(There’s a subtitle to this, but it’s too long to include up there; if there was room it would be something like “An open letter to the Bell Canada Vice President in charge of Residential Services.” Unwieldy.)
(The subtitle will become relevant in a bit — if you want to skip ahead to that I don’t be offended. How could I be — there’s no way I could possibly even know.)
I am not a cow.
Last week — for the first time ever — I wrote a post in response to a Weekly Writing Challenge. I’m doing it again, although I claim that this isn’t me channelling an old German epigram. (Oh, all right: Einmal ist keinmal, zweimal ist immer.) No, it’s just that, two weeks in a row, the weekly challenges have overlapped with stories I was sort of thinking of writing anyway. (They (the challenges) provided me with something more valuable than the idea for a story — they provided the motivation for one. Motivation is something I’ve struggled with for most of my life. Thirty years ago the long-suffering Dr. B told me that I had issues with “getting my finger out of my ass.” Dr. B didn’t mince a lot of words.)
This week’s Weekly Writing Challenge is, all things considered, kind of vague. The challenge title is “Object” and it says, in part, to “focus on an object.” (It also says that I have to use ‘object’ as a noun. Of course, I don’t always do what I’m told — just ask Dr. B.)
Focus on an object it says. I can focus on an object all I want but if I can’t think of a story, well, it doesn’t help. (Case in point: the peeing bear is a fairly striking object that probably has tons of stories associated with him but the only one I could think of only had him as a footnote, nothing more. The story wasn’t about him, wasn’t about the object itself. It wasn’t even inspired by the object. I’m not saying that the story I told was all that good, but focussing on the bear wouldn’t have produced that story.) Fortunately, Ms. Badgley has/had some fairly specific suggestions. She suggested a rotting banana. I couldn’t think of a story — even one about a song by someone named Gwen. Even one about macguffins or circuitous quests for macguffins. No, bananas — rotten or otherwise — were Right Out.
But she also suggested
Look around your writing space. Pick three objects you see (or hear or smell or feel) and reveal them to your reader. How do they represent you? How do they tell your story?
When I read that, I was sitting in The Hole in the green chair where I do a moderate amount of my… maundering. Sitting to my immediate left were my cell phone, my home phone and a form letter from the phone company. I was pretty sure there was a story there. Okay, Ms. Badgley, you’re on.
(This is where the subtitle starts to become relevant. If you care. Not likely, I get that.)
My earliest memories of The Phone Company date back to before I was a customer. Back then they were the only phone company. They were known for providing reliable phone service but they were also known for being arrogant, difficult and expensive. Everyone hated The Phone Company. Everyone dreamed of getting rid of the phone company.
Time passed and hints of competition started to appear in the telephone industry (it probably started sooner elsewhere but up here in the frozen north, things sometimes take a while). Predictably, The Phone Company reacted with more than a little hostility — I remember a series of television commercials starring Johnny Jellybean that The Phone Company ran in (I think) the 1970s. They were designed to show how incompetent other players in the telephone industry would inevitably be and how it would be an utter disaster for there to be an end to The Phone Company’s monopoly.
More time passed. When I finished my undergraduate degree and moved into my own place, The Phone Company was still arrogant, difficult and expensive but they were also still reliable and I could pay my bill to the serious-looking big-haired lady at the office that I walked past on the way to work. Besides, despite the writing on the wall, they were still the only game in town.
Even more time passed. The ultra-convenient office was closed (despite being heavily used), prices increased steadily and The Phone Company found ways to charge more and provide less. Sometime in there I performed an extended home invasion on Ms. Rose; I brought my aged television, my bad attitude, and my telephone. (The Phone Company wasn’t able to install it properly — I had to do a lot of it myself but they charged me anyway. It was a new experience — I’d never had to pay to do something myself. I paid because, well, I didn’t really have much choice.)
Yet more time passed. Eventually, Ms. Rose and I had four phones between us — two mobile, two landline. It was pretty clear that something had to go and the most expensive something (one of the landlines) did, leaving (only) three phones for two people. Three was, of course, still more than was needed and, with the rates The Phone Company charges for landlines (high) and our usage (fairly low — neither one of us is a teenager in a bad sitcom) it was pretty obvious which one would be going. (All it required was motivation and we know how much of that I have….) The tipping point came when I made a moderately but not excessively long phone call to my mother (who lives less than two hundred kilometers away) and The Phone Company charged me the equivalent of two week’s groceries for the privilege. That clinched it — that phone would have to go.
And last month go it did, replaced by something that costs about one fifth as much for more service. Shortly afterward I received a card from The Phone Company. It said, in part
“We are sorry to see you go … you were a valued client ….”
Of course they’re sorry to see me go: I gave them money for more than thirty years. Of course I was ‘valued’: I wasn’t the best customer in the world but at the end I paid five times the market rate for phone service and ten times the market rate for long distance calls. And it turns out that I didn’t have to: when I phoned The Phone Company to tell them that I’d be cancelling my service, the voice on the phone told me that they could halve my rates and would that change my mind?
I knew they were gouging me. The offer told me that they knew it too. That, in turn, told me that they didn’t look on me as a client or a customer (clients and customers get some measure — however small — of respect), but as a cow.
And cows, after all, need milking.
I told the voice that if The Phone Company had approached me on their own initiative with the message that they knew they were gouging me and would like to do something about it, well, that might have changed my mind. As it was, though, I declined because the offer was too late. (Too little, too — it was still more expensive than every single one of their competitors.) And because I object (there I am using that word as a verb — bad Rose, bad) to being thought of as a cow.
This week a Final Bill arrived in the mail. The Phone Company is assessing me a fee because I cancelled the long distance plan that let them charge half a month’s groceries to talk to my mother for an hour. Just in case I had forgotten that I was a cow.
If nothing else, it’s an effective way to say ‘Au revoir‘ I guess.