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To take notice finally!

With the attention of the news media focused on machinations of terrorist attacks, guerrilla warfare and clandestine political activity, one pocket of humanized rebellion has gone unnoticed. I stumbled upon this unheralded resistance group by accident when the $52.94 arrears turned up tance group by accident when the $52.94 arrears turned up tance group by accident when the $52. 94 arrears turned up -- from nowhere, since my account was paid in full! -- on last month's gas bill.

It was the "Final Notice" a week later that riveted my attention. The notice demanded payment of $52.29, and I went half-crazy trying to figure what happened to the missing 65 cents.

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To solve the mystery, I did a foolish thing.I phoned the gas company. Even more inexcusable,m judging from my reception, I then asked for Bookkeeping. Bookkeeping informed me it handled bills; Credit handled final notices. Why hadn't I called Credit?

I did call Credit . . . my third mistake. Before I fully explained my problems, the Credit Lady, jumping to the defense of the company computer, launched an impassioned and incomprehensible masterpiece of mathematical mumbo jumbo whose sole flaw was that it related in no way to $52.94. When I pointed this out, the Credit Lady, like a flower that has wasted its fragrant brilliance on the desert air, seemed to blush unseen and wilt.

"What $52.94?" she declared. "My records show $52.29."

"So does my final notice. Yet my bill shows $52.94. And since my account is paid in . . . ."

"Sir, for questions regarding your bill you must call Bookkeeping. Not Credit. But don't tell them you received a final notice from us."

Braving the cross fire of this intercompany feud, from Ms. Hatfield in the front lines of Credit I returned to Miss McCoy in the foxhole of Bookkeeping. Naturally, this was not the real McCoy with whom I spoke earlier, so I had to explain everything from the beginning. She put me "on hold" for 10 minutes then coughed into the line. "Uh . . . you do not owe $52.94. I have removed the $52 .94 from your bill."

"Great! Could you tell me how it got there?"

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"That is immaterial."

Forgetting Ms. Hatfield's warning, I exclaimed, "But I'm holding a very material, final-notice ransom note for $52.29!"

"Final notice? Oh, you should call Credit about final notices. They will call Bookeeping and verify the charge is not on your bill."

Miss McCoy's strategy underestimated her foe. Ms. Hatfield nixed the maneuver. "Me? Call Bookkeeping?! Sir, I have a job to do. There are thirtym girls in bookkeeping. How would I know who to ask for?"

"You might take a chance, like your customers," I suggested, "and plunge into the fray. Thirty girls could surely find one account, don't you think? Ha, ha."

The absence of her laughter was deafening. And I rushed to get back "on hold" with Miss McCoy in Bookkeeping.

This was not the first or the second but one of the remaining 28 Miss McCoys, and her sympathetic voice did not sound like that of a "girl." She quickly searched the records and returned to file her report.

The $52.94 was an estimated charge, since my gas meter had not been read before monthly bills were mailed, and later, when the meter was read and I paid the actual charge of $18, this imaginary estimate, which had been forgotten, nudged the Final Notice Computer into threatening disruption of service unless payment for the figmental charge in arrears was -- in other words, as she put it , "we goofed."

"It's against company policy," she concluded, "but my name is Margaret, and if you have any more problems, call for me. That computer never has had good sense."

"Margaret," I said, "may you never retire!"

Retreating from the battlefield, I learned a friend had been in the trenches with the phone company. A final notice had prompted her to defend a spotless 36 -year credit history, and she drove immediately to the business office -- or to where the office had been before consolidating with offices in the nearest large city. There, she encountered an older lady so intelligent and experienced "they must have left her behind to keep her from getting mixed up with sophisticated technology. . . and no hearts."

The lady deciphered the fact that payment had been credited three days after the due date. When that occurs, she indicated, the computer tends to panic.

"Has the phone company stopped keeping long-term records on people who've paid regularly over the years"? my friend asked.

The lady smiled sadly and said, "No more. The consultants decided that was irrelevant."

"Well, may I ask a favo? Will you tell themm that I am here to purchase their service . . . not for the convenience of their accounting department or data processing bank?"

The lady smiled again, this time with a mixture of "Hip, hip, hooray!" and "if only things were still like that . . . or the 'new people' understood."

The discovery will never make the front page or the 6 o'clock news, but my friend and I decided that so long as the gas and phone companies can harbor "rebels" like these two, there is still hope for that immaterial, irrelevant entity known formerly as The Valued Customer.

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