In December or January, I had a brief and unexpected hospital stay. This would not have been problematic had it not been for my roommate, who spent the entire time I was there either moaning to himself (in an unamusing way, alas) or watching cartoons, not fun, interesting cartoons but boring, insipid ones that made it impossible for me to concentrate enough to read or write anything or, in fact, to wish to live any longer. There wasn’t much I could do about that, however, since presumably any attempts I made to do anything about this would be thwarted by the hospital staff.
Nonetheless, I survived my time in the hospital and came home feeling fine. Fine, that is, until the bill came for $3,000 (this is with insurance), a sum of money I did not possess. I did what any self-respecting person without a real job would do under the circumstances, of course, which was to toss the bill in recycling, where it was joined post haste by a number of its subsequent iterations.
Eventually, and sadly, the hospital referred the account to a collection agency, whose bills I also tossed in recycling. I am no stranger to the depredations of such institutions, mind you, but it had been a while since I found myself trying to evade their clutches, so I was off my guard enough to answer the phone one day even though the number came up “unidentified” on my caller ID.
“Hi,” said the woman on the other end of the phone, “this is Christine, from Faceless Hideous Creature of the Oppressive Capitalist Octopus Services. May I please speak with Joel?” Somehow I wasn’t quick enough even with this warning to claim that Joel wasn’t in but that I’d be happy to take a message for him, so I ended up making an arrangement with awful Christine to pay Faceless Hideous Creature of the Oppressive Capitalist Octopus Services $300 a month until my debt was paid off.
The first month of this arrangement worked out fine for everybody; when I got my bill from FHCOCOS, I wrote a check, dropped it in the mail, and went on my merry way.
The next month, however, when FHCOCOS’s bill arrived, I found myself without $300 to spare, so I reverted to form and tossed it in recycling. The same thing happened the next month, and the next. Awful Christine called again, but this time I was smart enough not to pick up the phone; she kept calling after that, two or three times a week, but I rarely picked up, and the few times I did, accidentally, I told her that I’d gladly leave Joel a message. She gave me her number at FHCOCOS and asked me to give myself an urgent message to call her as soon as possible. After not writing down the number, I promised her that I would deliver myself the message as soon as I saw myself, and that was that.
Cut to last week, when I was finally paid for a project I ought to have been paid for in June. My first thought upon depositing the check was, “Oh, thank God, now I can pay this bill and stop awful Christine from calling me anymore.” (Actually, that was more likely my seventh or eighth thought; the first several had to do undoubtedly with chocolate, jacking off, and going to the movies, not necessarily in that order. But it was up there on the list, definitely way ahead of, for example, “Gee, I should really get back to the gym one of these days” and “Why is it that yawns are contagious over the phone?”)
Well, I have just gotten off the phone with Christine from Faceless Hideous Creature of the Oppressive Capitalist Octopus Services.
When she picked up the phone, after delivering the boilerplate (“This conversation will be recorded, this call is an attempt to collect a debt, etc., etc.”), the first thing she said was, “Mr. Derfner, I am so happy that you called today.” But the thing is, she sounded like she meant it—like she really was happy.
“Really?” I said.
“Yes,” she said. “I’ve been worrying about you, and I kept on delaying giving your account to the attorney, because I knew you meant well, and you were so nice on the phone the first time.”
I was agog.
“Wow,” I said, and proceeded to make arrangements to continue paying my bill. She told me several more times how glad she was that I had called before the end of the month, because they wouldn’t have let her keep the account active after tomorrow, and how it made her so happy to think that I was in better financial shape than I was. By the time the call was finished, we were both laughing, and when I told her she’d made my day she told me I’d made hers, too.
And the thing is, she wasn’t faking it. Like, Christine isn’t some smooth-talking hustler. I could actually hear the relief in her voice. She cannot have been putting it on; if she were that good an actor she’d be on Broadway now, not working for a collection agency.
I’m still smiling about this phone call. Yes, I’m out another $300, with more to come, but stumbling on an actual person willing to display actual feelings of actual compassion during a business transaction might just have made it worth it.
I have hope for the future.
I’m going to have to type the rest of this entry very, very quickly so as to be able to finish it before being taken away by the nice men in white coats with butterfly nets, but it’s true: I have hope for the future.
It’s the future that will be taking place long, long after I’m dead, of course, and it won’t do me much good, but all the same it feels nice.
The reason that I have hope for the future is because of the development of a product called the No-Lie MRI, which takes a snapshot of your brain when you’re talking and reveals whether you’re using 1) the part of your brain that remembers things (or works them out) or 2) the part of your brain that makes things up. Wired has a pretty good explanation of what’s going on.
If I understand correctly, they’ve got it at about 93% accuracy (up from 80% ten years ago), so I figure it’s not unreasonable to assume that at some point in the foreseeable future we’ll have a 100% effective lie detector, though as I say I doubt it’ll be during my lifetime.
Now there are of course a gajillion and two ways in which such a thing could be problematic. It might constitute an invasion of cognitive privacy; it wouldn’t be able to detect things that were false but that the interview subject believed to be true (so perhaps “insincerity detector” would be a better name); it could be adopted prematurely; it could be used inappropriately; involuntary use could be considered a violation of the Fifth Amendment; it could reveal information collateral to what investigators were looking for; and so on and so on. Here is an interesting paper detailing some of the potential pitfalls the idea of MRI lie detection presents.
But assuming that an infallible lie detector existed, there is one voluntary use that I suspect might change the world, immeasurably, for the better.
Because at some point, somebody running for office somewhere is going to volunteer to do an interview or make a position statement or give a speech while hooked up to an MRI and challenge his or her opponent to do the same.
And from that point on, no politician will ever be able to lie again. To be caught in a lie would render somebody unelectable; to refuse to be tested would eventually, after enough people started doing it, render somebody unelectable.
Presidents would no longer be able to say things like, “We found the weapons of mass destruction” or (in the spirit of bipartisanship) “I never had sexual relations with that woman.”
Congressmen and -women would no longer be able to—
You know what, making a long list of the evils committed in our world by sociopathic politicians would really just depress the hell out of me, so I’ll just leave it at “no politician will ever be able to lie again.”
I’ll be long dead, but this idea allows me to live from day to day without despairing for the future of the human race.
Do you think that, if we all banded together and focused all our energy really intensely, like Sauron searching for the One Ring, we could get cashiers and tellers and so on to stop saying, “Next guest, please”?
“Oh, I thought I had to buy these office supplies,” I always want to say, “but if I’m your guest then I’m sure you wouldn’t mind if I just used them for free, right?”
Or, “Gee, thanks for inviting me over to your establishment to see this movie free of charge!”
Or, “This food that you cooked for me and fed me for free was so delicious; I really appreciate your hospitality!”
It drives me fucking CRAZY.
Don’t treat me like I’m your friend when I’m actually your customer. All it does is make me feel like you’re lying to me.
So now that I’m knee deep in kids and chicks and debt and pain and Rogaine, I figured it’s about time I reconnected with the universe I now find myself buried in – the world of formerly cool fathers who are now nothing more than a mini-van away from giving up any vestiges of the testicles they once held so dear.
Face it, fellas, you’re never going to convince yourself or the other loser dads that you’re really happy in this new life that requires you to go to sleep at 8:30 pm and walk the dog before the sun comes up so you can show up on time at the job that pays your wife’s tanning bills. You long for the days that you woke up at noon with a pocketful of bar tabs, a railroad spike in the middle of your forehead and a vomit-stained cheerleader snoring at the foot of your bed. Hate to tell ya, though–it’s over, dude, and you, like me, are pissed off about it.
The good news is that we’ll now have a place to gather and commiserate over our receding hairlines, disappearing bank accounts, and rapidly diminishing testosterone counts. We’re Mad Dadz and the world will know our pain. I’ll write about my life and you can respond with your vitriolic, poorly written, grammatically incorrect comments. The world won’t give a shit about us and we’ll still end up driving our miserable, sniveling brats to 30% of their play dates but………but…….um……there is no “but”, we’re fu**ed no matter how you slice it.
It’s difficult for me to imagine that there are too many straight dads in their forties reading my blog, but perhaps you know one you can pass this on to.
My favorite is the bit about vitriolic, poorly written, grammatically incorrect comments, but you knew that already.
This is the message I left on my husband’s voicemail yesterday.
Happy Monday to you!
Happy Monday to you!
Happy Monday, dear Mike!
Happy Monday to you!
(And many more….)
Hi, honey, I was just thinking about you and wanted to call and say hi and now I realize that today is actually Tuesday, which makes this the most humiliating voice message I’ve ever left. Bye.
Apparently prayer in schools is fine again.
Sarah Palin has already won.
This was already the most expensive, most inconvenient, most unpleasant, least rewarding business trip I’ve ever taken. At least it had the great virtue, however, of not putting me in contact with anybody who said, “Good morning, to whom do I have the pleasure of speaking with?”
Until fifteen minutes ago.
Am I to be spared nothing?