L. Neil Smith's
Number 308, February 27, 2005

"Too busy... to pick up a pitchfork and start the revolution."

Set Thine House In Order
by Jonathan David Morris

Special to TLE

"Anger is a gift."—Zack de la Rocha

A few days ago, a friend told me I don't write as angry as I used to. "You were better when you were mad," he said. A few months ago, a reader made a similar observation. Actually, what he said was: "Are you too happily married? You're losing your edge."

So what's the deal here? Have I become a kinder, gentler JDM? Should I fight with my wife more often... for the sake of my column? Honestly, I'm not sure I was ever angry to begin with. But who knows, maybe those guys are onto something. The other day, I found myself watching the scene in Rocky III where Rocky admits he's afraid—not just of losing in the ring, but of losing the life he's won for himself outside it. Rocky went soft and got civilized. I have to admit I knew how he was feeling. If it happened to him, could it happen to me? Might I be losing the eye of the tiger?

It's true the news doesn't rile me up like it used to. For instance, what happened last week? Let's see. Chris Rock roasted diversity and the Oscars. I'm supposed to care about this? What else? Jose Canseco told "60 Minutes" he used to shoot steroids straight up Mark McGwire's butt. Worth getting mad at? Maybe if you're Mark McGwire. But not if you're me (or even if you're you). And, finally, the president requested $82 godzillion in bomb-the-world funds. I guess that makes me kind of angry. I mean, I wish he'd stop bombing the world. I live there. But what do you want from me? I'm a needle in a haystack here. If I fell in a forest, I wouldn't make a sound.

The truth is, I do get angry. Quite often, in fact. But I tend to get angry at things that, you know, actually affect me. Like paying bills.

Here's an example. In Pennsylvania, we have an energy company called PECO. A week ago, PECO called me to tell me to call them (weird, right?). So I did as instructed and they told me I hadn't paid my January bill. "I submitted it online," I said. Which was true. PECO contracts an online service called CheckFree, which features a crummy interface and a golden retriever mascot who retrieves your payments and delivers them for you. Well, silly me, I thought I submitted my January payment when I went to CheckFree's website in January and submitted it. But apparently that stupid dog had the day off; PECO never got the bill. So I asked PECO's customer service rep if I could pay by phone. Yes, she said, but I'd have to call their billing department because: "If customer service processed payments, we wouldn't get anything done." Right.

So I called billing, who said I'd have to pay $1 to use their pay-by-phone system, as well a $1.88 late fee on the bill. I refused. Why should I pay a late fee? Let CheckFree pay it. They're the ones who suck. Furthermore, a dollar to pay by phone? What kind of crap is that? The snob in billing said, "It's only a dollar, sir. If you paid by check, you'd pay 37 cents. It's not much more." Hey, you know what, jerk face? It's my house and my money, and I will decide what's "not much more" around here. Okay? That 63 cent margin could feed a kid in a Sally Struthers commercial. And, furthermore, after the last few bills PECO sent me, I'm going to need every dollar I can get. Maybe if you weren't paying people to call and tell me to call you back, I wouldn't be paying "only a dollar, sir" to use an automated pay-by-phone system. You'd swallow the cost yourselves. You idiots. Clocks without batteries do a better job than you.

Then there's Verizon. Their motto is: "We never stop working for you." Well, that's what happens when you screw things up—you make more work for yourself. And no one screws things up better than Verizon. For months now, I've been trying to join their One-Bill service, which, in theory, would make my life easier by combining my landline and cell phone bills. Last month, I spent over an hour on the phone with them, and at the end they ensured me I was enrolled. Then last week, I got a letter saying my One-Bill application had not been approved. "We would be glad to discuss your application in greater detail," the note said. It then failed to give a phone number. This, from a freaking phone company.

So I looked up their number and gave them a call. After checking my records, they said, "Oh, here's the problem: You can't enroll in One-Bill unless your wireless account has a zero balance." Well, that's funny. That's what you morons said last month. "Pay your bill." So I paid it. Here we are a month later and it needs to be paid again. Know why? Because that's the nature of a monthly bill, you goddam, good-for-nothing blockheads. It goes around in circles like a tail-chasing dog. If Verizon was Scout, the CheckFree Bill Retriever, I'd put it to sleep this time tomorrow. And I wouldn't feel bad.

If Verizon and Verizon Wireless didn't operate independent of each other, this wouldn't be happening. Unfortunately, in the company's never-ending quest to own everything, customer satisfaction has slipped through the cracks. I've been working on One-Bill since November. Somehow, I haven't received one bill from either division in that time. And this service is supposed to make my life easier? Yeah, sure. And maybe sticking my hands in a blender will make it more fun to write.

You want to know what makes me mad nowadays? This is it. Verizon and PECO. Companies I have no choice but to work with, because they have contracts in the area where I live. No wonder they don't serve me better: I'm living on their land. If modern America had half as many testicles as it claims to, we would do away with all such arrangements and start forcing companies to answer to us—to we, the people—instead of the profit-sharers working in town hall. I'm not saying all of these companies are abusive (I haven't had problems with Comcast, for instance), but many of them are. And the only reason they get away with it is because most people are too busy paying their bills and putting their kids through school to pick up a pitchfork and start the revolution. Most of us barely have time to cook dinner. That's why we eat Big Macs. How convenient for all parties involved.

With any luck, Verizon and PECO will read this article and spitefully delete me from their databases. Then I'll have no heat and my pipes will burst, and I won't have a phone to call someone to fix them. This will be the service charge—the small price to pay, sir — for freedom from their tyrannical ways.

Actually, scratch that. Forget I said it. I don't feel like explaining why we have no heat to my wife.

Jonathan David Morris writes a weekly column for The Aquarian and other publications. His website is www.readjdm.com, and he can be reached at jdm@readjdm.com.

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