The camera reveals that Tom Stranger is standing behind a podium on a stage.
“Hello, I am Tom Stranger, of Stranger & Stranger Insurance. As an Interdimensional Insurance Agent I often travel across the multiverse, caring for my client’s needs, and providing quality customer service. My job takes me to many worlds, where I deal with a variety of insurance related, sometime apocalyptic crises. Many would consider this…” Tom paused to make quote marks with his fingers, “adventure. However, what unaugmented beings think of as adventure is merely a normal day here at Stranger & Stranger. I do not understand why anyone would chronicle such mundane events, but recently, I was informed that a client of mine on Earth 169-J-00561 documented one of my average work days and created an…” Tom made quotey fingers again, “audiobook. Which apparently on some realities is a book you listen to.”
“We’re number one! Whooo!” Somebody shouted from off screen. “We’re the number one audiobook in the world!”
“Correction, Jimmy. The Adventures of Tom Stranger, Interdimensional Insurance Agent, written by Larry Correia and narrated by President Adam Baldwin, is number one on one particular world. On most civilized worlds it came in a distant second to the eighth Game of Thrones novel.”
“Whatever, dude! Number one! Hear that, Mr. Chang? Number one!”
“Who is Mr. Chang?”
“My high school guidance counselor, man. He said I’d never amount to anything. Suck it, Mr. Chang! I’m in the number one audiobook in the world! Woot woot!”
“Calm your wooting, Intern.” Tom Stranger shook his head sadly at the display of wanton unprofessionalism. “Such frivolity is an example of why I arranged this Customer Service Response Panel.”
“Sorry, Mr. Stranger.”
The camera pans over to reveal that this is a panel discussion. Two humans and a manatee are already seated behind the table, ready to begin. Well, the humans were seated. The majestic manatee floated peacefully in his giant fish tank.
“Though the audiobook about my life has proven extremely popular and successful on Earth 169-J-0056, averaging four and a half stars over two thousand reviews in the last week, I always strive for perfect scores in customer service. That half a star is… troubling. So I have called upon this panel of experts so that we may address these customers’ legitimate concerns. Allow me to introduce our panelists. You have already heard from my intern, Jimmy the Intern. Also joining us is Larry Correia of Earth 169-J-0056, who authored the work in question.”
“Hi.” Larry the Author waved. There was a little bit of sporadic polite clapping from the audience.
“And last, but certainly not least, renowned expert on customer relations, Wendell T. Manatee, CFO of CorreiaTech.”
“Mehwooooo,” Wendell shook his ponderous bulk in greeting. The audience immediately went wild, cheering, and chanting his name. Wendell. Wendell. Wendell. A woman even threw her panties at Wendell’s tank.
Tom waited until the enthusiastic standing ovation for the popular manatee tapered off. “I regret that our narrator was unable to join us on the panel. He said something about filming a ship.” Tom Stranger shrugged. “Let us begin. Mr. Correia, as an accountant—it is good you have retained those skills by the way, in case this writing thing does not work out for you—do you have the statistics?”
“Yes, Tom. We currently have 1,477 five star reviews on Audible.com, where The Adventures of Tom Stranger can still be downloaded for free until June 21st.”
“Of course, the people of your planet would be foolish to not download this fine product for free. But that is not why we are here. How many one star reviews are there?”
Larry the Author hung his head in shame. “There are currently 58 one star reviews.”
“Tsk, tsk. I always strive for tens on all customer satisfaction surveys. Or fives, when a world’s rating system is based upon stars, smiley faces, or stickers. We shall now address these customer complaints.”
Larry the Author had a stack of 3×5 cards with the negative reviews written on them. He began flipping through. “Okay, let’s see… I’m offended, I’m offended, I’m super offended, this was offensive… It’s about twenty five this is funny to every one I’m offended, but that guy is really offended.”
“I see… I believe I know what the problem is.” Tom nodded thoughtfully. He turned to address the camera directly. “I would like to make a formal apology to all of those who I inadvertently offended. Humor can be subjective, and what one person finds amusing, others may not. However some things are never okay to joke about. So at this time I would like to offer my sincerest apology… to dolphins.”
“Yes, Larry. I referred to aquatic mammals as flippant. I said that dolphins were not meticulous about paying their insurance premiums or filling out their claim paperwork. That is a hurtful stereotype, and for that I am truly sorry to the dolphin people.”
“Hmmm… I kind of figured that these were mostly humans offended that I poked fun at their politics.”
Tom scowled. “That makes no sense. Does your world not have Saturday Night Live, stand-up comedy, skit shows, South Park, Jon Stewart, Tina Fey, Seth Rogan, Jon Oliver, That’s My Bush, Judd Apatow movies, the rest of Comedy Central’s programming, Patton Oswalt, Bill Maher, Lewis Black, Stephen Colbert, Janeane Garofalo, or any episodes of the Simpsons featuring Lisa?”
“Flooooooo,” Wendell explained.
“So on this planet it is only acceptable to make fun of some beliefs, but the predominate belief system held within your entertainment industry is sacrosanct?” Tom thought the manatee had to be pulling his leg. “Good one, Wendell. No. It has to be dolphins. Moving on to our next complaint.”
Larry the Author read from the next card. “It was vulgar.”
“All things considered I found R. Lee Ermey to be remarkably restrained.” Tom stated.
“Fleeeeeeeeerp,” Wendell agreed. He was a huge Full Metal Jacket fan and could practically recite the opening boot camp scene from memory. The manatee showed them his War Face. “Hoooon.”
“A fantastic impersonation, Wendell. Regardless, I will pass this concern onto Secretary of Defense Ermey. Next card.”
“Some of the humor was dated, and made jokes relating to pop culture as far back in ancient history as the eighties.”
“Hope that dude never watches Family Guy,” Jimmy muttered.
“Silence, Jimmy. The customer is always right, even when they are being absurd. Also, he will want to skip Deadpool. Next card, Mr. Correia.”
“There was too much profanity. Now this one is interesting, Tom, and I’ve got the numbers here. We used no F bombs. Twice we used the word BEEP.” Larry paused, confused. “Is the panel being beeped if we use bad words now?”
“I thought it best to not cause further customer anguish,” Tom explained.
“Hang on. I gotta test this,” Jimmy interjected. “BEEP BEEP motherBEEP BEEP sheep dip! Man, that was awesome!”
Larry the author looked at his stats. “That’s going to make reading these off a challenge. Okay, we used BEEP six times, uh… That’s the naughty word for a butt.”
“What kind of lameBEEP BEEP is that?” Jimmy asked.
“We used crap eleven times… Wait, no beep? Okay, apparently crap is cool. H E double hockey sticks a whopping seventeen times, but in our defense that was an actual geographic location in the story. There you go, Tom.”
“You must explain this one, Mr. Correia. Your customer service failings are not upon my head this time.”
“As a writer, language is your art, and words are your tools. You choose the best tool based upon the impact you are trying to achieve. Sometimes bad words are funny.” There was a scattering of half-hearted applause from a couple members of the audience.
The audience laughed uproariously at Wendell’s profanity laced, George Carlin like rant. The manatee was killing it.
“There you have it. I don’t think anyone can argue with such keen observational humor. Next one star.”
“There’s accusations that you are some sort of idealized libertarian superman.”
“Obviously you are mistaken. As an insurance agent I am above petty partisan politics and only care about providing quality customer service. That customer must have been speaking about President Baldwin.”
“Yeah, that guy is pretty awesome,” Jimmy agreed.
“Fleeeeeerp,” Wendell added, because he mostly knew Adam Baldwin as Animal Mother. “Mooo.”
“You heard the manatee, Mr. Correia. Next card.”
“It is apparent that Larry Correia hates people like me.”
“Sheesh, friggin’ dolphins,” Jimmy said. “You guys need to chillax already.”
“Flooooeeeeeeerp,” Wendell said, making quote flippers when he mentioned audiobooks.
“Card us, bro!” Jimmy shouted.
“Uh, this one is a direct quote, the story lacks in every dimension.”
“Hmmm…” Tom was puzzled. “Do you think they mean that literally, or was it an attempt at humor regarding the existence of multiple dimensions? Regardless, the customer is always right. Bad writer. Bad.”
“Sorry, Tom. Up next, we have a few about what awful ego stroking it is for an author to insert himself into a story… That’s kind of a funny one Tom, as I didn’t exactly cover myself in glory back there, and I spent most of my time getting my BEEP kicked.”
“It does not matter. The customer has spoken. An author putting himself into the narrative is never okay. In the future you should strive to be more professional, like Stephen King or Clive Cussler. Is that all of the negative comment cards?”
“It appears so, Tom. I got a couple that said I must be a Trump fan, and that’s just hurtful.”
“Indeed. Well there you have it, gentlecustomers. Thank you for attending this Customer Service Response Panel. We apologize for this utter failure of customer service, and will endeavor to make up that half a star in the future.”
“Peace out,” Jimmy the Intern said.
“Until next time, you are in strange hands with Stranger & Stranger.”