I am convinced that every single personal service company in the world is trying to screw me.

Recall Progressive, please, who took $133 of my money for a premium after I had cancelled the policy and forced me to hound them for a week before they told me that they had to keep my money for two weeks and then they'd send me a check. Recall also that the withdrawal of this money that isn't theirs caused my account to become overdrawn, a state which it is still in even as we speak.

This morning, the phone rang at 8:50. I'm awake, but still in bed, sweating to death (sadly, for no good reason other than my air conditioning sucks), so I'm already annoyed. And I hate answering the phone that early, but now, every phone call could have potential employment on the other end, so I make sure my voice works and I answer the phone.

It is not employment. It is Tony, from What-the-Fuck-Ever Credit Services, telling me that I owe Cingular $166.03 for my old account in Kansas and would I like to take care of this today. I tell Tony that as much as I would love to take care of this today, I am currently unemployed and do not have $166 to give him at the moment, but I'd certainly be willing to make some arrangements.

So Tony tells me that the only arrangement he can make is to break it down to three payments of $55-and-change with the first payment being due by the end of the month. Which, in case you haven't looked at a calendar lately, is in two days.

Now, I know Tony doesn't care this much about my life, but I explain to him that my checking account is already overdrawn, and I'm living off my parents, and I just won't be able to get the money in two days, so I ask him if there isn't something else we can work out.

Tony says no. Tony is very nice, by the way, considering that I've already starting using some colorful language on him in trying to figure out why Cingular sent my account to collections when I only cancelled the account at the beginning of June. I have a lot of experience in late bill paying, and usually you get more than two months before people start hassling you.

Anyway, here's where things start to get a little sketchy. First of all, Tony says no, the only way you can do this is if we set up a payment for the end of this month, otherwise it's reported that I "refused" to pay. I admit I don't know much about credit laws, but I'm almost positive that they can't report you as refusing to pay simply because you ask for more than two days to come up with the cash.

(Tony is quite the trooper. He helpfully asks if I can ask my parents to take care of this for me. "Tony, I'm thirty years old! Do you know how depressing that is?" And he laughs. "How is it possible that I only have two days to do this?" "It's all we can do." "Dude, what would have happened if I hadn't answered the phone?" "Well, it'd have gone on your credit report." "But it's going to go on there anyway now, either that I refused to pay you or that I made an arrangement with a check that bounced!" "I know! I don't know what to tell you!")

So, after explaining to Tony that I'm not really comfortable setting up a payment when I know I won't have the money to cover it, he points out that if we go ahead and set up a check-by-phone kind of thing for the 31st, it won't clear my bank until at least the 2nd, which gives me an extra couple of days to get the money in my account. Again, with the credit laws, I'm also fairly sure that they aren't supposed to encourage you to kite checks.

But Tony is insisting (again, in a very nice, "please don't shoot the messenger" kind of way) that my only choice is between making a payment arrangement to start in two days, or have this go on my credit report as refusing to pay money I owe. So I make the arrangements, telling him very plainly that I know the money won't be there in time. I ask him if I can pay with a credit card, and he says no, but we could do a Western Pain-in-the-Ass Union that would cost me an extra $30, on top of the $30 that's already been added since it's been sent to collections.

By this point I've kind of started to cry a little, and Tony, God love him, for someone who must have people crying on the phone to him all the time, was actually quite nice, and told me to try to figure something out and if tomorrow I still wasn't able to come up with the money, to call him back and he'd figure out some way to help me.

So I hang up the phone and wail cries of frustration about my life for a few minutes. Then I remembered that I actually got an envelope from Cingular on Friday, and I had assumed it was my current bill, but I hadn't opened it yet. I go downstairs and open it, and sure enough, inside is a final bill for my old account. What's interesting about this bill, though, is the following sentence: "Payment of this bill is due in full by 8/17/02." 8/17/02. August 17, 2002. Weeks and weeks from now.

I immediately call Cingular, and have a conversation that goes something like this:

Me: "This statement says I have until the 17th to pay this bill, so why is it in collections?"

Her (tone of forced helpfulness): "You cancelled this account at the beginning of June and we turn it over to collections after thirty days."

Me: "Okay. So why does this statement say I have until the 17th if I don't?"

Her (tone of thinly disguised annoyance): "See, you cancelled this account at the beginning of June and we turn it over to collections after thirty days."

Me: "Is there someone else I can talk to?"

Her (tone of snappish exasperation): "Look, anyone else you talk to you will say the same thing. You have thirty days and then we send it to collections."

Having not fully recovered from my sobby collapse with Tony, I kind of start to cry again out of sheer frustration. Instead of ripping her a new one, I tell her that she has been very helpful and I'm sorry if I'm annoying her but I'm just trying to find out why they told me I have until the 17th to pay this bill if it isn't true.

She puts me on hold, and a few minutes later a lovely woman named Doris gets on, and in a very kind and soothing way, asks me what she can do for me today. (Which makes me wonder exactly what happened after the first woman put me on hold. "Cryer! I've got a cryer! Someone get Doris!")

By now, I've regained some composure, and I explain to her that the collections guy called me and is trying to make me pay this bill like, today, and I have this statement that says I have until the 17th, and I didn't understand what was going on.

She then gives some bullshit story about how the statement is generated independent of when the account gets sent to the collection agency, and they try to time it so that collections wouldn't start calling until after the due date on the statement, but sometimes it gets fucked up.


So I ask her if I can just pay it right now with a credit card, and she says yes, and she gives me her full name and phone number and tells me to call her back directly if I get any more calls from the collection people. She puts me back on the phone with the original woman who, I'm guessing, had a can of whup-ass opened on her by Doris, as she is being all kinds of nice to me now. I pay the stupid bill, and she tells me to hold on while she e-mails the information to the right people who will then send a message to the people who will call the people who will perhaps walk it over to the collections agency and tell them not to bother me anymore.

So, fine. After I'm done there, I call back my pal Tony, and tell him my story, and that we need to cancel what we've done and I'd be checking back with him to make sure that it was cancelled, since I just got screwed by Progressive. And he's all, "You know, we just started working with Cingular, and I think they're kind of fucked up."

Yay, Tony! Tony is on my side! I [heart] Tony!

But I ask Tony for the name of his company and the address and everything, as I had already decided that I would be spending the day writing some letters to some various companies and perhaps a government agency or two about such things as lying to customers regarding payment due dates and threatening credit history disaster because you need more than two days to pay and suggesting that it would be just fine to write a check even though you didn't have the money at that exact moment. Because that's what happens when you're unemployed and cranky. You write letters.

I reassured Tony that I wouldn't be complaining about him, and that I would even use a different name on the off chance that anyone cares enough about my letters to do anything, because I didn't want him to get into trouble. He seemed grateful for that.

In other news of interest, I am going in late this afternoon to interview for a document review position that would start Wednesday. Document review sucks, but this position would be cool, as I would get to work in New York.

I'm trying not to get too excited about it, but how sweet would that be? They'd put me up, of course, and cover all my meals and expenses, and reimburse my mileage if I wanted to come home on the weekends.

It's a long shot, though, as it is a securities case and I've never done that kind of work, and also I have to go back to Kansas City next weekend so I'd miss three days. Depending on how long the assignment is, they might not want someone who will only be working for a week before having to take off.

But still, one can hope.

Because I am going crazy here.

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