Bart Mendoza 5 a.m., Dec. 8
I got another call from Bob this morning. Bob wanted money, money I owe and money I will repay. But not today, Bob. I wish I could, but I can’t.
Previous phone calls taught me that that’s not the answer Bob is allowed to accept. Bob is a trained professional. He has been hired by my credit card company—or rather, by the collection agency that has been hired by my credit card company—to squeeze money from me. His calls were once argumentative and demanding. He threatened penalties, late fees, punitive interest rates and, the ultimate threat, apocalypse for my credit rating.
“You will destroy your FICO score,” Bob admonished.
“Bob, if my score drops any lower they will have to calculate it in negative numbers.”
“Can you borrow from another credit card to pay us?” Bob queried.
“Bob. You don’t understand. I no longer have any credit.”
Bob persisted. “We can you offer you a monthly re-payment plan.”
“Who should I not pay this month, Bob, so I can pay you instead? The landlord? The phone company? SDG&E? Should I stop eating?”
Bob’s calls used to bring out the fury in me. By the time I hung up the phone I wanted to find Bob’s city, go to Bob’s office, walk up to Bob’s desk, grab Bob by the throat and shout in his face. “Leave me alone, goddamn it! I don’t have any money right now! Besides, my predicament is partly your fault! Your advertisements assured me that your credit card would bring me happiness. You owe me happiness, Bob.”
Bob wouldn’t say it, but I can hear him thinking “sucker.”
Callers like Bob have no compunction about calling late at night, Sunday morning, Christmas Eve, whenever their computers dial my number. As far as they are concerned, I am a deadbeat, and therefore the rules of civility no longer apply.
Which got me thinking. Do credit card companies think it is in their best interest to let bounty hunters like Bob loose in our economy? Which other enterprises employ threats and fears as business practices, and bully customers the way medieval lords bullied serfs? When companies harass customers the way the credit card companies do, don’t we cease doing business with them? If the government treated us like this, wouldn’t we revolt?
My thought process got on a roll, and I wondered why do I—why do we—have anything to do with these vultures? Are we so addicted to credit cards? Credit card companies cram our mailboxes with junk, insult us with extortionate interest rates, drop us for spurious reasons, scare us into buying over-priced debt insurance, and barge into our privacy, even on Christmas Eve. Isn’t that against the law? I know it’s against common courtesy.
Then I had an epiphany. It was as if my faith in fair play had been beaten unconscious, then suddenly come to its senses, after which my indignation changed to defiance. I realized that I didn’t have to take Bob’s calls. I had caller ID.
Bob and his ilk must have figured out that I was ignoring them. They began to leave voicemail messages with a new vocabulary: cooperation, assistance, understanding, reinstatement. Their demands to return-this-call-or-else were replaced by pleases and thank yous.
When I took Bob’s call this morning, I noticed the change, the absence of fire and brimstone.
“Good morning, how are you today?” Bob began. I hate it when people begin with “How are you?” when they don’t actually want to hear how you are. So in my new defiance I answered with a long-winded philosophical reply, detailing my personal, professional and spiritual state of being, until Bob interrupted to remind me why he was calling.
“Let’s see what we can work out,” Bob sympathized, trying to sound like an understanding father. “We are, after all, compassionate people.”
“No, you are blood-thirsty stalkers, Bob.”
“We’re just trying to help,” Bob explained in a patient voice.
“If you want to help, Bob, turn the economy around so folks are spending again, and I can make some sales. Or find me a new job.”
“How soon can you start repayments?”
“Not today, Bob.”
“How much can you afford each month?”
Bob wasn’t hearing me.
“Perhaps you own something that you can sell to pay us?” he suggested.
Outside my Mission Valley apartment there was my old car with an empty gas tank. From where I sat I could see everything I owned: a lamp, a work computer, a desk/dining table, a desk/dining chair, which I was sitting on. A couple of pots and pans. A sofa bed.
“Maybe I should sell the sofa bed, Bob, and sleep on the floor?”
“How much could you get for it?” Bob asked sincerely.
“Bob, please. Can’t you guys be patient. The economy will improve soon. Then I can begin repayments.”
“How much can you send this month?” Bob asked, as if reading from a training manual.