The mail box was bursting with the usual bills, catalogs, and sweepstakes entry forms. I ignored the shiny letter that told me I’d won a new car, ten gold bars, or a handy pocket comb, and junked the pre-approved credit card with the 26.5% interest rate, which I suspected was compounded hourly.
“Urgent, open immediately” on the next letter caught my eye, so I complied with the bright red instructions and tore it open.
“This is an attempt to collect a debt,” the letter began. “Any information obtained from you will be used for that purpose.” This was a collection letter! I was flabbergasted! I’m a good boy! I pay my bills (well, I DO still owe that CD club money, but I figured that since the first nine were only a penny, the rest would be, too. Who knew?)
Anyway, I read on, impressed with the printed quality of the letter, marveling that anyone still used a teletype and carbon paper. “The next step will be legal proceedings.” But I don’t want to go to jail! I’m nice! Prison gray isn’t a good color for me! This is a mistake!
The letter continued, threatening my credit history, my reputation, and made veiled threats against my unborn children and my immortal soul.
As I continued to digest this attack on my character, I remembered that when I’d canceled my hardly-used Jordan Marsh card a year before, I’d sent in my last payment, cut the card in half and asked them to cancel. I never thought about it again. But I had obviously made a hideous mistake. The amount must be staggering, I thought.
Bracing myself, I looked at the amount owed.
It was sixty-four cents.
Let me say that again.
The amount I owed was sixty-four cents.
As in, two first class stamps. As in, “and sixteen more cents will buy you a Pepsi.” I took a deep breath. Acknowledging that my somewhat less-than-serious approach to life will doubtless get me in a lot of trouble some day, I decided that this letter needed a reply. Actually, it demanded a very specific type of reply. I sat down in front of the computer and wrote a letter to the attorney.
I began with, “As I’m sure you are aware, I believed that my Jordan Marsh account had been paid in full, and was unprepared for this shocking debt — clearly an unknown, retroactive finance charge of some sort.” (Now I didn’t seem like such a deadbeat, I thought. I’ve explained that a simple mistake was made. Using words like “retroactive” show I know legal jargon.)
I continued, “After I got over my astonishment at the enormity of this indebtedness,”
(Does anyone really say “indebtedness?” Gotta love the computer’s thesaurus option!)
“ … I solicited my friends, family and business associates, but was unable to raise such a large amount of cash so quickly.” (The lawyer is definitely scratching his head at this point.)
“I then considered the option of a payment plan — for example, eight cents a month for eight months or some similar option, but decided it would be prudent to liquidate this enormous debt immediately, as your letter indicated that the next step of this matter would involve legal proceedings.” (Prudent lawyers like to use words like “liquidate.”)
“Recognizing that the cost of filing court papers would be hundreds of times the amount of this debt — indeed, the cost of a postage stamp is equal to half the debt — I have decided to pay this large obligation now, to free our good courts to pursue more important legal matters than this.” (I have now demonstrated an intention to resolve the matter quickly and peacefully, did a comparative cost-analysis of the debt amount, and said I think our courts are “good.” I’m obviously not some sort of crazed anarchist. Well, I’m not an anarchist, anyway.)
“Enclosed you will find a check for 64 (sixty-four) cents, the full amount in demand. Kindly convey my best wishes to Jordan Marsh, and please let them know how impressed I am with the dedication of their collection agency.” (I have now discharged the debt, and complimented the people who would jail me and ruin my life.)
To date, I haven’t received a reply, and the check has not been cashed. This leads me to one of two conclusions:
1. The lawyer has proceeded with the trial preparations. The judge will have been picked by now, and a jury polled: “Do you have any prejudice against the number 64? Are you confused that Jordan Marsh is now called Macys? Are you for or against wasting court time? Do you think Mr. Gillis looks sleepy in his column picture? Do you think Mr. Gillis’ preoccupation with the plot of the next Star Trek movie is abnormal?”
2. My letter and the check are tacked to the lawyer’s bulletin board, providing a much needed laugh in an office filled with days chasing down real deadbeats and bad guys.
For my sake, I hope number two is the right one. If not, I might have to plead insanity.