“The IKEA Hotline: Please Press 1,” by DS Racer

Jun 22nd, 2022 | By | Category: Fake Nonfiction, Prose

DISEMBODIED MALE VOICE:  “Hej! Thank you for calling the IKEA Hotline.  We’re here to help you assemble our fine pieces of furniture.  Sustainable living begins at IKEA.  For service in English press one.  Para instrucciones en español, oprima dos. för instruktioner på svenska, tryck tre.”

*** 1 ***

DISEMBODIED MALE VOICE:  “This call may be recorded for training purposes.  Please hold for the next available agent.”


FEMALE VOICE: “Thank you for calling the IKEA hotline, my name is Astrid.  How may I help you?”

MALE CALLER: “Astrid?  Oh, hi Astrid.  Say, before we continue, I need to know one thing.”

ASTRID: “What’s that?”

CALLER: “Are you a real person, or are you some kind of voice recognition bot?”

ASTRID: “A what?”

C: “A real person, as opposed to some sort of computerized thing that picks up key words and spits out pre-scripted responses. A lot of companies are getting rid of live customer service.  You know, automating it.”

A: “Sir, I am totally real, and I can assure you of that.  Now how may I help you?”

C: “I don’t know, Astrid.  If I sent you nine blurry photographs, and I challenged you to select the ones that contained school buses, could you do it?

A: “Uhhh… yes.”

C: “Well, I’m still skeptical.  Let’s suppose a lot of those so-called ‘school buses’ were actually trucks.  With photos so out of focus, most people would mess up.  So what if I challenged you again with nine new photos? Would you be able to pick the ones that contained blurry fire hydrants?”

A:  “Yes. I think I could.  Why are you asking?”

C: “To make sure you are real.”

A “Sir, as I told you, I am real.”

C: “Yeah, OK.  Anyway, I have this problem.  My wife threw me out of the house in December and I rented a cheap studio apartment off the freeway.  I’ve been subsisting on crap pizza, and because I can’t just sit on the floor and eat it while the game’s on, I bought one of your Pløpp sofas. I need  a place to relax, so I can have a beer or two or fourteen, a little vodka maybe… and pass out with some measure of comfort.  So I…”

A: “Sir, I hate to interrupt you, but just so I can help you, are you telling me you bought the Pløpp?”

C: “Yeah, the Pløpp.  Am I pronouncing it right?  I could never figure out umlauts.”

A: “That is not an umlaut, sir, but don’t worry about it.  The ‘o’ with the diagonal line through it doesn’t even exist in Swedish.  We just put it in there because it looks exotic to Americans.  Sells products, you know.  You can pronounce it any way you want.”

C:  “OK, but now I wanna put that thing together, and I have no idea how.  I took a look at the instruction sheet, but I swear some of those pictures look more like the instructions for a toilet seat than a sofa.  Are those cushions?  My cushions are square. That toilet seat thing in the picture is round. You can see I am confused, and so I called your 1-800 number.”

A: “So sorry sir… you should take…”

C: “And then there’s the freakin’ metal hook thing.”

A: “The Allen wrench, that’s what I was starting to talk about.”

C: “Yeah the Allen wrench.  Whatever the hell it is.  Really wore out my wrists.  Haven’t had such sore wrists since that day in middle school when I bought that poster of Farrah Fawcett Majors… Hey, are you real?  Like I told you, I don’t want to talk to some goddam machine.”

A: “Sir, I am having trouble understanding why you are so concerned about this. I told you that I was a real person.”

C: “Well whatever, Astrid. Your furniture may be cheaper than most, but it’s such a pain in the ass to put together.  Maybe I’ll just return it and  drive around the neighborhood.  I can pick up an old sofa that someone has left on the curb.”

A: “Again, I’m sorry sir. IKEA furniture is easy to assemble, is more sanitary than what you’d find on the street, and is a great value. You can check out great home decorating ideas at www.ikea.com.”

C: “Great value?… Don’t talk to me about great value.  I got divorce attorneys, alimony… such bullshit… ahh it’s OK, Astrid… I’m just a little down from all this divorce shit.  We were together for 12 years and then… oh, sorry, where were we?”

A: “IKEA furniture is a great value.  We have great home living solutions for every room in the house.  If you provide me with your email address, I’d be more than happy to send you a coupon for 10 percent off your next IKEA purchase, and some free Swedish meatballs.”

C: “I have a better idea.”

A: “What’s that?”

C: “No pressure, but you seem like a nice gal.  Are you Swedish?  Swedish girls are sexy.  I can really use some companionship… so how about us getting together for some drinks?  Whaddaya say?

A: “I’m afraid that is not possible.”

C: “Why not?”


A: “Because I am a robo-agent.  You know, artificial intelligence.  The technology is so good now, no one can tell the difference.  Do you think the company wants to pay a real person $15 an hour to give out the same information over and over?

C: “What the… you just promised me you were a real person.  I can’t believe it.”

A: “I’m sorry.  I lied.  Company policy.  People only trust an actual human being to tell them how to put together our stylish but difficult-to-assemble furniture products.  We are not supposed to admit that we are cybernetic.  If I was a real person, I could be fired for telling you that.  Since I’m not, what are they going to do to me?”

C:  “Shit. Unbelievable. I can’t believe I was just rejected by a computer.”

A: “Sorry sir… but I can still send you that coupon.”

C: “Don’t bother.”

A:  “Is there anything else I can help you with?”

C: “I don’t think so.”

A: “OK then. Thank you for calling the IKEA hotline. Adjö!”

C: “Yeah… adios… whatever..”



“Gee Ulla, can you believe the fucking nutcases that have been calling in lately?”


DS Racer is fascinated and somewhat terrified by the pace at which automation is changing our lives. Are there real people out there anymore? Until he is replaced by a robot, he works as an immigration lawyer in Los Angeles.  His work has recently appeared in Points in CaseOddball Magazine, Aethlon: The Journal of Sport Literature and New York’s Rough and Ready literary salon.

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