Randy, it's for you!

I had a great boss years ago in Detroit. He was a big man from Texas who looked like Wimpy from Popeye. Like Wimpy, he enjoyed hamburgers, but he certainly did not act wimpy. He had a funny saying that some things were just “snake-bit” when faced with some impossible situation. The true test of your character was the effort you made. 

The phone calls for Randy started the week my wife and I moved here from Michigan almost four years ago. I was excited when we got our new home telephone number because the last four digits matched my parent’s number, a number I grew up with. This was a great coincidence after several moves the last few years and a lot of different numbers. Here was a number I could recall without an embarrassing pause trying to remember where we were now living. Little did I know that number was snake-bit.

Anyway, the previous owner of our new phone number was this Randy. He had lots of folks looking for him. Automated messages kept saying it was very important that he return their call immediately or face the full force and fury of the law. I’d stay on the line occasionally, trying to reach a live person so I could patiently explain their mistake. Some would thank me. Others would hang up quickly when I asked them to identify themselves. Some would challenge me, claiming that I must know how to reach Randy. Another went so far as to claim I had to be him! 

I bet Randy got 300 calls the first three years we lived here. The phone company was no help. I was paying  for Premium Unlimited Service, and that meant unlimited collection calls for Randy. But my options were not unlimited: 1) Do nothing, and hope the problem went away. 2) Pay them to give us a new number, and pass this one on to the next unsuspecting victim. 3) Discontinue our home telephone service and walk away from this snake-bit number.

A truly crazy guy I met in college, “Young Vic,” had wired an electronic contraption to my telephone which would deliver a jolt of electricity to any annoying caller. He tried it on me, and I tried to throw him and his contraption out of my fifth floor window. So I called him. “Hey Vic, its Mike--” He hung up. If only I’d been kinder and wiser 40 years ago we might be rich today selling Ronco Revenge Phones.

The I tried working within “the system.” I called The Plain Dealer. They connected me with a sympathetic consumer affairs specialist who told me the Attorney General's office might get involved if I followed up on every call, identified every company and every person I spoke with and informed them not to call me again, then notified the AG’s office with documented proof every time a company ignored my request not to call.

Along the way I surmised that these collection companies buy and sell debtor lists like baseball card swap clubs. Just when I’d manage to get some of them to stop calling and it was quiet for a month or two, they would swap/sell their lists to each other, and the calls would start all over again and these new callers would of course deny that they had been calling.   

At wits' end, just before Christmas, I conjured my old boss. “I’m throwing in the towel,” I told his spirit. "It's snake-bit and I'm walking away." He seemed amused, and reassured me that I was still the best time-waster he ever met. When I awoke, I called the phone company and discontinued our landline, and sadly gave back that special family telephone number. I gathered all our old phones and put them in a box for the spring neighborhood yard sale. For our holiday gifts to each other, my wife and I upgraded our cell phones, and I couldn’t resist adding Randy to my contacts directory. 

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Volume 4, Issue 2, Posted 3:02 PM, 01.13.2011