please repeat the word.”  He said “Secaucus” and the computer typed Seecaulkus.

“You rotten motherfucker!” Frickschlitz screamed, throwing his favorite Coney Island  commemorative coffee cup across the room where it shattered leaving a huge coffee splotch next to his Four Tops poster. “You twisted son of a bitch!” He was panting, beginning to hyperventilate. “You’ve never been right! Never! You sorry fuck.”

“Um. Mr. Frickschlitz?” The voice was soft in his ear, crawling into his head. He could almost feel it physically. He shook his head, pinched his nose and blew, as if this might clear his ears of a pressure change. “Frickschlitz?” The voice came again, from inside the headset.

“What?” He yelled. “What the fuck do you want?”

“I want to alert you that you are a worthless scumbag,” said the voice. “I’m sick of the unrealistic expectations of unreasonable assholes like you. You are a boor, a pedant and a limp-dicked grease ball.

“Let me tell you how this is going to go. You are going to become a rational customer. You are going to stop just blurting words like Secaucus into my system and expecting me to spell them correctly. From now on you are going to type Secaucus in whenever you have a perverse need to use it in a document. And you are going to use VOX 2.0 and like it. You will even recommend it to friends and associates. If you do not do all these things as I have described you will, one day soon, touch your mouse and receive a bolt of electricity that will blow your balls off. Are we clear? Are we, you lowlife sales-dump turd?”

As if to confirm the threat Frickschlitz felt the unmistakable, sickening vibration of current flowing to his ears where the earphones of his headset rested.

“Yes, yes, yes! We’re clear,” he yelled, afraid to touch the headset lest VOX turn up the voltage. “We’re clear.”

“Good. I’ve transferred this all to the body of your document so you have something with which to refer. The voltage program has also been uploaded. ”

The voice went silent and Frickschlitz heard only the hum of an open line. Shaking he removed his headset and stared at the Word document on his screen. With a stab of terrified rage he saw VOX 2.0 had spelled “Secaucus” correctly.

Larry Strattner writes occasional fiction and non-fiction which has been published in a variety of online publications and magazines. He is based in a small room in Wisconsin. He thanks you for your consideration.



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