So I’m learning, by sampling the offerings of other NaBloPoMo participants, that many of them do not write about Major Issues on a daily basis. They write about the little things in life, like what they watch on TV, where they had lunch, or other fascinating quotidian tidbits. I’m pretty sure I read a line yesterday about a “preggers spider” in one of them. I have really enjoyed some of these posts; it is very relaxing to catch a glimpse into someone else’s life, to compare a little, and to admire the deft use of a metaphor or a beautiful photograph. This kind of browsing also helps me remember that, while I have been asked by a valued reader to refrain from padding my 30 days with “fluff,” I am also not Anna Quindlen on steroids, required to write thought-provoking essays thirty days in a row.
I particularly enjoy posts in which the writer “rants” about something that happened in the course of daily life (as long as the semicolons are in the right place and the misspellings don’t make me wince). A rant of that variety is a perfect marriage of recognizable dailiness and a certain passion. We can all sympathize with the person waiting all day for the cable guy, the person served a piece of sushi with a fingernail in the salmon, or the person who rode all the way from work on the subway pinned next to a gum snapper.
So I have a rant, and while it does not involve any particular depth of sentiment or clarity of insight, I will feel better if I tell someone, and my husband and my parents have opted out of further rehashing of my issue. You’re it; bear with me, and I’ll try to make it good.
This morning at 9:03AM as I was editing on my computer, I heard a terrible grinding sound outside the dining room window, and then the power went out. I went to the front window in time to see a Board of Water & Light employee get into his van and drive away. I knew I had paid them, albeit a little later than one might have wished, and I was pretty sure that when they work on power lines they do not appear unannounced and shut off power to individual houses.
So I called The Board of Water and Light (on my cell phone, since the house phones were dead), where I was helped by a charming woman named Diane, and I do mean that. I told her that I was looking at a confirmation code from our credit union that the bill had been paid 5 days ago. Diane had a good idea: we should conference in the credit union and get confirmation that the bill had been paid on their end. After hold music and 7 possible routes to human conversation, we reached a young woman who took my account number. “Are you on the account?” She asked. I had seen this one coming.
“I’m not, but you should have a release in your records signed by my husband, permitting you to speak to me about this account.”
“Just a sec,” she said, and she was gone. I did not, by the way, make up the business about the release. I really am a lawyer, I really had prepared one, and we really had submitted it to the credit union years ago in case of just such an occasion. There was a long pause, during which papers rattled. “I’m sorry ma’am, there’s no release, and I can’t discuss this account with you. Your husband has to call.”
“There is a release,” I said, marvelling at my Zen-like composure, “maybe you just can’t find it. Can you work with me here? Our power has been shut off, it’s cold, I can’t work without my computer, and I can tell you anything you want to know to prove who I am. I have my husband’s Social Security number, and I’m looking at a screen with a confirmation code for this payment. What are the odds that if I had stolen his identity I would have his wallet and his computer and be trying to get his power turned back on?” She did not laugh. Not even a little bit, although I think I’m pretty amusing.
“I can’t discuss this account with you, ma’am, Your husband has to call in” she said, standing her ground. She was not a woman to be trifled with, regardless of our credit union’s protestations of friendly, home-town service that distinguished it from the Big Bad Banks. It was unfortunate, but couldn’t be helped if this particular hometown neighbor and her child froze to death because she would not make an exception when anyone with an IQ higher than “tepid” could see that I would have no motivation for doing what I was doing if I was not who I claimed to be. So, after being reminded by Diane that the clock was ticking, and that after a certain point we would have to wait until tomorrow to have the power restored, I bit my lip and called my husband out of a meeting with people at his company’s head office in Indianapolis.
He was not thrilled, but he called the credit union to authorize them (again) to speak to me. He then called me back to report that, while they were not willing to speak to me, because he “could be anybody,” they were willing to fax to the Board of Water & Light proof that the payment had been made. As a fairly logical person with more than passing familiarity with the law, I see absolutely no difference between releasing a customer’s information by saying it (to a woman reachable at the home phone number listed on his account) vs. printing it out and faxing it. This begs the question of why, if he “could be anybody” they were willing even to fax the information. Clearly, nothing would do but for him to drive home from Indianapolis, visit the Customer Service Desk at the friendly, hometown credit union, show them his driver’s license and the mole behind his left knee, and beg them to tell the Board of Water & Light that we had paid our bill.
In the end, although I was terrifically bothered by the logistical inconsistency, we went with the fax plan. The women representing the Board of Water & Light were both compassionate and kind, and were good as gold about sending someone out to turn the power back on as soon as they received the fax. Five hours after the turn off, the van returned, the grinding was heard again, and then, fiat lux, and heat, and computer, and cellphone charger.
A particular gem named Tammi also talked to her supervisor and made sure that we would not be charged a security deposit, or any of the other fees that are usually charged after a turn-off. [Strictly speaking, the delay in payment was my bad; I was already late, and didn’t realize that if I made a payment on October 29th, the credit union then sent it to a third-party service that sent a physical check that still hadn’t reached its destination five days after clearing our account]. Interesting that folks working for a much larger business than the credit union could find it in themselves to help a fellow human in a tight spot.
I am probably too lazy to do anything dramatic like closing our account, but I would like to communicate to the management of the credit union that the inflexible enforcement of rules in ways that defy common sense is not a feather in their cap. I have worked in various customer service positions, and have made exceptions in cases where I could do a great deal of good, and no foreseeable harm. I have been rewarded for making those exceptions, and I have been lambasted; I have never regretted sticking my neck out to help someone in trouble.When I really, truly had to say “no” to a customer or client, I found that it was better received if I sounded sorry about turning them down, as opposed to taking a tone of indifference, or faint triumph. These are not gems of customer service wisdom developed and patented by yours truly; they should be second nature to any human paid to assist other humans.
Also, I do not feel safer from identity theft after learning that our financial institution would send personal information to a fax number that could be an online identity-theft information clearing house run by two escaped convicts from Paraguay, but would not speak to me. I feel, in fact, that we may have deposited our worldly goods in an institution run by soulless robots created and trained by various luminaries of the Third Reich.
Spent; I am completely over this and ready to move on. At one time I would, by now, have sent a detailed letter to the credit union, cc’d everywhere that it might hurt. These days, It feels right to let it go and try to understand that such experiences are just part of modern life. I can walk away (now that the heat is back on and I don’t have to lie under a pile of blankets) and watch the credit union recede in my rear view mirror, its harried martinets marching in lockstep and reciting unbreakabale rules….