The Bone Company
January 24, 1998
  $636.28. Six hundred thirty-six dollars and twenty-eight cents. That's what the pink notice from Pacific Bell says they want from me or they're going to turn my phone off. "Wha...?" says me.

The notice is pink and the language politely harsh because I'm sometimes a spaz about opening my mail. Either Beth brings it in and puts it on the kitchen counter and the nanny moves it somewhere else when she cleans and then moves it again the next time she cleans and I end up never seeing it, or I bring it in and put it on the shelf next to my monitor here and I get around to opening it later…usually much later. This time around (pink phone notices aren't uncommon for me) it's because I haven't paid my bill since November. Oops.

The $636.28 amount due is so staggering because I've apparently been placing calls to a number outside my local calling area and the toll charges added up. What the fuck??? The phone line in question is my computer line. I occasionally send faxes, but I use it primarily to connect to my internet service provider. Since this is a local call and I don't send out many faxes, my bill is usually in the $30 range. That's a far cry from $636.28. So I called them up and said, as politely as possible, "What the hell is going on here?"

Well. It turned out that what's going on is only the tip of the iceberg. There's a December bill coming down the pipeline for $700, and they haven't even looked at the charges for January yet. That's an insane $1,300 worth of phone charges with even more probably in the works. All this on a line that calls a single local number 99% of the time. Needless to say, I made them investigate the matter fully, secure in the knowledge that it was yet another billing mistake and that I'd come out smelling like a rose. Or maybe not.

It seems I screwed up...but so did they. When Beth gave me my zippy little X2 modem for my birthday, I started dialing in to a new number to reach my ISP. Since my ISP sucks a lot of the time this number wasn't terribly reliable, so I tried a different number and then must have forgotten to change the settings back. Or maybe not; the prefixes of the two numbers are 473 and 474 and the last four numbers are identical -- easy to get them confused -- so while I thought I was dialing Van Nuys I was really dialing Arcadia. Either way, though, both numbers were within my local calling area...until the phone company split the 818 area code (which I was calling to/from) into 626. At that point the wrong-but-still-local number I was dialing became a toll call.

They screwed up because I never received any notice that my local calling area was being truncated or that this number with the new area code was being billed differently from before. Also, I've never gotten one of those recorded "You must dial an area code..." messages -- I just dial the number as I've always done and connect. You'd think they'd at least have to give you some clue that you're now dialing long distance, wouldn't you? Something about this feels like highway robbery.

No, wait. It's now Day 2 of my leisurely writing of this entry and it turns out that the Arcadia number was never local to me; it's always been billed as a toll call. That's what I get for not opening my mail, I guess. Fucking hell.

The company line is: No adjustments to the bill. Period. The "good" (their quote, not mine) deal they'll give me is to let me pay it off over six months and keep the line, with the restriction that I can't dial long-distance or 900 numbers from the line. Gee, thanks, guys. I can still pay you $1,300+ and you won't let me make long-distance calls I (thought I) wasn't making before. Can you at least kiss me first? (I guess that's where the 900 numbers come it...but I can't call those, either.)

I hate being in this position. First off, I feel like a moron. If I were you reading this entry, believe me, I'd be mocking me mercilessly. I'd call Beth into the room to make fun of me. I'd point friends to this page, saying "Look at this yutz." I'd snicker at me, secure in the knowledge that I would never be this stupid. But, to appropriately garble the old saying, I guess the foot's on the other hand now.

Secondly, while I admit I screwed up, I feel like they should give me some wiggle room since this was an honest mistake, but I don't have any leverage to get that. While I keep thinking they should have warned me that my bill was going stratospheric because it was so obviously a deviation from my normal calling pattern, my logical mind insists they had no such responsibility. And they didn't, but damn it, it sure would have been nice if they did.

On the one hand, I know I have a responsibility to pay for the charges since I damn well made them. On the other, I think they're taking (unfair? probably not) advantage of me by not at least discounting the charges because they're internet calls and the phone company desperately wants to put a surcharge on those. I get the sense they'd be more willing to deal if I'd been making voice calls.

I'm conflicted because I have a deal of my own in mind: I ain't gonna pay. Disconnect me, never give me another phone line ever. That's fine; I'll just put in a new one in Beth's name. One good boning deserves another, eh?

Will I take that route? It sure is tempting, but I don't know. It goes against my moral code, my sense of personal responsibility. I'll feel like an asshole if I don't pay and I'll probably lose sleep over it. But then, I'll feel like a schmuck asshole if I do pay. If they'd knock even a small amount off, that would be moral victory enough for me to suck it up and pay.

My phone bill has become an ethical Antietam. Jeez, I really need to get out more.

Copyright © 1998
Chuck Atkins