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.”
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’.”
Can you believe 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.”
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:
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?”
God, these people! They’re relentless! Thick. And relentless.
Me: “2000 yen?! For what?”
He: “For the new members fee.”
Me: “But see — look, I’m NOT a new member. So, WHY would I have to pony up for a new member fee?”
He: “Technically, Mr. Holden,” this guy, Tanaka, putting on his infinitely patient and excruciatingly self-satisfied, condescending “I-would-never-dream-of-condescending-to-clients” voice, “you ARE a new member — since your membership expired.”
Me: “How could it expire if I sent the fucking money in to you guys?”
He: “Because even though the money arrived, it came with the wrong form, and so we couldn’t process it. And when we sent you a fax to this effect prior to the end of the year, you never responded –“
Me: “That’s because I was &%#`* overseas! So, how COULD I respond?”
He: “Yes, yes, Mr. Holden. A very valid excuse, your being away. Unfortunately, that doesn’t change the fact that your membership was allowed to lapse and, because it elapsed, your name was removed from our registration rolls. And, thus, if you wish your name placed back on the rolls — which we would be very happy to do — then we will require a new membership fee, as technically, you ARE becoming a new member.”
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.