I got a call from 012 Mobile, a cell-phone provider. On the line was a young fellow named Ronen or Alon or Nir. “You’re paying us too much,” he informed me.
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“Are you kidding me?” I shot back. What does it mean that Ronen or Alon or Nir is calling me out of the blue in the middle of the day, I wondered.
“I understand why it sounds weird to you,” he said, trying to alleviate my suspiciousness, “but we’re operating in a competitive market. Our company wants to preserve you as a client.” When I hear the word “preserve” my hand reaches immediately for the gun. Finger on the trigger. One more unnecessary word and I shoot.
“Forget it, I’m not interested,” I warned him. “Have a nice day.”
“Hold on a minute, sir. Let me reduce the cost of your monthly package,” Ronen or Alon or Nir said.
“Tell me, Ronen, Alon or Nir, since when are you people so generous?”
“I told you, we want to preserve you.”
“Okay, so what’s the catch?”
“No catch. You’re a long-time customer. We want to be good to you.”
“Good? To me? Really?” I asked in a fawning voice. “That’s very nice of you.”
“So I’m updating the cost of your package to 69 shekels [$18] a month.” Thanks, Ronen or Alon or Nir. “And I’m adding two gigas to your surfing package at our expense.”
“I can’t believe my good fortune.”
“I’ll throw in streaming, too.”
“You shouldn’t have.” I felt wanted. Loved. Grateful. A cell-phone provider had offered me its largesse. I threw myself at its feet. You have seduced me with gifts. Do with me what you want.
Hold on, what do I need digital media streaming for? “On second thought, I don’t need streaming,” I told him.
“Take it. It’s a bonus.”
“But I don’t need it. There’s nothing I can do with it.”
“It’s from us,” he insisted, “we’ll send the device by messenger to your house.”
“Forget it, I don’t want it.”
“What’s your address?”
“I don’t need a streaming device.”
“But it’s a present. What do you care?”
I didn’t want to play the part of the guy who says no to presents. “You know what, yallah, bring on the streaming device.”
“I’ll send it to you first thing in the morning.” “Great. Fabulous. Fantastic.” “You’ll enjoy it. It’ll be delivered to you between 8 and 10 in the morning.” Okay, I got it. “The driver will call you.”
The call had already gone on longer than the average time I’m ready to waste on telephone transactions. But Ronen or Alon or Nir went on. He talked and talked and talked. Meanwhile, I surfed the Web. I thought about life. I looked at the ceiling. He didn’t shut his mouth. I stopped listening. My mind began to cloud over.
“I’ll email you the receipt for the deal,” I heard him say through the fog. Receipt? Deal? I felt my lower limbs growing weak. I lost consciousness.
When I woke up, the receipt was waiting for me in my email. The digital media device wasn’t a bonus and it wasn’t a present. Without my noticing, I’d bought it for 36 equal payments, plus delivery charges. The driver called from the street. He handed me a white box and drove off. I could have sworn I heard him laughing to himself. I’d been had. I’d thought of myself as a sharp guy who can spot transparent manipulations.
“You’re just an idiot,” my partner said to me when I told her I’d fallen victim to a cell-phone sting operation. “Did you really think you would get something for nothing?”
I am human dust. A nave dishrag. That’s not from a Naomi Shemer song. There are no “good people midway along the path.” They died of heartbreak.
I called the cell-phone provider to cancel the transaction. I pressed 1 for the Hebrew-language menu. I waited for a customer service representative. Elevator music. Someone named Naama or Michal or Rachel answered. She transferred me to the accounts department. They transferred me to the technical department, which transferred me back to accounts, which transferred me back to Naama or Michal or Rachel. They went on tossing me around between themselves for about 40 minutes, until I got to the sales department. A young guy named Nadav or Yaron or Michael answered. I told him the story. He didn’t sound surprised or upset.
“We get calls like this every day,” he said with perfect equanimity.
“So you admit that your company is a bunch of crooks and thieves?”
“I didn’t make the deal. It’s a different department. I am responsible for cancellations and returns. Do you want to cancel and return?”
I cancelled and returned and lost my faith in the human race (again).
It’s always the other department. It’s not me. It’s the other department. Bureaucracy is good at finding excuses for the loss of conscience and morality.
Ronen or Alon or Nir works for a cell-phone company. Comes to work in the morning, goes home in the evening. Does hard work that pays poorly. He doesn’t know me. He has nothing against me. I have nothing against him. As they said in the Holocaust, he’s just following orders. He doesn’t represent himself. Only those above him. Those who are even higher up. And those who are highest? They don’t owe anyone explanations. The banality of capitalism.
Ronen or Alon or Nir has a quota. Every day he has to sell people products they don’t need, under the guise of a transaction that’s worthwhile for all parties concerned. He lies to people affably. People buy the affable lie. Some of them realize right away that they’ve been lied to and find the feeling unpleasant. Maybe it’s their fault: He explained, they didn’t listen. It’s a misunderstanding. It’s a gray zone. Or malice aforethought. What difference does it make? Those are the rules of the game. That’s how it has to be. One day they lie to you, the next day you lie to them. There’s balance in this world. Everyone exploits everyone. We are not bad people. We have to make a living, that’s all.
I can’t get angry at Ronen or Alon or Nir. Our everyday lives are made up of little crimes that we’ve learned to live with out of necessity. Does that mean that everyone is a criminal? The answer is yes. We are all criminals and we are all victims and we are all innocent.
The next time I get a call from some Ronen or Alon or Nir, I will hang up in his face. Immediately. Without saying an unnecessary word. I have learned to be afraid of people. Not to let down my defenses even for a minute. Always be suspicious. There are no free lunches. Everyone is trying to screw you. To take what’s yours and throw it by the roadside. Your mother, your father, your wife and the kids, too. Who knows what their hidden interests are. We are the offspring of the commercial corporations. They taught us not to trust anyone. Life is an unsuccessful telephone transaction.
And all because of a streaming device (I don’t even have a television).