Presented as a tribute:

Mike Royko's April 19, 1996 column.


In our bustling world of consumerism, people often have complaints. They phone big companies to express these gripes. Then they talk to people whose job it is to listen and maybe do something.

Ideally, everyone involved would be polite and reasonable. But that isn't realistic. Those making the complaints can be angry and abusive. And those who must listen can have nerves that are frayed from listening to so many grievances.

Then we can have conflict--two strangers on opposite ends of a distant phone hookup.

Something like this happened when Dennis P. L'Heureux, a corporate executive who lives in Rockford, had a dispute with America Online, the big computer service.

He came home one day and decided to go on-line and flit about the Internet.

But when his computer hooked up to AOL's computers, he got a message on his screen telling him that his service had been discontinued and giving him a phone number to call.

He phoned and was told by a woman that there was a problem with his account and his credit card, and he was suspected of having tried to buy products fraudulently.

She insisted that someone used his computer to do it. Maybe a child? she suggested.

Impossible, he said. He had only one son old enough to use the computer and at the precise time the attempted fraud occurred, the entire family was watching that son play basketball.

Hah! A likely story. That is what the obviously skeptical woman at AOL seemed to say. Which angered Mr. L'Heureux. And his indignant response made her, as he described it, "very snotty."

Sometime after that, his bill from AOL arrived. His 10-year-old daughter happened to be outside when the postman dropped it off.

She brought the envelope in and L'Heureux heard the child say to his wife: "What does this mean?"

That's because the envelope contained a vulgarity that I am not permitted to use in this newspaper.

But I'll try to explain without using it. It is sometimes referred to as the "F-word."

So without using the word, and by letting you use your imagination for the translation, this is how the envelope was addressed:
(Bleep)'n Dennis L'Heureux
(Bleep)'n (his home address)
(Bleep)'n Rockford Il, 61114
He tore open the envelope and took out his bill from AOL. And there was the same word again.

The letter began:
"Dear (Bleep)'n Dennis L'Heureux.
It went on to urge him to pay the amount in question because of the credit card dispute.

And it was signed by one "P. Maxwell, Credit Department."

But in the invoice that he was supposed to send in with his check, he was again referred to as the (bleep)'n Dennis L'Heureux.

L'Heureux says he was shocked and outraged. So he showed the letter to Rockford's postal inspector, who called it to the attention of AOL.

Someone from AOL phoned L'Heureux and said they were sorry and that the letter should not have been sent with that language.

That didn't placate L'Heureux. Obviously the letter should not have referred to him and his home as (bleep)'n. But he wanted to know who sent it and what was being done about it.

So he sent a letter to Stephen Case, president and CEO of America Online, and one of the best-known deep thinkers in the world of cyberspace, cyberbusiness, and cybermoolah.

After describing how appalled he is, he asked Case: ". . . I'm not sure if you have a family, but if you do, how would you feel if your 10-year-old daughter scanned the day's mail to find an envelope addressed to (bleep)'n Stephen Case, her Dad? Well, this is exactly what has happened in my household and I am not amused in the least."

And he concluded his letter with, "I demand an explanation . . . and a formal apology for the way I have been treated."

He has not received an answer to that and several follow-up letters to Case.

So he asked me to make inquiries, since Tribune Co. owns a piece of AOL and that's where my column appears on-line.

After I left phone messages for several days, someone from AOL's public relations department finally called back and babbled and babbled, but finally admitted that they don't know how or why L'Heureux was referred to as (bleep)'n.

But I'll make a guess.

During his confrontation with the complaint lady, she called his account up on a computer screen. Then when she got mad, she simply typed in the (bleep)'n, making it part of his name and address. What does a computer know about (bleep)'n stuff like that? It just does what it is told.

And, who knows, the way computerized lists are sold, swapped, and passed around, L'Heureux might forever and ever be known as (bleep)'n L'Heureux. Lucky for AOL and Mr. Case that it didn't happen to Ted Kaczynski.