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  Ellen Davignon: Lives of Quiet Desperation

Electronic Pretenses

March 1, 2003

“Hi there, how are you?”

Used to being addressed as I work my way through the aisles, pulling books or tidying as I go, I didn’t turn my head at the greeting.  “I’m just fine, thanks, “ I replied, trying to place the soft, husky voice.  “Overworked, of course, and under paid and appreciated but loving it anyway, fool that I am.”  I pulled out another book.

“Good, good.  Me too.” Mr. Soft and Husky Voice laughed, a low, sexy rumble that reverberated in the pit of my stomach. I still couldn’t put a face to the voice but I knew I was going to like what I saw when I finally turned around.  “You’re out and about early this morning,” I said, trying for one more clue.

The soft rumble came again.  “Couldn’t sleep.  Last night …you were wonderful…”

I thought about the customers I’d served the previous evening.  Oh boy, could it be that last guy, the tall blonde fellow who’d wanted the Kluane map, “…250:000 to 1, 115 G&F, I believe.”  

He’d believed right but I would have willingly pawed through a lot of maps to find the one he’d wanted.  Must have made a good impression, I decided, and turned to give him my best smile.

The short, heavy man directly behind me leafed desultorily through the Maxim he’d taken from the pile on the magazine deck.  He chuckled again into the cell phone he held to his ear.  “Yeah, babe, I can hardly wait…”

Face flaming, I quickly returned to my ministrations in the War/Military section.  I glanced around surreptitiously and found myself looking into the fascinated gaze of a lady who had observed me making conversation with a copy of The Third Reich.  I gestured at Short and Heavy.  “Heh, I thought he was talking…you know…” My voice trailed off as she turned and hurried away.

Darned cell phones, I thought sourly, what’s so damned important that can’t wait until he’s at a regular phone? 

“Well, all-RIGHT,  honey, keep that thought.  I’ll be right over…”


Phones, both a blessing and a curse, aren’t they?  Get you up early in the morning, someone just wanting say hello and did they get you out of bed?  And they bring you good news – Jennifer just had her baby, a little girl – and bad – Did you hear that Jennifer just had a baby, she isn’t married yet, you know. And they are very instrumental (pardon the pun, he-he-he) in resolving problems that would otherwise require numerous letters and forms.

For instance, last week I found a letter in the mailbox the other day addressed to Phil’s estate from Canada Custom and Revenue Agency.  Oh jeez, I thought and felt a little hiccup of dread abaft my breastbone.  Custom and Revenue, that’s like taxes and penalties and surcharges and all those other pesky things that I’ve never been all that comfortable with.  To me, getting a letter from the government is a bit like getting stopped by the police.  I know darn well that I haven’t done a thing wrong but one look at my face and they’re opening the trunk of the car, looking for a body.  And now they were writing to Phil’s ESTATE?  Oh God, I thought, this can’t be good.

It wasn’t.

It began,  “THE ESTATE OF THE LATE PHILIP DAVIGNON.            Please keep this notice for your records.  Any references on this notice to “you” or “your” apply to the estate of the person identified above.  Your entitlement has been reviewed based on NEW INFORMATION WE

HAVE RECEIVED.  We have established that you are not eligible for the GST credit because….

wait for it…legislation only allows benefit payments to be issued to a person before the date of death.”

Well duh! I thought, do you suppose that had been my own reasoning back in December when I returned the GST check that arrived addressed to Phil?

Anyway, the upshot was that they had paid Phil $172.27 from  July to January and, though I had returned the unopened check for 86.14 in January,  now they were wanting the other the other half back as well.  And if I had any questions, I could call the number listed at the bottom of the page, always remembering that the hours of service might vary depending on my location and the time of year.

Yeah, well, since Phil had passed away at the end of September, I had a question or two before I was going to sit down and meekly send Can Cus and Rev Age eighty-six of my hard-earned bucks.  So instead of going to my desk and attempting to set down the facts as I saw them, I checked my location (old blue rumpsprung recliner,) and the time (half an hour before lunch,) picked up the phone and dialed the 800 number.

And dialed it.  And dialed it.  And dialed it. 

I was just about to call it a day and go fix my soup when an electronic voice asked me if I wanted: service in English (press 1); information with regards duty or customs fee (press 2); imformation regarding my account (press3); or to talk with a real live agent (press 4 and scream “Hell yes!” into the receiver.)  I pressed 4 and wiped my sweaty palm on my pant leg.

The electronic lady informed me that my conversation might well be recorded.  For training purposes, she said.  I wiped my other hand on my leg, licked the beads of sweat off my top lip, and briefly considered hanging up and writing out the cheque.  It was only 86 bucks after all.

“Hello.”  A real voice came faintly from my phone.  “Can I help you?”  I took a deep breath and picked the receiver up from the arm of the chair.  “Yes, you can,” I said.  “My name is Ellen Davignon and I would like to discuss a letter regarding my husband’s estate.”

“Certainly, madam.  Are you the person authorized to do so?”

“Um, yes, I guess so,” I said, looking around to see if there was anyone else I could hand off to. “Uh, um, I am the sole inheritor of his estate and …’

“Yes, but are you authorized to speak for him?”

Again I looked around. “Well, if I don’t I don’t know who else would..”

“Well, madam, I’m sorry but if your name isn’t on his file, I’m afraid I can’t give you any information regarding his affairs.”


“I’m sorry.”

Well, that was nearly the end of our conversation, such as it was.  She suggested that I send them a copy of the will and a certificate of death and an affidavit entitling me to pay the monies owing them .  I suggested…well, it doesn’t really matter what I suggested because as long as I had no authority, she probably wasn’t going to try to attempt my succinct recommendation anyway.  Good thing, too, she might have broken something.

So, I’m not sure where this contretemps will lead us.  I’m not sending the documents she advised me that they will need before I am allowed, or perhaps am not required, to repay the possible  overpayment.  And any further mail sent to the LATE PHILIP DAVIGNON will be returned with a large red DECEASED written boldly across the face.

I know full well that sooner or later, the 86 dollars, hard-earned or not, will be clawed back; I really don’t have to heart or stomach for a knock-down and drag-out fight with Can Cus and Rev Age.  But still, I’m glad I called instead of writing.  It gave me enormous satisfaction to tell the lady at Can Cus to take her documents and stick…well, what ever it was I told her, even at the risk it might have been recorded.  After all, if it’s not in writing, they can’t charge you with anything.

Can they?


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