FREETHNKR

April 28, 2000

Don’t get me wrong: I have nothing against vanity plates. The problem is there are only so many reasonable combinations that are possible. With more and more people getting vanity plates, pretty soon we’re going to start running out of good ones. The other day I saw one that said, "CRASHR". How did the guy get away with a plate like that? More to the point, why did he even bother? It would have been cheaper to go out and get a bumper sticker that said, "I accelerate for pedestrians." Or maybe he should have just gotten one that said, "Warning: Driver has no insurance." This is just a sign that peoples’ self-esteem has reached such a collective all-time low that we’ll take pride in even our worst attributes. If Hitler were alive today, he’d be driving a VW Beetle with the license plate "JUKILLR" (but not in Alabama, where that plate has already been taken).

Then there are those cute vanity plates, the ones that say things like "JNSPORSH", which are usually attached to a car that’s held together by duct tape, coathangers, and cardboard. And then there are the ones that are so bizarre I’m sure they’re bound to cause accidents because people are so busy trying to figure out what they mean. I think half the drivers with really weird vanity plates just like to look in their rearview mirror at stop lights and watch the people behind them squinting and making fish-faces. The other half probably really think "GQRLMX" is the name of their home planet, and their dilapidated sub-sub-compact is the scouting craft of an alien invasion fleet.

So far, though, the most interesting vanity plate I’ve seen is the one that says, "HACKER". Admittedly, among some computer wizards the word "hacker" means rebellious, cool, even dangerous. The reality is that ten years ago the word "hacker" meant "computer geek with too much equipment, too few friends, and not enough knowledge to get a real job". Of course times change, words take on new significance, and an innocuous term can develop profound implications. Such is the case with the word "hacker", which now means, "computer geek with too much time, not old enough to get a paying job, and wanted by the FBI". People who get such blatant license plates usually end up making them.

Enjoy this week’s offerings.


If you’ve seen this before, I apologize. If you haven’t, and are fed up with ill treatment from banks and other impersonal businesses, read on ……….

ANY BANK PROBLEMS?

Letter received by a bank recently and printed in the New York Times. (Note: whether this was actually printed in the NY Times has not been confirmed, but then neither has most of what’s actually been printed in the NY Times. -CW)

Dear Bank Manager,

I am writing to thank you for bouncing the check with which I endeavored to pay my plumber last month. By my calculations some three nanoseconds must have elapsed between his presenting the check and the arrival in my account of the funds needed to honor it. I refer, of course, to the automatic monthly deposit of my entire salary, an arrangement which, I admit, has only been in place for eight years.

You are to be commended for seizing that brief window of opportunity, and also for debiting my account for $50 by way of penalty for the inconvenience I caused to your bank. My thankfulness springs from the manner in which this incident has caused me to re-think my errant financial ways. You have set me on the path of fiscal righteousness.

No more will our relationship be blighted by these unpleasant incidents for I am restructuring my affairs in 1999, taking as my model the procedures, attitudes and conduct of your very bank. I can think of no greater compliment, and I know you will be excited and proud to hear it.

To this end, please be advised about the following changes: First, I have noticed that, whereas I personally attend to your phone calls and letters, when I try to contact you I am confronted by the impersonal, ever-changing, pre-recorded, faceless entity which your bank has become.

From now on, I like you, choose only to deal with a flesh-and-blood person. My mortgage and loan repayments will, therefore and hereafter, no longer be automatic, but will arrive at your bank, by check, addressed personally and confidentially to an employee of your branch, whom you must nominate.

You will be aware that it is an offense under the Postal Act for any other person to open such an envelope. Please find attached an Application Contact Status which I require your chosen employee to complete. I am sorry it runs to eight pages, but in order that I know as much about him or her as your bank knows about me, there is no alternative.

Please note that all copies of his or her medical history must be countersigned by a Justice of the Peace and that the mandatory details of his/her financial situation (income, debts, assets and liabilities) must be accompanied by documented proof.

In due course I will issue your employee a PIN number which he/she must quote in all dealings with me. I regret that it cannot be shorter than 28 digits, but, again, I have modeled it on the number of button presses required to access my account balance on your phone bank service.

As they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Let me level the playing field even further by introducing you to my new telephone system, which you will notice, is very much like yours.

My Authorized Contact at your bank, the only person with whom I will have any dealings, may call me at any time and will be answered by an automated voice. By pressing buttons on the phone, he/she will be guided through an extensive set of menus:

  1. To make an appointment to see me.
  2. To query a missing repayment.
  3. To make a general complaint or inquiry.
  4. To transfer the call to my living room in case I am there; extension of living room to be communicated at the time the call is received.
  5. To transfer the call to my bedroom in case I am still sleeping; extension of bedroom to be communicated at the time the call is received.
  6. To transfer the call to my toilet in case I am attending to nature.
  7. To transfer the call to my mobile phone in case I am not at home.
  8. To leave a message on my computer. To leave a message, a password to access my computer is required. Password will be communicated at a later date to the contact.
  9. To return to the main menu and listen carefully to options 1-8.

The contact will then be put on hold, pending the attention of my automated answering machine. While this may on occasion involve a lengthy wait, uplifting music will play for the duration. This month I’ve chosen a refrain from "The Best of Woody Guthrie:" "Oh, the banks are made of marble With a guard at every door And the vaults are filled with silver That the miners sweated for." After 20 minutes of that, our mutual contact will probably know it by heart.

On a more serious note, we come to the matter of cost. As your bank has often pointed out, the ongoing drive for greater efficiency comes at a cost – a cost which you have always been quick to pass on to me. Let me repay your kindness by passing some costs back.

First, there is the matter of advertising material you send me. This I will read for a fee of $20 per 1/4 page. Inquiries from your nominated contact will be billed at $5 per minute of my time spent in response.

Any debits to my account as, for example, in the matter of the penalty for the dishonored check, will be passed back to you. My new phone service runs at 75 cents a minute (even Woody Guthrie doesn’t come free), so you would be well advised to keep your inquiries brief and to the point.

Regrettably, by again following your example, I must also levy an establishment fee to cover setting up of this new arrangement.

May I wish you a happy, if ever-so-slightly less prosperous, New Year.

Your humble client,

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