Thursday, November 20, 2008

“Bailout Bandwagon: Chapter Three”

c. 2008 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

It was a quiet morning in the Icehouse home office. Melting snow dripped from our rooftop. Swelling puddles spotted the lawn. Neighborhood traffic echoed in and out of earshot, under a cloudy sky. But nothing seemed willing to break the calm.

I sorted through news reports, while drinking coffee. My thoughts began to drift toward writing a new book. One about watching world events from the front porch of a rural home in Geauga County, USA…

Suddenly, the telephone interrupted my daydream. It rang with ferocity.

“Hello!” I said numbly, trying to gather my thoughts. “You’ve reached the Icehouse!”

A dramatic pause followed. Then came a squawking voice that spoke with authority.

“Mr. Ice? This is Jonelle Jones from Countrywide Borough Bank.”

I sighed. “Good morning. May I help you?”

“Yes indeed,” she replied. “Regarding your Visa account number 86-007-13… we have not received the scheduled payment of $472.88 by your due date.”

“So, you called to provide a friendly reminder?” I laughed.

Ms. Jones ignored the remark. “Your payment of $472.88 must be made immediately to avoid late fees and a punitive rate hike.”

My disbelief couldn’t be hidden. “So… if I can’t pay a lower amount today, you reckon I’ll be able to cover a larger bill, tomorrow?”

“I don’t make the rules, Mr. Ice,” she warbled.

“Of course not,” I agreed. “But if you could ‘bend’ them a bit…”

“I need you to authorize a payment from your personal checking account, Mr. Ice,” she interjected.

My breezy attitude disappeared. “You know, I was just reading about this kind of situation.”

“Oh really?” she said, sarcastically.

“Yes,” I explained. “Apparently, congressional leaders have crafted a plan to forgive credit-card debt to help the economy. Sort of a small version of what your industry got from the federal treasury. But when presented with the idea, those in control of our banks promptly refused!”

She grew impatient. “Mr. Ice, This is hogwash. CBB must have your payment immediately!”

My face reddened. “Then take it out of my share of the federal bailout.”
She stuttered in response. “W-w-what did you say?”

“You’ve gotten a flood of government money already,” I laughed. “So take it out of my share!”

“Mr. Ice, let’s be serious!” she complained.

“Think about this, Jonelle,” I began. “Who is your employer at the moment?”

The bank representative was irritated. “You are wasting time, Mr. Ice!”

“Humor me,” I said. “Who is keeping you in a job right now?”

She spoke angrily. “Countrywide Borough Bank, of course!”

“Incorrect!” I said with defiance. “The federal government is in charge of your employment, because CBB would be gone without the bailout money.”

“Either way, I need your payment!” she said.

“You’re floating on a heady tide of taxpayer dollars,” I barked. “Only the influx of citizen wealth is keeping your group from sinking. So in effect, you have already taken my assets to cover your own needs. Now, I ask you to credit my meager liability against that huge amount. This is a new age of fairness. Do you understand?”

She was flabbergasted. The phone line went dead.

I poured another cup of coffee. A gentle rain had begun to fall as the clouds overhead thickened with purpose. Calm returned to my day…

Then the telephone rang, again.

“You’ve reached the Icehouse!” I said with curiosity.

“Mr. Ice?” a new caller intoned. “This is Paige DiCenza from Ford Credit. I am calling in reference to your vehicle loan on a 2005 F-150…”

“Hi Paige,” I said. “Great to hear from you!”

A moment of silence elapsed. “Mr. Ice, our records indicate you have a past-due billing of $399.07 for your pickup truck. But if you pay this now, we will forgive any late fees you’ve incurred.”

I nodded. “That sounds fantastic. Call me again next week and maybe we can work something out…”

The company representative became irritated. “Mr. Ice, I need a payment now. Do you understand?”

I took a deep breath. There was a brick in the bottom of my stomach. “Paige, what I understand is that Ford is running out of gas right now. Just like GM and Chrysler. You’ve got three flat tires and a muffler dragging the ground. Yet the federal bailout will keep you in operation.”

“This is not relevant to our conversation,” she hissed. “You are past due on your monthly payment. May I have your bank account number, please?”

“Listen Paige,” I continued. “My history with your products is a long one. We’ve had over a dozen Ford vehicles in this household. Our friends all drive Hondas, Toyotas, or Volkswagens because they are more dependable and fuel-efficient. But we’ve stayed with FoMoCo to support union workers right here in Ohio. In a sense, we’ve helped to keep your employer in operation. When market conditions became difficult, our tax dollars let you continue to ride high. Now, it is time for reciprocity. Fair is fair.”

She gasped. “Mr. Ice, this is ridiculous!”

“Not at all!” I protested. “Your industry has already gotten twenty-five billion dollars from the government. And you’re asking for more. The cash keeping you on the road came from my wallet, and those of taxpayers across America. So if we need a break, there should be no question about honoring our request.”

DiCenza was speechless. Suddenly, the dial tone buzzed in my ear.

For a third time, I poured a cup of coffee. The first sip was refreshing… but then…

The telephone rang again.

“You’ve reached the Icehouse!” I said, wearily.

A gruff retort sounded from the handset. “Mr. Ice, this is Dale Welneck from GAI Insurance. How are you this morning?”

I began to feel nauseous. “Doing great, Dale! Did you call to chat about sports, or was there something else?”

His voice hardened. “Mr. Ice, we show you as being overdue on your payment schedule.”
“That’s right,” I agreed. “Because I’m overdue on everything else. It didn’t seem proper to leave you guys out of the deal.”

He went dizzy from my comment, but recovered quickly. “Mr. Ice, I need an immediate payment of $227.44 or we will be forced to cancel your policy.”

“Look Dale, GAI isn’t in a position to dictate terms right now,” I said with confidence. “You’re being carried by a federal bailout that will burden taxpayers for generations to come…”

The caller was irate. “Our status has nothing to do with your bill, Mr. Ice!”

“Oh, but it does,” I disagreed. “You would have collapsed weeks ago without help from the feds. Our tax dollars kept that catastrophe from occurring. And let you have your parties and high-dollar conferences. Now, it is my turn. I need a helping hand. How can you refuse me after loading up on government aid?”

A string of four-letter words were mumbled in my ear. For a third time, the call ended abruptly.

I drank my coffee cold. The morning was gone. But so were the bill collectors. After a few silent minutes, my daydream returned.

“Welcome to Geauga County, USA…”

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