This Place is Haunted
Our place is haunted.
It’s not very old, so the spectre that haunts it is a contemporary spook known as a collection agency.
I can only assume the purpose of the collection agency is to haunt us, because it calls any time of the day or night and looms silently on the other end of the line as I bark “Hello?” “Hello?” into the void. And then a voice, sometimes human but just as often a robot, calls out mournfully from far, far away, as far away as New Jersey if the accent is any indication, for “Tracy”.
Of course, Tracy is never here. Tracy never has been here. I’ve had this phone number since 1989 and never shared it with Tracy. Actually, the haunting calls didn’t start until we moved into our current place in 2011, but we bought the place from the original owner, who, as far as he’s concerned, has never been called Tracy, not even as a joke. And we brought the number with us…
None of this cuts any ice with the collection agency. Or maybe I should say agencies, because their name is legion.
Sometimes it’s an automatic dialler: “If you’re Tracy, press one.”
Sometimes it’s a robot voice mail: “This is an important message for Tracy.”
Sometimes it’s a human voice mail. “Tracy please call us at 1-800-nowhere.”
And sometimes it’s a real person, which generates a pathetic spark of hope that the ceaseless haunting will finally end, if only we patiently explain that Tracy doesn’t live here, never has lived here and we don’t know any Tracy. The deadbeat.
The response from the wraith on the other end of the line is always polite and cheerful: “So sorry! Yes, of course, we’ll take you off our list.”
And of course they never do.
It just starts up all over again, usually around 7:30 Sunday morning (10:30 in New Jersey or wherever the ghost lives): “Hello,” says someone who sounds stern and important, “may I speak to Tracy please?”
I often wonder who is Tracy? A man or a woman? I once asked the ghost that question, and the ghost replied that it’s not authorized to release that information.
Inevitably the suspicion often falls on me. I can tell; sometimes they think I’m really Tracy and sometimes I catch myself wondering if they’re right. Maybe I’ve been Tracy all along. Time to admit the truth, pay the bill and get on with it?
That’s the other thing. The ghost won’t tell me how much Tracy owes unless I admit to being Tracy. The curiosity is killing me.
I must say that if the purpose of the collection agency is to collect bad debts, they’re going about it the wrong way. Instead of taking my number out of play, they keep digging a dry hole. It’s like a Roomba trapped in a corner that keeps vacuuming the same patch until it is rescued from its artificially unintelligent behaviour.
These agencies probably sell each other the same outdated lists over and over and over again. One company mines the list, and then sells it to the next company. Presumably, they operate on a percentage system, and maybe, just maybe, there are enough live debt fugitives on the list to get the next round going.
Pointless. Unless there really is a malevolent spirit somewhere going: “Let’s make Sullivan crazy with this Tracy thing. After all, we have all the time in the world.”
This campaign of harassment or haunting or whatever is probably illegal but, considering all the crap they have to deal with, the authorities are no more likely to listen than the collection agencies.
I guess the other thing I can do is cut the cord. Who needs a landline anymore? Most calls are to our mobiles. The only calls we get on the landline are for Tracy, and there is no Tracy. But we’ve been through that.
But no, that phone number and I go back a long way. It doesn’t seem fair that the collection agencies should drive us apart. It’s the principle of the thing.
So I’m stuck with Tracy and the werewolves of collection. I feel like Jean-Val Jean, except this time Javert has the wrong man. (Or does he?)
Anyway: Tracy, if you’re out there, if someone tells you about this column, if it turns up in a bottle, I have a message for you: Pay Your Bill! I can’t take it anymore.