How Straight The Line

January 12, 2010

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Calvin comes home, as usual, on the 5:30 train. With this being Friday, his spirits are high and his head filled with plans for a nice weekend.

His wife, Kelly, greets him in the kitchen with a warm, “Hello.” She’s tossing the salad by hand while their son Jack sets the table. Calvin sits down and takes a drink from the iced tea that’s beside his plate, then says, “Let’s do something tonight.”

“Like what?” Kelly asks.

“Oh, I don’t know just something, different. Maybe one of those new clubs downtown.”

“Dancing? You want to go dancing?”

“I don’t know, maybe.”

“I’d love to, but there’s no way we could get a sitter now. Maybe tomorrow, or next weekend.”

“Yeah. It was just an idea. It doesn’t have to be exactly that.”

“Ok. Let’s rent some videos tonight and go out somewhere tomorrow.”

“Sure,” Calvin agrees.

The phone rings, and with Kelly’s hands covered with salad dressing, Calvin gets it. “Hello,” he says.

“Calvin Webber?” the man’s voice asks.

“Yes.”

“Mr. Webber, I’m calling on behalf of Megaxpress bank. Are you aware that your account was 90 days past due?”

“No. No, not at all.”

“Your account has just been cancelled.”

“What?”

“The entire balance is currently due, $3,100.”

“That’s impossible, I pay all my bills.”

“Well, Mr. Webber, I have the record from Megaxpress right here. They’ve cancelled your account.”

“Wait, you don’t work for Megaxpress?”

“No. I’m from Talon collections.”

“Oh. I thought you were from Megaxpress, I’ll just call them and straighten it all out. I’m sure it’s just a misunderstanding.”

“They won’t talk to you.”

“Of course they will. I’ve been a customer for ten years.”

“Is there some way you can pay the balance off now?”

“$3,100?”

“Yes.”

“I don’t have that much just sitting around.”

“Sir, your credit’s still good. If you can pay us tonight it can stay that way, otherwise we’ll have to report it to the agencies and your credit will be ruined.”

“Well, can I set up some sort of payment plan?”

“Can you pay half now?”

“No. That’s way too much. The best I could do would be like $200 a month.”

The man laughs at Calvin and says, “That won’t work for us.”

“Listen, says Calvin, “I’m just going to call Megaxpress.”

“They won’t talk to you.”

“I think they will.”

“Well, sir, I know my client. If you don’t straighten this out with me tonight, I’m going to report it to the credit agencies first thing tomorrow.”

“You expect me to come up with $3,100 tonight?”

“Yes.”

“That’s ridiculous.”

“Maybe you could get a loan or borrow it from a family member.”

“No way.”

“Well sir, we have all the information right here for a law suit. I see you own your own house.”

“Don’t threaten me.”

“I’m just doing my job, sir.”

Calvin voice shakes, “I guess you enjoy your work, don’t you?”

“Can you pay half tonight and we can go from there.”

“I can’t.”

“That’s too bad, sir.”

“You heartless son of a bitch-” click.

Kelly has been listening intently from across the kitchen table, “What is it?”

“A collection agency. They said our Megaxpress account’s been cancelled.”

“Didn’t you pay the bill?” she asks.

“I think so. I’m going to call them and see if I can straighten it out.” Calvin gets out his credit card and calls the number on the back. After five voicemail menus, he finally reaches a customer service representative by pretending to have a rotary phone. “I think there’s a problem with my bill,” he says.

The clerk asks Calvin to confirm his address which he does, then the clerk says, “We have 1215 Pine St. not 1225, sir.”

“How can that be, I’ve lived here for over three years.”

I don’t know, sir, but I’ll correct it for you now. Also, could you update your phone number. We don’t have one listed for you.”

“Sure. Thank you.” Calvin gives him the information then says, “I guess I haven’t been receiving my bills since the address was wrong, can you check to see what I have to pay to bring it up to date.”

“Certainly, Sir. Oh, this account’s been cancelled. I’ll give you the number for Talon collections. They’re handling the account now.”

“Can’t I pay you three months payments. I’m sorry I haven’t been paying, but you can see I wasn’t getting the bills.”

“Sir, you have to pay whether you get a bill or not.”

“I understand that. I know it’s my responsibility, but I pay like 20 different bills a month. If they don’t get sent, they won’t get paid.”

“I’m sorry sir. I’m going to give you the number to Talon now.”

“But it was your mistake. Why would you change my address after three years of sending the bills to the right place.”

“Here’s the number, sir.”

“Never mind,” says Calvin, “I don’t need it,” and he hangs up.

“Well?” asks Kelly.

“They won’t talk to me. They don’t care. We weren’t getting our bill for a couple months and they just cancelled the account.”

“After ten years of paying on time?”

“Yeah. I guess so.”

“And they won’t reconsider?” she asks.

“No. They passed it off to a collection agency so they don’t have to deal with their customers, makes it pretty convenient for them.”

“What are we going to do now?”
“I guess we should pay as much as possible, maybe $500, but it might be too late for our credit rating.”

She says, “It’s a good thing we already have the mortgage.”

“Yeah,” agrees Calvin.

They eat their dinner quietly, subdued, then go to the store to get some videos. On Saturday they have a nice picnic, then on Sunday, they watch Jack’s soccer game, having put the Megaxpress problem blissfully behind.

As they relax, they are unaware that certain items of their personal information are bouncing around from computer to computer. The debt collector who Calvin had annoyed by slightly disrespecting him has sold Calvin’s social security number, his address, mother’s maiden name, phone number and credit card numbers to a certain person, the former Zach Billup, who is now also known as Calvin Webber. By Monday, the new Calvin Webber has a driver’s license and social security card to prove his identity. Soon, he will also have five credit cards belonging to his new self, and soon after that, they will all be maxed out.

In less than a month, the old original Calvin Webber begins receiving notices indicating that his credit cards are all over their credit limits. Various fees are charged and several of the companies, seeing the notation of the Megaxpress account cancellation, decide that now would be a good time to cancel their account with Calvin too. They demand payment in full, thinking perhaps that someone who has a hard time paying a $100 a month will easily be able to come up with $5,000 in a day.

Calvin suddenly faces a demand for $30,000, payable immediately, since it is the card issuer’s right to cancel the account at any time. He has $8,000 equity in his house, $400 in a checking account and a dazed expression on his face as he sits in a lawyer’s office who specializes in bankruptcy. Calvin’s head and stomach join forces and threaten to revolt from the rest of his body when the lawyer tells him that bankruptcy will follow him for at least 10 years, but that he should be able to save his house. Calvin only mumbles in response, “Why did they change my address? I didn’t tell them to do that.”

“What?” asks the lawyer, but Calvin doesn’t answer.

Meanwhile, the second Calvin robs a convenience store downtown. As he exits the store, he turns to threaten the cashier, and in the process, drops his wallet containing, of course, his new driver’s license and social security card. It happens that the picture on the license looks a lot like the old original Calvin, as both are about the same height, build, hair color and race.

At home that evening at the dinner table, Calvin and Kelly eat in silence, having just filed for bankruptcy. Jack is staying over at a friend’s house, which he has been doing a lot of during the past few weeks.

The doorbell rings. Calvin answers it. Two police officers are standing outside,

“Calvin Webber?” they ask.

“Yes?” he replies.

“You are under arrest for armed robbery. You have the right to remain silent-

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