The Meanderthals

The Art of the Dismount

Gymnasts and equestrians will tell you that the dismount is an art form in and of itself. Mess up the landing and you’ll end up in a heap, your bones and ego severely bruised.

So it is with the “dismount” from life in These United States. It’s a complicated weave of contractual relationships, processes and procedures that confound the mind and fray the nerves as one takes the steps to undo an adult’s life of living in a place with heat, electricity, cable and internet, of owning stuff like cars and cell phones, and of figuring out how to stash what money you have in a place where you can readily get at it from 10,000 miles away.

The whole blessed process seemed fairly straightforward at first glance, but we’ve learned that the devil is not only in the details, but also in the fine print of a Verizon Wireless contract.

Here lies the beast of reality, and there’s a price attached to it – albeit relatively small, but as is often the case, annoyingly unmovable.

Yes, I was told by a friendly Verizon Wireless customer service professional when I called on the way back from visiting friends in Maine last week, there was no problem in cancelling my service.

First, though, he was prompted to ask why I was doing such a thing, as though giving up my 14-year phone number made about as much sense as, well, moving to Cambodia. He seemed to accept my explanation, agreeing that roaming charges from Southeast Asia probably made keeping my Blackberry and Verizon number financially unfeasible.

But wasn’t there someone I know in the US who would like to take over my number? Perhaps inherit my Blackberry? Absent my SIM card, the damned thing and my phone number is perfectly transferrable.

Alas, everyone I know is all set in the cell phone department, and that brings us back to the bare fact of a simple cancellation.

No problem.

There is, he informed me, the nasty little detail of an early termination fee. Turns out that when I powered up my Blackberry last September – doing so only after my beloved Palm Treo, which I truly miss and am more than a little embarrassed to admit as much – died a premature and powerless death. (As a separate issue, I was unable to transfer the data from one device to another, turning my life into a temporarily miserable exercise of manually typing phone numbers into my Blackberry and deciding which I would do without in the spirit of expedience. I have similarly been unable to backup my Blackberry as simply as I could my Palm to save my contact info and personal data, even after spending more than six hours on the phone with a tech at Research in Motion – the Canadian company that inflicted the Blackberry upon humanity. The downgrade in functionality was astonishing, and at the time it pained me considerably to give up my relationship with Palm.)

But I digress, and should get back to the story.

Despite the fact that I despise my Blackberry, miss my Treo, resent the time and effort it took me to transfer my life from a device I loved to one I loathe, and despite the fact that I had to pay to replace a broken year-old device with another, I apparently also had to sign a new two-year service contract in order to get a discount from the Blackberry’s list price.

Enter the incontrovertible presence of a duly signed and executed contract, and the intrepid Verizon Wireless rep sweetly offered to review the contract with me over the phone.

Yeah, it’s only $130, but it’s the principle. I had no choice but to buy a new device, and even though I knew I’d never fulfill my contract I had to sign the thing or do without.

It simply didn’t seem fair.

I cherish a good challenge, and so I launched into an appeal to my new friend in an effort to convince him to waive the cancellation fee. After all, I explained, the device had not only let me down in terms of ease of use, but had also frustratingly blocked me from all but making and receiving calls and receiving and sending emails. No web access. No Google. No Yelp. No Bing.

No dice, he explained.

Turns out that waiving the early cancellation fee is about as likely as BP’s stock rising 50% in today’s trading. A contract’s a contract, and unless you’re a Goldman Sachs mortgage-backed securities trader, someone has to pay.

I switched tactics.

“No problem,” I cooed into the phone, my voice turning icy. “Give me an email address to write to, and once we settle into our new home in Cambodia you can send me an invoice and I’ll pay it.”

“We can’t do that,” he answered, pausing only slightly before countering my verbal joust.

“Why not?” I parried.

“We don’t mail to Cambodia,” he thrusted.

“Now we have a problem,” I reasoned. “You seem like a smart and reasonable guy. You wouldn’t pay a bill without receiving an invoice, now would you? Great. Neither would I. And believe me, there is really and truly mail delivery to Cambodia. They get stuff delivered all the time. Seems as though a global power like Verizon Wireless ought to be able to slap 90 cents worth of postage on an envelope and mail my bill to me.”

“Sorry, sir. That’s not our policy,” delivering the fatal blow into the heart of our conversation.

We were at an impasse, the immovable forces of a stubborn middle-aged guy and corporate policy at odds over $130 lousy bucks.

I’m embarrassed to say that I lost it.

“OK, so let’s play it this way. You can bill me for the $130, but I’m damned if I’ll pay it. And you can track me down, if you can find me, in a city in southeast Asia of 1.2 million people, and show up on my doorstep with a payment demand notice for your cruddy $130 and I’ll pay you in Riel.”

He was unfazed, probably sensing the approaching end of our charming time on the phone together and anticipating the next eager caller.

Stymied, we ended the conversation and I hung up, fuming to Gabi that I’d sooner pull my fingernails out one by one rather than pay this bill. My jaw clenched, I gripped the wheel and began to steel my resolve to show Verizon Wireless a thing or two.

Two days later I saw the light, realizing that a contract is a contract, and that, as I loved to tell my buddy Dave, “it’s only money”, and also realizing that fairness and compromise have no place in a discussion about a cell phone contract.

So I’ll fork over the money, long as I can get onto the internet in Phnom Penh and pay my bill when it arrives electronically.

What strikes me as odd, though, is the fact that of all the relationships we have severed in the past month or so – electricity, cable, car insurance, Fast Lane passes, Speed Pass fobs, Boston Globe home delivery, banking and financial advisor changes – it was the dismount from a puissant cell phone contract that left me face down and defeated.

Forced to compliance, relegated to acquiescence, stonewalled by corporate policy.

Like any respectable gymnast or equestrian, however, I know the importance of getting back on the beam, back in the saddle, of jumping back in the game.

So I’ll sign off for now. I have an appointment with the Registry of Motor Vehicles today.


  • snapper

    Hilarious. That’ll make us think twice when our cell re-up times come. Safe travels, S&G. Can’t wait to read the next installment.Wishing you a clean ‘mount’ into the next phase of your life.

  • Francie

    So I hope you sent this right on to Fraffie Welch, so it can go into her weekly column/rant about the phone companies? (plural?) Ah, the departure! Can’t break those nasty wires so easily after all, eh? (Think of it philosophically. SOMEbody at Verizon does NOT want you to go, see, and they put their best guy on the end of the line with you to ensure it … Do NOT let these people win!!)Your humility in the face of the immovable was truly admirable, though. When at last you’re on the plane to Cambodia, this will seem tiny, tiny, tiny …. rather like the poor souls who have to remain patient and polite when the irate US are on the phone!!!! xo

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