Lord Polonius, the 'unseen good old man' of Shakespeare's tragedy had it right. Shame I didn't listen to him.
When I was a kid of some 16 years old I'd just gotten my first taste of having money, and I decided I liked it. Unlike my younger brother, who I think is half Jew, I liked spending it, too. Then came the fateful day around my freshman year in high school that I decided that I needed to get a credit card to earn myself a credit rating. What I planned on doing with a credit rating living in a bedroom in my parent's house is beyond me, but I applied for and received a Sears credit card one fateful day in 1985. With it I purchased a Sears LXI stereo rack system for $500, complete with tower speakers and a wooden shelving system with a glass door on the front and a glass lid over the turntable on top.
Thus began my slavery to credit.
I beat the system once, over a decade ago. My father had died and my mother went ahead and parceled up our inheritance from his benefits. My brother used his to begin to finance the construction of his new house. Me, I paid off all my credit card debt. Every penny. I was a free man for all of perhaps six months. I'd not canceled the cards, you see, just cut them up and tried to forget about them. It crept up slowly, my debt, as it always does. I needed something here, an emergency came up there, and it was always so easy to use the credit cards until I had piled every single stone of that entire mountain right back on my shoulders, plus a few boulders for the road. Oh, don't get me wrong, I always managed to keep the notes paid, but never managed to get much beyond that, and we all know that's where the trap is. You pay interest and you pay interest but you might as well be eating soup with a fork for all the advancement you're getting.
I got profoundly lucky. I got in a motorcycle wreck last October and totaled my bike. Between the law suit settlement check and a very large financial gift from my father in law I paid off all my credit cards. Again. This time for real. No going back. It's not often that opportunity comes to your door twice. It's rare enough that it knocks the first time: I'm not fool enough to think it'll return thrice.
A few months have passed, the last of the fees and interests and fiddly bits of plastic debt have been paid down and all the credit card statements read "$0.00". Now comes the hard part. Canceling them.
I've had difficult tasks in my life. I've had onerous jobs to do, jobs that really genuinely wore on me. I'd even say I've had to suffer, just a little, but I've never, EVER had to do anything quite as hard as cancel a credit card. I think next time I'd sooner reach down a pit bull's throat to pull the steak back out of his stomach than deal with trying to cancel a credit card.
I figured it was pretty easy. Hell, it was an option on the VRU system after you dug in a ways. I got a person on the phone who went by the name "Zack." Little did I know I was about to battle to take possession of my gods-damned SOUL. It started out easy enough. He asked a few simple questions to verify my identity. I verified with him that I'd like to cancel my credit card account. That's when Zack went on the attack.
He questioned my judgment. He asked if I was sure I wanted to destroy all the careful work I'd done building up my credit rating. He reminded me that I needed credit to buy a house, to pay for college, to etc etc etc. I riposted every stab, threw back in his face that I now had CASH to pay for what I needed, and didn't need credit. I told him that if I wanted something I'd damned well save up for it, not just rush out and charge it. I showed him several ways that I understood I'd just pulled my foot out of the trap and he for sure wasn't going to convince me to put my foot BACK in the rusty jaws. I even went so far as to demand that he put his supervisor on. He insisted HE was a supervisor and before I could riposte again he'd feinted from a new direction and got me off THAT line.
We kept fencing, back and forth, he and I. He wasn't going to give up until I'd put my soul back in hock to Capital One Bank and I wasn't going to give up until that account was finito. I finally got so tired of it that I got nasty, used a few foul words and let my voice crank up, and he responded with a curt "Let's keep this on a professional level." I could have happily torn his balls off and professionally choked him with them, but I persevered. So did he. I think we must have gone around for ten minutes or more. Zack was ready to sell me my slave collar back, and I insisted that I didn't want it, didn't need it, and for damned sure wasn't going to put it back on for HIS benefit.
Finally I guess I had spoken enough sense that Zack decided that I was, in fact, serious about canceling my Capital One slavery card. Sweat pouring down my face, fists clenched in righteous anger and determination I agreed that yes, I was bloody well serious. And just like that, it was over. He rattled off a litany of required warnings about me using the card again and fees being refunded if I'd paid them in the last month, and that how they'd really miss me there in the sugar mines of Bolivia where I'd just spent the last ten years labouring to pay off an impossible debt.
I wanted to cheerfully tell him to fuck off, but I didn't. I graciously thanked him and hung up the phone.
"What did I just escape from?" I asked myself. What prison without bars and walls have I gotten myself out of? If a junkie wants to quit drugs his dealer doesn't come and browbeat him until he's got that needle back in his vein or that spliff in his fingers. Casinos don't send out thugs to drag compulsive gamblers back into the queasy light coming off the one-armed bandit when grandma has decided she's spent enough nickles, but just try and cut off the credit card company's source of easy money and see if they don't put their best people on you to help you keep that iron collar locked around your neck.
No Zack, you can threaten and cajole and sell all you want--I'm free of my slavery and my 'good credit rating' and all that mystic smoke and mirrors bull the capitalists use to keep me in thrall to the debt gods. No, I'm done. Cash on the barrelhead, my friend. If I want it bad enough then I'll save for it, and if I can't afford to save for it then I can't afford to own it.
I figure next week I'll gird my loins, strap on my sword and shield and vanquish the dragon that is named Canceling My Discover Card.