Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Final Payment in Kafka's World: My Story

I sleepily answer the telephone on my nightstand at
8:30 am Friday, September 25 – my day off.

Bank: Hallo. Is this Hessy Rye-no?
Me: That’s Jessie Ray-nor. Just like it’s spelled.
Bank: Yes. Yes. Mrs. Rye-no. This is Its-urg Bank calling.
Can you verify your home address?
Me: Who did you say you are?
Bank: Its-urg Bank. Please verify your place of employment.
Me: Are you saying Pittsburg Bank?
Bank: Yes. Yes. Please verify your home address, place of employment and telephone number.
Me: I don’t have an account with Pittsburg Bank.
Bank: Are you sure, Mrs. Rye-no? What about a car loan?
Me: I sent my final car payment to Fifth Third Bank in July. Oh,
is that what you’re saying – Fifth Third Bank?
Bank: Yes. Yes. Its-urg Bank car loan. You still owe $250.85,
and it’s now past due.
Me: Hold on a minute. I already sent my final payment in July.
It wasn’t even due until August. I’ve been waiting to get my car title from you guys.
Bank: Yes. Yes. Your balance of $250.85 is past due and
there’s a $35 penalty charge.
Me: You’ve got to be joking! I’ve been making my payments
a month in advance for four years. I used the last coupon in the payment booklet.
Bank: Didn’t you get a balance letter?
Me: Obviously not.
Bank: Didn’t you call the bank?
Me: Why would I? I’ve been expecting the bank to send my
title. And I’m not paying any $35 penalty.
Bank: You’ll have to take that up with the Dispute Department,
Mrs. Rye-no.

I dial the number for the Dispute Department.

Me: There seems to be a misunderstanding about my
final payment…
Bank: Did you receive a letter?
Me: Obviously not. Look at my credit history. I’m an
excellent customer. I’ve been making payments a month in advance for four years. Hey, is this going to affect my credit record?
Bank: Not as long as we receive the final payment by
September 25th.
Me: But that’s TODAY! How was I supposed to pay a bill I
didn’t know I owed? And I’m not paying any penalty!
Bank: You’ll have to take that up with the Customer
Service Department, Mrs. Raynor. Call this number and ignore the automated questions. Just push zero twice and you’ll be speaking to a representative.

I follow the directions and nothing "please hold for the next available representative," no music, no nothing. I hang up and try again. Nothing. Again. Nothing. Again. Again. Again. Ten minutes pass, so I try answering the automated questions.

Bank: Yellow. Tits-ferg Bank
Me: Is this the Collections Department?
Bank: Yes. Yes.
Me: I’ve been trying to reach your Customer Service Department for ten minutes and nothing happens.
Bank: Just call the number and hit zero twice.
Me: I’ve done that and nothing happens.
Bank: You’ll have to take that up with the Dispute Department.

I dial the Dispute Department…again…and explain the situation.

Bank: It sounds like you’re having a bad morning, Mrs. Raynor.
Let me try to dial that number for you.

Minutes pass…

Bank: It’s not working for me either, Mrs. Raynor. Please hang on and I’ll keep trying.

MORE minutes pass…

Bank: Mrs. Raynor, I’m going to try to set up a conference call
with you, me and Customer Service. Maybe we can get through that way. Keep holding please.

MORE and MORE minutes pass…

Bank: I’ve got Joe from Customer Service on the line. Joe, this
is Mrs.Raynor and she needs your help.
Bank: Hello, Mrs. Raynor.
Me: Hello, Joe. I have some questions about my final payment.
Bank: OK – I’m going to hang up in the Dispute Department
now that you and Joe are talking. Have a good day.


Me: Joe? Joe, are you still there? Joe?

I dial the Dispute Department…AGAIN…and explain the situation. I've now spent well over an hour of my life on this.

Bank: It sounds like you’re having a bad morning, Mrs.
Raynor. We’re so sorry. I’ll try to patch you through to Customer Service again
Me: No! Just give them my phone number and have them
call right away. I’ll be sitting here waiting.

Ten more minutes pass…
Ring. Ring.

Bank: This is Customer Service. I hear you’ve been having a
bad morning. Now what’s your problem?
Me: My problem? I think the problem is yours. I never received
a final payment letter about a balance on a car loan that I thought I’d paid off back in July. You’re penalizing me $35. Your Customer Service number doesn’t work. And your collections people can’t pronounce Fifth Third.

It took over two hours before the bank and I came to a resolution. The bank would FAX me the final payment letter, which required a trip to my office (on my day off) to pick up. They promised to waive the penalty and said nothing would happen to my credit record if I got the check in the mail. I did.

I sleepily answer the telephone on my nightstand at
8:00 am Sunday, September 27.

Bank: Rellow. Is this Ressy Reen-rear?
Me: That’s Jessie Ray-nor. Just like it’s spelled. Hey, wait
a minute is this Fifth Third Bank about my car loan? I sent the check.
Bank: Yes. Yes. This is Rits-rurg Bank. Do you have that
check number?
Me: Not right here! I’m in bed! It’s 8 o’clock Sunday morning!
Bank: You don’t have to raise your voice, Mrs. Reen-rear.
Bank: You don’t need to speak to me like that, Mrs. Reen-rear.
Me: That’s right! I don’t need to speak to you at all.


A month later I received a $34.85 check for overpayment of my loan and was told to go to the county government building to get my car title. Franz Kafka himself couldn’t have written a more nightmarish ending.

Friday, October 16, 2009


If Akron had a writer laureate, it would be my Patchwork Nation-Akron colleague David Giffels, a longtime newspaper columnist and book author. His September 24 blog titled “OH YEAH – THEY ALSO PLAY FOOTBALL THERE” inspired my writing this piece.

With bands, barbecues, fireworks blasts, parachutists and a sold-out crowd of over 30,000 people, the University of Akron (UA) celebrated opening day of its brand new football stadium. Besides excited students and alums, there were university, government and business leaders sitting in premium seats, munching upscale concessions, hobnobbing, glad-handing and celebrating this $61.6 million expenditure. Adding to the festivities, the UA Zips football team annihilated the “nobody-ever-heard-of-before” Morgan State 41-0.

I know this all secondhand because although I was offered premium seats for the game I declined. First, I’m not a UA graduate so nostalgia wasn’t in play. Second -- in what Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman calls an “education recession” -- I think spending millions of dollars on a football stadium isn’t the best investment of our community’s financial treasure.

But wait you say! Won’t this glorious stadium entice more young people to go to college? As a matter of fact, UA has enjoyed increased enrollment in recent years by enhancing its urban landscape using many millions of dollars to add 11 new structures, including new academic buildings and fancy dorm rooms. Plus there’s the new student union with a movie theatre, Starbucks, food court, billiards room and bowling alley and the new recreation center with a 56-foot rock climbing wall, three-court gymnasium, leisure pool, spa, lazy river and cafe. BUT, according to the Akron Beacon Journal newspaper, the university’s graduation rate is below 40%. Obviously UA is doing a better job getting students to enroll than getting them graduated.

In a recent New York Times column, Krugman reported that the U.S. -- once the leader in educating its young -- has fallen behind other advanced economies. This acclaimed Princeton professor wrote, “If you had to explain America’s economic success with one word that word would be education.” Yet today America has a college graduation rate below the average across all advanced countries.

The current economic crisis has further assaulted our declining educational statistics with increased teacher/professor job losses due to decreased state and federal funding. Universities are canceling faculty searches, hence class sizes are larger. Plus they’re shifting to non-tenure-track and part-time instructors who can be paid shamefully low wages and no benefits. At UA 60% of its faculty is non-tenured or part-timers. According to an October 3 Beacon Journal article, one part-time UA professor “earns the annualized equivalent of $8.65 an hour.”

Maybe that’s why I overheard this conversation between two stock girls bagging loose potatoes in my neighborhood organic market. “Yeah, I just couldn’t afford to go back to the U. this fall. Why did you quit?” said one. The other answered, “My husband graduated two years ago, and I can earn almost as much working here as he does. It’s not worth the time or money.” Perhaps she’s married to a part-time professor.

This is a particular problem for Akron, which is in Northeast Ohio where only 25.2% of the population age 25 and up holds a four-year college degree. Even Detroit and Buffalo have more college grads, and growing areas such as Austin, Texas and Raleigh, North Carolina approach 40%. According to a September 27 Beacon Journal editorial, economic analyses invariably show that talent drives economic development and what measures talent is the amount of higher education.

Once I questioned an acquaintence -- who already had a bachelor’s and two master’s degrees -- why he was applying to law school. He explained that he grew up in a family of Holocaust survivors. They taught him that people can take away his money, his house, his family and all his worldly treasures, but no one can take away the treasures he puts in his mind.

Now back to football – following the gala stadium opening the Zips quarterback was suspended from the team for an undisclosed infraction of team policy, an assistant coach was put on leave under allegations of violating NCAA recruiting rules and a lineman was suspended until the outcome of a felonious assault charge is resolved. The next week in front of a half-full stadium, the Zips' back-up quarterback led them to a 38 to 21 loss to Indiana. They lost on the road to Central Michigan 48 to 21. Back in the new stadium for Homecoming, the Zips lost to Ohio University 19 to 7. In the first half, the back-up quarterback suffered a torn ACL to his left knee and is out for the season.

Foolish actions by players and coaches or just a hard-hitting tackle can take away a university’s hopes for an exciting football season and crowds at a new $61.6-million stadium, but no one can take away the educational treasures a university puts in the minds of its graduates.