Cell Phone Contracts

Why is it that the cell phone contract, free CD club or gym membership is the most ironclad agreement in our society? I honestly think I’d have a better chance of breaking a pact with the devil himself than being able to freely opt out of a cell phone contract.

Satan: “In exchange for unlimited night and weekend minutes and a free phone, I demand eternal possession of your soul!”
Consumer: “Well, actually… those terms are more favorable than Verizon’s plan. Sign me up.”

Unfortunately, Satan would be far more reasonable and compassionate than the typical account representative at a cell phone company. These sadistic people actually enjoy telling customers they are locked into their cellular plan for the next decade. If you call to complain about your bill, they offer you a recitation of the fine print of the cell phone contract. Of course, if we wanted to know the contents of the contract, we would have read it as we were signing it in the first place. As a nation of people constantly seeking “do-overs,” these institutions really strike a nerve by making us abide by the ridiculous provisions we’ve foolishly agreed to. To add insult to injury, these industries seem to flaunt the fact that they’ve screwed us, and there’s nothing we can do about it…

The biggest problem with cell phone plans is the numerous restrictions placed on utilizing the “free” minutes included with your plan. For starters, your call has to take place within a narrow, gerrymandered region called your “Home Calling Area.” Naturally, this region is designed to somehow exclude major cities, roadways, and inhabited areas. Also, for good measure, it will usually be localized entirely within another state.

In cell-phone geography, the world can be divided into two regions: the “Home Calling Area” and the “Roaming Area.” If you are brazen enough to go into the uncharted roaming area, all bets are off… Will you get reception? Possibly. Will you be gouged for any calls you make? Definitely. The area designated as roaming territory is a rugged, savage, untamed land. Picture “Lord of the Flies” with spotty cell phone service. Venturing into the roaming area is a brave endeavor, and if you are lucky enough to make it back to your “Home Calling Area” alive, a staggering cell phone bill will be your only reward.

Of course, the premise of a “Home Calling Area” contradicts the whole purpose of the cell phone in general, which is to give enhanced freedom and flexibility in our active lives. Unless your lifestyle is that of a shut-in, or you happen to be among the bedridden or incarcerated members of our society, most of us would tend to venture outside of the “Home Calling Area” on occasion.

It gets worse. Even if you are fortunate enough to be immobilized within your “Home Calling Area,” don’t plan on placing a call to anyone that isn’t a night watchman or working the graveyard shift at a 7-11. You see, only calls made after 9 pm are included in your “free” minutes. So, essentially, to get any value out of your plan, you need to be nocturnal as well. Seriously, is anyone so frugal that they wait until nightfall to suddenly decide to communicate with the outside world? Do these individuals read by moonlight to save on their electric bill?

Anyway, if you happen to be extremely lethargic, especially during daylight hours, then you might have a sliver of satisfaction with your cellular phone plan. Otherwise, you are like the millions of us that pay handsomely for “free” minutes that are pretty much impossible to ever use. While it is tempting to be the cheapskate that calls people at 2am just because it is a free call, most of us choose to incur ridiculous roaming fees and pay for daytime minutes because we all know what will happen if we try to cancel the plan…

Account Representative (feigning sympathy): “I’m sorry sir, you have not fulfilled your ten-year contract agreement, you will be assessed an early cancellation fee.”
Consumer: “Ok… how much is this fee?”
Account Representative (restraining maniacal laughter): “Your regular bill for the duration of the remainder of your contract!! Bwaa Haa Haa Ha Haaaa!!!”

Not to be outdone, the CD clubs like Columbia House and BMG create their own unique headache. In comparison to the cell phone plan, what the CD club lacks in restrictions, it makes up for in endless hassles. Somehow it all looks so good on paper… “14 CD’s for a penny!!! How can I lose!?!” one thinks at the time. Nobody anticipates that this promotion will essentially ruin their life.

Based on your free CD selections, the staff at BMG will determine that your main musical taste happens to be whatever crap they need to liquidate from their warehouse. For the rest of your life, they will continue to send you movie soundtracks from the 80’s, Slash or Tommy Lee’s latest solo album, or anything featuring Shaq. Of course, you have a few days to return these selections, but unless you maintain Unabomber-like regularity to and from the post office, you’ll likely be stuck with a CD library heavily stocked with artists featured in VH1’s “Where Are They Now?”

Sadly, a CD club can destroy friendships and even tear a family apart. How do they do it? By offering a free CD to members that can convince a friend or loved one to join their CD club. The old saying “misery loves company,” was actually coined as their main marketing slogan. Let’s face it, only a depraved sociopath would sell out their family for a free CD. And simply put, anyone who asks you to join their CD club is not a true friend, as this person has pretty much determined that your friendship is worth about 15 dollars.

New, unwitting CD Club member: “Dude, this CD club you convinced me to sign up for is a total rip-off! It’s ruined my life!”
So-Called Friend (shrugging): “Yeah, it happens…”
New CD Club Member: “If you wanted to end our friendship, why couldn’t you just steal my girlfriend or something…”

Finally, the gym membership really takes it to a whole other level. They not only demand that consumers sign an outrageous contract, but also charge them a fee just to do so. Somehow, the gyms and health clubs convince people to pay a “registration fee” in exchange for being stripped of their consumer rights. This is the equivalent of paying a car-jacker for his services.

Shockingly, these “registration fees” are frequently hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars. It’s really more like joining a cult instead of a gym. When you’re ready to join, they both make you sign over all your worldly possessions to their organization. The next thing you know, “24 Hour Fitness” is a joint owner of your bank account. Finally, both are virtually impossible to extricate oneself from. Although, at least if you wanted to leave the cult it would probably only involve a violent shootout with Federal agents.

Finally, there is a common thread to the cell phone plan, gym membership and CD club: Clearly, we really only have ourselves to blame. However, I’m still going to blame lawyers. The question is, who are these lawyers that can even put together such a loophole-free arrangement? If there’s one thing the legal profession has taught me, it’s that virtually any contractual obligation can be destroyed with semantics, legalese and technicalities. The one exception, of course, is the onerous contracts of cell phone companies…

Prison Inmate: “How’d the hearing go?”
Lawyer: “Well, I got the triple-homicide charges reduced to a jaywalking fine, but, unfortunately, you’re still locked into your Verizon contract through 2008. They just wouldn’t budge… I’m sorry.”
Inmate (dejected): “Is there still time to fire up the electric chair?”

There’s a heathen amongst us…

When my fiance moved to Spokane a few months ago she immediately transformed the kitchen from “The Room that the Microwave Is In” into a warm, functioning room of the house. For the first time ever, the freezer contained something other than ice, the cupboards stored food instead of sporting goods, and I began to eat meals that didn’t have the words “pizza” or “pocket” in them.

However, while it has been a welcome change, it hasn’t necessarily been an easy transition. One of the first items introduced into my environment was a “spoon rest.” For all the heathens out there that don’t know what this is, allow me to explain. It is a hand-crafted little piece of ceramic tile, usually with a charming little phrase like “A warm meal makes a happy home,” or some other flamboyantly domestic scripture printed on it. It’s function: After stirring the contents of a pot of food on the stove, the “spoon rest” provides a handy place to set your spoon until ready to stir again. Truthfully, she had to explain to me the use of such an item multiple times.

Now, prior to the spoon rest being presented into our home, I was simply setting the spoon on the counter like a barbarian. To her, I basically had the culture and couth of an unfrozen caveman living in modern times. So, our household is essentially a marathon viewing of the movie “Encino Man.” For instance, when she first showed me a spoon rest, I immediately grabbed it, stuffed it in my mouth, noisily chewed it up and swallowed it mostly whole.

Of course, when my fiance witnessed this display, her mind questioned my savage behavior, and she reasoned (correctly) that I probably wasn’t housebroken, either.

In light of the difficulties I had grasping the concept of a “spoon rest,” my fiance decided to slowly acclimate me to the rest of her kitchen supplies. First, she threw out all the rocks and sticks I had been using to prepare food and replaced them with shiny, metal objects. One by one I would hold them up to the light, each one shinier and more metallic than the last, gazing at them in amazement like a monkey being given a mirror.

My fiance has been patient and is working hard to introduce me into modern society. When I mess up, she gently reminds me that Roger Fouts has got Washoe and the other primates to use spoon rests in the Chimp Lab. So, there’s hope for us all…

Econ 101: Saving Money

After living with my fiance for a few months now, I’ve come to realize that men and women have a vastly different definition of saving money. For instance, my fiance will return from the mall every Sunday afternoon with several armloads of shopping bags, a car trunk full of more merchandise and a delivery truck idling in the driveway. I, being the designated curmudgeon of the household, raise a suspicious eyebrow when she enters the door. Before I say a word, she will instantly begin a defense of her extravagant spending and boast of all the money she saved

Now, unless those shopping bags are full of deposit receipts from our local bank, I fail to see how any saving has occurred. In my miserly book, spending money can ever be considered saving money. I learned quickly that when she’s eager to share the news of her “savings,” she’s not referring to her 401k. To my dismay, she instead held up an endless parade of jeans, sweaters, jewelry, makeup and dozens of other “necessities” that up to this point we had somehow miraculously managed to live without. Some people save for retirement by investing in bonds and stocks, we on the other hand, have our “savings” diversified in GAP clothing, Latte’s and extended warranties.

Tragically, this logic is lost on my fiance. She comes home expecting praise for all the “good buys” and “great sale prices” she found; instead she gets a microeconomics lesson from Professor Scrooge P. Pennypincher (a.k.a. Me). Somehow, in a form of girl-math I’ll never understand, a woman can empty her bank account in a shopping spree, yet still feel she is somehow coming out ahead. In fact, I wonder if women come home from shopping trips and worry about having to claim this new “income” on their tax return.

Sensing my initial frustration, my fiance is convinced that if she shows me all of her purchases and itemizes her spending aloud I’ll suddenly realize what a great deal we got on stuff we didn’t need. During this fashion show, sometimes she will treat me like a contestant on “The Price Is Right” and ask me to guess the “actual retail price” of her items. Since “Plinko” chips or a possible “Showcase Showdown” are not on the line, my enthusiasm is somewhat lacking. Of course, the grand finale comes when she announces the rock-bottom price she paid, and awaits my series of back flips while she reminds the audience to have their pets spayed or neutered…

Of course, this reaction doesn’t come. The saddest part of this struggle is the contrast in lifestyles we lead. My fiance makes Paris Hilton look frugal, while I’m basically living like an Amish street-urchin. I’m not ashamed to admit I still wear Homecoming ’94 T-shirts from high school and have hole-filled underwear on right now. It’s very frustrating, unlike my fiance, I can only dream of indulging in luxurious items like “bottled water” and having clothes “dry cleaned.”

Naturally, the stores and retail chains are complicit in this operation. This is especially maddening, as the stores know a woman will buy something she already has, or worse, doesn’t even need because it is On Sale! In fact, I think women’s clothing boutiques don’t even bother printing the total amount of their purchase, since women aren’t really concerned with that figure anyway. Instead, they boldly display a grand total of their “savings,” and bury the actual money spent somewhere in the fine print or on illegible carbon paper… Using a formula of inflated regular prices, tons of advertising, and fictitious “sales,” the stores have managed to transform shopping into an investment opportunity. Women leave the stores well dressed and penniless, yet somehow feeling shrewd over the dealings. Of course, when I point this out, I’m not being a savvy consumer, but rather, the cheapskatiest man on earth.

So, anyway, sorry if this got a little verbose, I just have a lot of time to think about these issues during my graveyard shifts at the second job I’ve taken to pay off our staggering bills. But fear not, I’ve decided to go on the offensive… This Sunday I plan to set my alarm for 4 am so I can race to the driveway and divulge the paper of its plentiful ads. And, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go rip all the cable jacks out of my house, as JC Penney launched a new commercial using the teaser: “The more you spend, the more you save!!!” God help us…

Acoustical Analysis (pun intended)

I’m convinced the best acoustics in the world are not at the Mormon Tabernacle in Utah, nor the Gorge Amphitheater, or even in the shower as is commonly believed. The best acoustics in the world are in the toilet bowl in the bathroom at my workplace. You can hear the activities in there for miles. I swear there is a hidden mic or something. The slightest puff of air sounds like twister is right outside the window. There is a printed out sheet of paper tacked above the toilet warning everyone of the extreme consequences of their actions, so to speak, but no one follows it because, apparently, I work with a stealth team of Mission: Impossible poopers. You know, the ones who think they can just sit and lower down their payload without triggering any of the acoustic or motion detectors expertly tucked inside the toilet bowl. Needless to say, they are wrong and the whole office is acutely aware of their misperception.

You would think the person who designs toilet bowls would probably put in some of that sound dampening material or something. Or not make it a perfect parabola that just bounces all the sound waves into one loud focal point. Come to think of it, if I designed toilet bowls I wouldn’t change a thing. How else would I get any “feedback” on my designs?

Modern-Day Romance

on our first date
we hit it off
i said I was a Little Ceasar’s man
you said you wanted a slice
but not from Pizza Hut
because they don’t have cheap crazy bread

we both like Target
way better than Mervyn’s
for clothes and for knick knacks
even though they are similar
how perfect is that

but it hasn’t been all
Ben and Jerry’s
you’ve opened my eyes
to feelings I’ve never known
I had never even tried
the chalupa at Taco Bell
when you said it was better
than the gordita
it was a struggle
but now I think we are on common ground

we both like the Gap
but would never shop at Abercrombie
we both think that Burger King
is way better than McDonalds
we are like two scoops
of the same ice cream at Baskin-Robbins

but i knew it was fate
the night we shared
that we both can’t stand
but loved Saved By the Bell

we share everything there
is to share with one another
and we play back the memories
over the soundtrack from
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

and we won’t get chicken
from KFC
because it’s too greasy