In the normal course of events, Crabby Old Lady pays her bills each month without any difficulty. The statements arrive, she determines their correctness (which is so about 99 percent of the time) and all is well. Prices sometimes increase and although that is never a welcome event, they are not entirely unreasonable and are to be expected.
In the past couple of weeks, however, Crabby has had three disturbing encounters with business organizations to whom she regularly pays money. Each involved an unexpected price hike of dubious genesis leading Crabby, who has little trust in any organization larger than two people anyway, to question their integrity.
The local electric and gas utility has a Level Payment program by which customers are billed the same amount each month, calculated on the previous year’s usage, so that in periods of heavy use, the bill does not double or triple. Upon annual renewal of the program this month, Crabby’s Level Payment increased by 42 percent and in no way did she use that much more electricity in the past year. She has the bills to prove it.
The utility, however, using some archaic mathematical principle unknown since before the invention of the zero, insisted otherwise and refused to budge on the new payment amount. Since Crabby, in her old age, has lost all patience with customer service representatives and the time required to inch her way up the hierarchy to someone who doesn’t use a pre-written script to converse on the telephone, she reverted to pay-as-you-go.
Because the electric heat in Crabby’s apartment can in no way counter the frigid temperatures of winter below about 40 degrees, she long ago installed a wood-burning stove in the fireplace. It has a glass front to provide a cozy ambience in addition to its astonishing efficiency. Even when the house has been allowed to get cold, within 90 minutes of starting a fire, every room of the apartment is warm and toasty.
Crabby has been buying her firewood (at prices that cause heart palpitations in her rural friends) from the same firm across the East River in Long Island City for a dozen years. When she telephoned to order her first face cord this year, she was informed that the new owners had increased the price by 37 percent. Crabby was livid. You do not want to be on the other end of the telephone when Crabby is possessed by the furies and neither did the wood company’s sales representative.
The owner tried to tell Crabby that her previous sales contact, no longer with the company, had for reasons unknown, not passed on increases that had been instituted through the past several years. Now that’s a new excuse to Crabby - and in any event, he said, his prices are competitive and it is no concern of his that she had been a long-term customer.
Crabby dealt with the company in the same manner she handled the utility, refusing to go along and after a half dozen telephone calls, found another purveyor of firewood, Dmitri’s, whose price closely matches what she has been paying.
Proving again that all bad things come in threes, Crabby received a delinquency notice from a magazine to which she had newly subscribed. She owed, the form letter announced, 142 percent more than she had already sent.
Now, Crabby has been reading and paying bills for 46 years with few, if any, misunderstandings and she doubts she misread the bill. And she knows she would not have subscribed at that price. Once again, she had no taste for an extended discussion that would undoubtedly involve several customer service representatives and too much time on hold. She canceled the subscription.
Had Crabby gone along with each of these increases, it would have taken an additional $1,000 or so out of her pocket in the coming year. Due to her condition of unemployment, Crabby is not currently on even a fixed income – she’s on a negative income and that amount is not acceptable.
Some years ago, there was a television commercial for a brand of margarine in which the tagline was, “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.” It’s not nice to fool a Crabby Old Lady either, and each of these increases has a whiff of shadiness about it, leaving Crabby with a sense of having barely avoided a small swindle.
Crabby wonders when ordinary dealings in service to maintenance of life became adversarial propositions requiring the customer to be ever alert in even the smallest transaction.