So, I’m sitting in my office the other day, sorting through the mail that has accumulated during my hiatus, and the phone rings. On the other end comes a male voice—polite, businesslike (well, actually, now that I reconstruct it: with the slightest trace of excruciatingly self-satisfied, condescension)—and a conversation ensues. In translation it went something like this:Me: “Holden here.” He: “Mr. Holden?” Me: “Yes, that’s me.” He: “I’m Tanaka of the Japanese Automotive Federation—JAF?—and I am calling about your membership.” Me: “Yes?” He: “Mr. Holden, did you receive our fax to you?”
I was actually in the process of considering that very same fax at that very moment. It being lumped in with the stack of mail that I was trying to catch up on. Of course, it being written in Japanese, I was according it the level of attention that I normally devote to missives in Japanese—which is to say, it was floating around the bottom of the pile.
Me: “Yes, I actually have it in my hands at the moment.”
(well, in a round-about sort of fashion).He: “Then, as you know, Mr. Holden, we were unable to complete your annual renewal.”
Which goes to show: you learn something new every day.
Of course, this placed me in a kind of pickle: having to choose between “Of course, I knew that” (since I had allowed I was holding the fax in my hand) and loosing a “%$#&*, you say!” (thereby letting on that I had just fibbed and actually didn’t have a clue, but, for my benefit, would need to learn more).
And since I am nothing like the suave, cool, gracious customer most neutral observers mistake me for, I immediately let loose with: “%$#&*, you say!” (or at least some Japanese equivalent thereof).
At which point the conversation adopted the following vector:He: “Yes, unfortunately, you are, as of this moment, not a member of our automobile association, so I am calling to see whether you wish to join as a new member.” Me: “Sure, as long as I can sign up for the fee that I tendered when I renewed my membership.”
(me, acting as if I hadn’t heard the guy, but actually surprising myself by recognizing the pricey direction in which this conversation was most certainly heading).He: “Regrettably, Mr. Holden, a new membership would require the start-up fee of two thousand yen.” Me: “That’s ridiculous. I already paid the 4000 to renew the membership.” He: “Yes, that’s true that you tried to pay the 4000 yen.”
(and don’t you not like the sound of that parsing)Me: (disregarding what Tanaka has just said) “Well, alright then. We should be square.” He: “Unfortunately, Mr. Holden, you paid with the form that was dated 2007, rather than the one that we sent in the mail stamped ‘2009’.”
this noise?Me: (being copacetic, just your average affable dupe trying to avoid being riled as he is getting shafted by the auto club) “Sure, okay. 2007, 2009—whatever. The point is that I paid for my renewal in December 2008, right? Clearly, you can see that my intention was to sign up for 2009 right? I mean, did you think I was trying to register for 2007 AGAIN?” He: “Frankly, Mr. Holden, it is not my job to try and discern the intention of our clients. We have so many of them and they have so many thoughts.”
He: “So, Mr. Holden? What would you like to do?”
Me: “Just like I intended when I paid: sign me up for 2009.”
He: “Oh, so you will send us the additional 2000 yen? Dandy. And when might we expect this payment?”
I allowed the static to substitute for my thoughts. Maybe the guy would appreciate the irony, the deeper metaphor. Or maybe he might just get religion. But no; after giving it 5 beats, he was heard to say:
God, these people! They’re relentless! Thick. And relentless.
Man, I thought that only Bruce Willis had these kind of days. Sometimes maybe Owen Wilson.
So what could I do? I mean, down to the last dip into the playbook, right? So I threw down about the last card I had. One that sometimes works in certain countries—well, at least one that I know of (although apparently—as I would now learn—not here in Japan) . That card was the “so-I-guess-you-are-willing-to-forego-my-annual-4000-yen-since-you-insist-on-the-one-time-payment-of-2000-yen” card. (Sometimes also going by the name of the “you-mean-you-are-so-stupid-that-you-can’t-see-the-logic-in-bending-a-rule-for-the-sake-of-creating-good-biz-buz?” card).
I guess not. Since I was met with more than 5 beats of silence. Mr. Tanaka giving me irony, or perhaps his version of religion, in return.
And, sadly, that is about how that conversation ended. Me saying: “So that’s it? You are willing to lose my 4000 yen because you insist on a new membership fee?” And he saying in return: “those are the rules, Mr. Holden.”
And me, in the grip of senseless automotive bureaucracy driving me senseless, reduced to blathering about: “Some fucking business model you guys have. TOTALLY unsympathetic toward your clients. WHO WOULD WANT YOU, ANYWAY? TELL ME THAT!”
Then slamming the receiver down.
Bold words, Mr. Holden . . .
. . . until the day comes that the tire blows on the remote, icy mountain road and the car skids off into the trees, and, thus, a wrecker has to be called, out into the frigid, moonless night.
But, before it does, some polite, unsympathetic voice on the other end identifies himself as “Tanaka” and says: “So . . . what can I do for you today . . . Mr . . . Holden?”
With only the slightest trace of excruciatingly self-satisfied, condescension.