Thursday, July 13, 2006

More Phone

A few days ago, the "Don't Touch That Dial" and "Don't Touch That Dial Redux" phenomenon started happening again (links in yesterday's post). The phone rings. Someone answers. There's apparently nothing, or no one, on the other end; then there's a click, a machine comes on and a rude recorded voice says, "It is very important that you call blah blah person at 1-area code blah blah blah." Well we don't know blah blah person and why would I call a total stranger, long distance, on my own dime? And why in the hell does'nt blah blah person call him-very-self if he's so anxious to access us? And, oh, yeah, our number is on the NATIONAL DO NOT CALL REGISTRY and since you do not do any business with us, you are in violation.

So let me back up and explain why I think this is happening. Either "Patrick" of Don't Touch That Dial fame is giving out our number again, or our other esteemed telephone buddy, whose name is either Clyde or Clive Thomas, has skipped out on yet another person he screwed in one or another way. We have had this number for FOUR YEARS and people call here every few days for him and sorry, folks but he still does not live here. In fact, when we first got the number it happened so often that I put a special Clive clause on our answering machine outgoing message assuring people they needed to update their records if they were hoping to catch Clive.

Yo, Clive! I am not your personal administrative assistant! And, Clive, I would like to meet you once and for all to settle these little fictions that your lack of integrity compels me to make up about you.

Yes, I have done a Google search on the name and there are scads of Clives out there. One of them is even a radio personality. Let me make it absolutely clear that I am only mad at this one Clive. So for many of you this rant may be a case of mistaken identity. And if you are not that Clive Thomas, I promise I am not dissing you and will not throw you under the bus, and I apologize.

Each time someone calls, I get a little inkling about Clive's life. Now what I know for sure is, CLIVE (this one Clive only) YOU ARE A DEADBEAT, A$*#&@! You owe people money and they are after you. AND WATCH YOUR BACK 'CUZ SO AM I. Apparently lots o'money. You making some bad bets in that billiard room? And I know (because some of your callers have told me) that some of it is considerably worse than that.

And sometimes it is The Ladies who call, a bit startled when a woman answers at "his" number. But, Clive, sometimes people call and ask if they can speak to Mrs. Thomas. Now if there is a Mrs. (and maybe there isn't, who knows, but I can't help thinking there is), are you runnin' round on her? How come so many The Ladies dying to talk to you?

Here's an idea: One of these days I will say "yes" when they ask if I am Mrs. Thomas. Ha. And I will invent and dish some dirt on you to your one-night stands and creditors.

Now one thing baffles me about this "customer service" (read collection) business because I don't think a lot of those companies train their employees right. Dozens of times, when I am trapped on a Clive-ish call, the person says, haw, get a load of this, you'll like it: "Do you know where he is?" after I have already explained that this has been our number, not his number, for four years. As if I somehow inherited intimate friendship with the person who happened to have the number before. And then I go a little deeper and say, "What that means is that the phone company randomly hands out new phone numbers that were someone else's old numbers. When I moved here they did not say, 'Whose old number would you like? Clive's? His is fresh off the rack.'" And usually the callers do not at all understand what I am saying.

Another of my favorite approaches is this one: they start the conversation neither identifying themselves nor asking who I am nor asking for Clive or whoever. They launch right in,

Them: Yes, I'm looking for a neighbor of yours, Mr. Fillintheblank? In the apartment next to yours?"
Me: Sorry, there's nobody near me named Fillintheblank. And none of my neighbors are here so I don't know why you'd be looking for them here. In fact, there's nobody near me. I live on a pig farm in Idaho.
Them [sleuthing]: The Fillintheblanks are at blah blah address by your intersection at [intersection and town nowhere near here!]
Me: That's interesting. Good for them. But I'm nowhere near that town.
Them [grasping] Uh, Fairfield? Uh, Saskatchewan? Kyoto?
Me: Uh-uh. Nope.
Them: And you are . . . [hoping I'll spill my name]
Me: Yup, livin' on a pig farm in Idaho.

Well, that's enough about the Fillintheblanks. There's also some woman who meets men in bars and gives out this number. Sometimes the men sound disappointed that she pulled a fast one on them but other times they act like they'd just as soon chat me up, hell it's a warm body on the other end of the phone, why not. Creeps.

Then there was (for a while) I guy making repeat crank calls. At first I couldn't understand what he said, but as subsequent calls occurred he started speaking articulately and nasty, and I hung up immediately. Which was just the right thing to do because he didn't get any mileage out of it so he stopped.

And this is not the end of it; oh, no! The phone karma started years ago and just keeps following me around. When I was growing up, our phone number was one digit off from a real estate firm and one different digit off from a boat-sales business. This is how I learned about people who are phone-etiquette challenged. I was a kid, answering by just saying "Hello?" without announcing any business name,--dead giveaway--and they didn't even listen well enough to catch that, and they would launch directly into spiels about the house, the boat, whatever. Please shut up and breathe for a minute so I can at least tell you courteously that you have the wrong number.

When we were first married and got our phone in the west, we got scads of calls for Mike & Kelly Smith. Puh-leez, Mike and Kelly Smith! Calling Mike Smith! Oh, yeah, which of forty gazillion Mike Smiths do you want? I fantasized about finding them and giving them a piece of my mind. (Again, apologies to any legitimate Mike & K who aren't this M & K.) This was before these marvelous internets where you can find someone, maybe even for free, with little or no effort. I actually got a new phone book and looked them up so I could call them and pretend I was a lawyer with a cease-and-desist order. But then I was immediately infuriated because they had names so common you could never track them down in a hundred years. If indeed those were their real names. And they had probably fled the west anyway.

Pieces of work, both of them. They were scam artists extraordinaire. I got incessant threatening messages on the answering machine from The Chicago Tribune that I'd better pay up their delinquent newspaper account. I have never heard of newspaper dunning before, by the way. How bad could the arrears get? Or maybe it was not billing for the paper, but for some expensive advertising? Why a Chicago paper? Was it the con artists' hometown?

I learned that Kelly was stepping out on Mike--going to bars frequently--and giving out their old number. Will not be redundant here about the guys calling and getting me instead of Kelly, and just as soon talking to any female on the other end. Creeps. Ooh, I guess that was redundancy. But more than one of them told me, "Yeah, don't tell me you're not Kelly, it is too Kelly, I recognize your voice and I met you last night at [insert bar name here]." That was scary. Mike was lucky to be driving anything if indeed he was driving anything, because apparently his car was in imminent danger of repo. And yadda yadda credit cards. The "Smiths" were such a problem that I once started to write a short play about the incidents, intended to be a comedy, but every time I would get writing something I would get steaming mad block and not be able to distance myself from the subject matter.

And another little phone story that occurred in the western town (but far away from its place of origin). Actually it is a "meta" story. [Meta, I love meta! Can you tell I read loads of literary theory?] In other words, it's a phone story that begat a second phone story. Part one: We got a series of mysterious un-self-identifying messages on the answering machine. Eventually, I got so tired of them that even though I was afraid it might be some soliciting business trying to sucker me into something, I decided to try calling back just to straighten it out and make them stop filling up the answering machine tape with garbage.

Part two: Their number was a 1-800 number. But it was some sort of limited-region 800 number, because every time I tried to reply to one of their messages by calling it, I got a phone company error message saying I was not allowed to call that number because my number was outside its legitimate range! ABut i didn't have any other number for them and they never identified their company name thus I couldn't look them up. So, because I could not call back and straighten it out, the calls kept coming and the messages kept mounting! Aaaarrrrggghhh! But still, a fairly clear sign of a mistake of some kind.

Finally, a small bit of progress. One day, the representative actually got me, a real person. Yes, a human answered the phone that time. This person started the conversation by stating my maiden name. So, okay, I confirmed that was my maiden name. (Of course I was sure I wasn't the only one in the world with that name, but at this juncture, or rather to this person, that was entirely beside the point.) Next there was no small talk; she immediately launched into a scathing attempt to intimidate me and make me behave her way. Aside: This was back in the day when few people had cell phones, they were the size of a jackhammer and they belonged to the provider, before you could just walk in off any street corner and buy your own teensy phone. She said that I had signed up for cell-phone service on blah blah date and had not only not paid the bill for a gagillion years but had outright stolen the equipment and taken it out of the service range and they would put me in jail at once.

Huh? Whuuutt?

I asked her where she was calling from, and she said the application bore the name of the town where I grew up. I said, "Well, I grew up there but haven't lived there for more than twenty years and have not even visited there in more than four years, and did you not notice the area code when you called me is in a completely different state, so why do you think you have the right person with this name?"

Not subtle, she, for she started cussing me out and calling me a felon and thief and whathaveyou. When I detected a break in the diatribe I told her firmly that I was obviously not the person she sought, to please go away and do her homework and find the right person, and not to call me ever again. Or I would press charges. She laughed, saying that they would press charges on me and I would be in jail before I could do anything to make her stop calling. Bee-utch.

Well, boy, now that she was convinced she had her thief , things escalated. I well remember that her name was Tina [TINA, YOU IGNORANT SLUT! ] and she started calling frequently just for a lark. I started bitching back at Tina, screamed at Tina until she absolutely must be deaf in one ear, and hung up on Tina.

I'm not sure which day it was that I realized I was at declared war with Tina.

Clever Tina one time demanded that I TELL HER MY SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER because she knew it would match the number on the service application that she had in front of her face. That one cracked me up. I told her that was a real thigh-slapper, and in turn demanded that she let me speak to her supervisor. She hung up on me.

Then there was a lull. Some weeks passed and no more calls. I was starting to relax and think it was over. But then one day some other woman called from the same company. I calmly explained--and it was hard, but I realized I HAD to remain calm--about the Tina harassment and my town of origin and that I believed it was odd-chance possible that another person could have the same name as me but probably not in that town. This woman then suggested maybe someone evil who had known me long ago and knew I was gone, or maybe someone with access to some sort of records that would indicate to them that my-named person had been long-gone from there, was using my name fraudulently. Identity fraud! I said evidently that must be what it is. And she gladly offered to read to me most of the social security number on the application that she had in front of her face. And I said that was nothing like my number. She then tried to ask for my number but I said I would not give it out.

Not once during the conversation was this person unpleasant or bullying. After this she backed off and asked a couple of other questions that helped establish the fact that I was not their cell-phone thief.

And folks, all you millions of people out there on the internets, if you know where this one Clive is let me know because I have about four thousand messages for him. And I want to kick his ever-hiding lying cheating butt.


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