December 27, 2013

The “Witness”

Category: News — Ira @ 6:36 pm


And, lowering his voice to an ominous and foreboding whisper,
he said mysteriously, “Beware! Beware! Do not be deceived!”

—Thomas Wolfe

I know it’s the end of the year, and I certainly meant to write about all that. I’d sure planned to start off about how great the year was, and how so many blessings rained down all around me. But then something happened at work last Saturday, where a lot of odd stuff keeps coming at me. And now that’s what wants to come out.

I don’t like to work on Saturdays, any more than I have to. We’re open until noon, and only lightly staffed. One guy in the office, one in the yard. It usually comes out to about one Saturday a month, for me. And last Saturday, the weekend before Christmas, it was my turn. I dragged myself out of bed, not really feeling sorry for myself, but just a bit grumpy. At least the weather had warmed up, and all that awful snow was sinking out of sight. And right at eight, we arrived, one of my yard guys and me. It would a be slow day, we figured. Couldn’t be much going on, not on a weekend like this. Christmas was too close. I fired up my computers and settled at my desk.

The phone rang, now and then. And there were a few walk-ins. But overall, it was very slow, just like I’d figured. I puttered around, caught up on some quotes that had piled up the week before. And then, around 9:30 or so, the bells on the front door jingled. And I looked up, from what I was doing. A man walked in. And he was dressed distinctly. Plain Mennonite. You can tell, pretty easily, those people. Normal dress, mostly, for the men. Except they tend to wear those funny little pointed hats with a real narrow brim all around. They’re clean shaven, at least the ones around here. In the Midwest, it might be different. Unlike the Amish, Mennonites never had any particular conviction about beards. Well, they do have convictions, just opposite from the Amish. A lot of them take a pretty hard stand against beards. And their hairstyle is always a certain way, too. The women wear cape dresses and usually a pretty good-sized covering. Overall, those groups are just a little too clean-cut to be real. But that’s just me, saying that.

I have some good friends among those people. They’re fine and upstanding and honest, mostly. My friends all are, of course, but I mean the Plain Mennonites as a group. They consider themselves a light to a dark world. But overall, it’s just a bit wearying, to think of them. They’re about as diverse as the Amish, all sorts of levels and factions. Nationwide. Fellowship. Eastern. Mid Atlantic. Charity. Pilgrim. And a whole lot of other groups I never heard of or can’t remember. All doing two things, mostly. Fiercely erecting walls to keep the evil “world” from encroaching too close to where they are. And fiercely judging each other. They don’t think of it that way, about judging each other. But that’s what it is, when you refuse to break bread and drink communion wine (Grape juice, of course, in those groups. The first miracle of Jesus is just explained away as if it never happened.) with each other. They make all kinds of nonjudgmental noises when I talk to them and ask them about the other groups out there similar to them. But there’s a bottom line. We’re just a little better than they are. Because we follow the law more closely, and we got it all figured out, how to work our way to heaven.

I have a little bit of an inside track to how it can be (Not saying it always is, so don’t get all defensive if you’re in that world.) because of what Ellen told me she saw and experienced, growing up like that. All kinds of ruthless power trips and all kinds of heavy, heartless ruling going on. I heard what she told me. And from what little I saw of the people she told me about, it was true, pretty much, what she said. And I’ve thought about it all a lot since. It’s a hard place, to come from. A real hard place to break out of. I’d rather have grown up in the world I grew up in, than that world.

The guy was real nice, last Saturday morning, the guy in the funny little short-brimmed hat. And I got up and greeted him. He was about my age, probably, maybe a few years older. And he was wondering about the cost of a pole building, a little garage his Dad wanted. It just depends on the size, I told him. And what all you want on it. Add stuff, it costs more. Get a basic building, that keeps the cost down. And he told me, “Dad is 80 years old, and he’s determined he wants this building for a shop. And of course he wants his boys to take care of all that for him.” And I kind of scolded him about that attitude. Good naturedly, of course. Be grateful your Dad is active when he’s 80 years old, I said. My Dad’s 92. He doesn’t have the energy anymore to even want such a thing. Be thankful your Dad does. And he made the appropriate noises, agreeing with all that.

And we just talked along. I helped him figure out what size building he wanted, and got to working on the quote. We got along real well. And I asked him, as I was finishing up. Where would it be shipped to? That makes some difference in the cost. I totally expected a local address. Lancaster County has all kinds of Plain Mennonites. I figured he came from over on the north side, somewhere. And I really didn’t figure I had much chance of actually selling it to him, anyway.

And he told me. A town down by the eastern shore in Maryland. About 150 miles away. I was startled, and told him so. I had no idea there were Mennonites like you down that far. What group are you with? And it was his turn to be a little startled. What in the world did this English man know about Plain Mennonites? Are you Nationwide? I asked him. “No,” he said. “We’re Bethel Fellowship. (I think that’s what he said. I didn’t write it down. It was “Bethel” something.) We’re not connected to the Nationwide groups, or any of the others.” That’s real strange, I said. Never heard of you people before.

And it could have all ended right there, and would have ended right there, in any kind of normal day. But this was the Saturday before Christmas. Things were slow. And I just got to visiting with the man. All while working up his quote. He asked for a printed copy, and I stayed busy getting that together for him. And I asked him. So what are all your rules? Do you listen to the radio?

“Oh, absolutely not,” he settled right in, too, to tell me. “We have no instrumental music, filtered internet only, and no TV. We’re not like those liberal Mennonite churches out there.” And I asked him a bit about the size of the community he’s in. “Twenty-five families,” he said. I asked how many youth they had, and at what age they usually joined the church. “We have about twenty youth,” he said. “And they usually join when they’re twelve or thirteen years old or so.” That’s a lot of pressure, there, to join at that age, I thought. That’s how they rope them in. I didn’t say that, though.

And we just kept chatting. I told him I had come from the Amish. By then, he’d figured that out, and wasn’t surprised. He kept going off about instrumental music, and how that was always the first step that leads churches right down the wrong road. What do you listen to when you’re driving down the road? I asked. “All a capella singing,” he said. I bet that gets pretty old, I told him. He claimed it didn’t. He got a little loud, saying all that. But he didn’t mean to, I don’t think. He just had an English guy listening and asking questions about what he believed. Nothing wrong with talking a little loud when that happens. But I kept asking all kinds of questions. And the next one came.

You don’t have radios, I said. How do you know your youth aren’t sneaking around listening to all that evil music when no one’s looking? He looked genuinely shocked. I don’t think he’d ever even considered that possibility before. “No, no,” he half sputtered. “We don’t feel that happens. And if one of them got caught doing that, strong discipline would follow.” And what if he’s still rebellious? I asked. What if the guy won’t put away his radio? “Then he would be excommunicated,” was the answer.

We were talking about his building quote right through all this. I showed him from our little model in the showroom. How a sliding door works. The components we sell. I figure our products are just about the best out there in the market, I allowed. He seemed impressed. And always, the talk drifted back to what his little group believes, because I kept nudging it there. And somehow we ended up over by the counter by the front door. No other customers came. The phone didn’t ring. And soon, an hour had whooshed right by. And we still stood there, talking about a lot of things. The people we came from, the Anabaptists, and how deeply our roots affect who we are. I respect my people a lot, I said. But I could never live like that. And off and on, he kept slamming all those liberal Mennonites out there, so worldly, all of them. Their women wear pants and cut their hair, pretty much an abomination in his book. And it just slipped out of me. That all sounds like a whole lot of judgment, what you’re saying there. Why is any of that stuff your business? And again, he looked a little dumbfounded. “We know them by their fruits,” he spoke as if talking to a child. And I asked him. Do you get many outsiders joining up? People that come from the English?

“A few,” he claimed. I bet there’s not many, I said. “No, because they have too much to clean up in their lives,” he said. And it was my turn to gape. And I grasped at last that the man was “witnessing” to me. He was telling me all the rules you needed to follow for salvation. I can’t remember that he ever even mentioned the name of Jesus at all. Just the things you had to do, to get to heaven. And how messy it was out there, in the world. “Take divorce,” he said, starting down another little trail. And I interrupted without even thinking. That’s where I am. I’m divorced. I figured I wouldn’t mention anything about going to bars and such, because that would just be too much. So I didn’t. He smiled at me benevolently and a little pityingly. I can’t remember his point about it all. But he kept going back to how it’s so much easier when people have their works all lined up, when they come to join his church. “That way, they have far fewer problems with the rules, because they’re already used to it. And there aren’t many from the outside who can ever get their lives in order,” he explained.

I smiled at him. There was nothing hostile in the air that I felt, not from him. He was just talking. I certainly wasn’t hostile at him. He was a nice, friendly man who was just telling me what he believed. He got a little loud, but that was OK. I was the one who made the conversation happen, because I wanted to visit. I did keep nudging him along, though, into ever more horrifying places for him, I suspect. I asked him. OK. Suppose you look at a woman and lust after her. That’s a sin, the Bible says. What if you do that, and then get killed right that instant? Are you lost forever? He leaned in instantly across the counter, and he actually shook his finger at me. And he spoke strongly, unhesitatingly, adamantly. “If you don’t repent, yes. You must repent from that sin.” We all do it, I shot back. You know we do. He didn’t deny that. And he went off again, into all his formulas about works. It all starts with that instrumental music, back there. He just couldn’t keep from going back to that foundational point about that evil music. “Read your Bible,” he told me. And again. “Read your Bible. You have to repent from every sin, or you are lost.”

And right there you have it. Talking to Christians, here. You can be saved and lost and saved and lost a hundred times in a single day, depending on how much you’re sinning and “repenting” in your heart. And in your mind. It’s whiplash. And there are all kinds of formulas out there, to minimize the impact of such beliefs. But it still always boils down to a whole lot of guilt. And a whole lot of fretting about losing your salvation, and trying to hang on to it by your works. It’s whiplash, to have to always be on mental alert like that. It’s torture, is what it is. That’s the same box I broke free from, except I think this guy’s box was even worse. There has to be some better way. Otherwise, all of life is drudgery, not worth living with any joy, but always with forced words and forced smiles. And lots of rules and lots of loud talking. There can be no joy in such teaching, in such beliefs, in such “faith.” There can be none. Not real joy.

And I had never planned to say such a thing, but it just popped right out. It’s like I couldn’t help myself. That’s bondage, right there, I said. And no, my voice wasn’t near as loud as his. I think it even shook a little. But I said it. You are in bondage. It’s impossible to walk in such righteousness, that we keep track of every sin, and make sure we repent. And all those rules won’t do a thing to make your heart one bit purer before God, either. It’s bondage, to believe that. You’re in bondage. Not exact words, there. But that’s what I hope he heard me saying, one way or the other.

I don’t think anyone had ever even suggested something like that to him before. And here stood an English guy, who came from the Amish, saying that. A guy who listened to all that detestable instrumental music, and had a TV. And worse still, a guy who was divorced. It was almost more than he could take. And he struggled. Still, he kept it polite all the way through. As did I. And he rattled off his long complicated formula one more time. You work, to clean up your life. Only then can the church accept you. I told him again. It’s bondage, what you’re saying. “I have to get going,” he said then. We’ve been talking for an hour. I enjoyed it, I said. And I meant that. Let me know if you want that building. “I will,” he answered. Then he walked out.

But not far. I returned to my desk behind my counter. And the door bells jingled again. The man stuck his head inside, and spoke in a pretty loud voice. I don’t think he was hollering, just talking loud so I could hear him from clear across the room. “Read your Bible.” And then he was gone.

At a little church house behind the clock tower in Gap, PA, Pastor Mark Potter keeps right on preaching, keeps right on insisting that the church is a hospital, not a country club. And it’s not a walled fortress, either, to keep the wounded out. It’s a place for broken people with messy lives. And I will say this. From what I’ve seen of country clubs and walled fortresses and such, I have found the hospital far more welcoming. And far more healing. But that’s just me, talking from where I am.

And that brings me to the season again. Christmas. Getting repetitious, here. It was different this year, but real good. On Christmas eve, it all went like I thought it would. Well, almost. Paul and Rhoda and Cody and Adrianna welcomed me into their home. Moments before, the electricity had inexplicably gone off. And their house was lit with candles and lamps. Some stupid drunk had probably hit a telephone pole somewhere close, Paul and I figured. It was a special evening, anyway. We’ll always remember that night. We ate, made merry, and exchanged gifts. And it was just simply a joy to be joyful with that family at such a time as this.

I wasn’t sure how the actual day would go, though. And that’s what was most different, this year. I wasn’t invited anywhere. My brother Steve and his family had other plans, which was fine. It just meant they weren’t serving food in their house that day. So I didn’t have anywhere to go. And no, I didn’t make it known, much. Only mentioned it to a few close friends I could trust not to give me a “sympathy invite.” I don’t want to get invited to Christmas dinner unless you think of it on your own. And besides, I’d probably turn down even such an invitation, anyway, if it’s a large gathering. I’m pretty shy around any large family that’s not my own.

But then something did turn up, something good. I got a message from my friend Allen Beiler. Our good friend from Missouri, Dave Beiler, had returned to see family. And he had some time to get together on Christmas Day, late afternoon into evening. Would I like to come? Of course I’d like to, and I’ll be there, I told him. Yours is the first invitation to anywhere I have that day. And the whole day was calm and joyful. I putzed around at home, fried up some real good natural organic meat I had just picked up the week before. And made a little party by myself. And around six o’clock, I went and hung out with Allen and Dave and a group of other friends. Allen even had some Glenlivet in stock just for me. It was a very merry Christmas.

A quick glance back over the past year. It simply was one of the most exciting and joyful years of my life. I saw so much. And I learned so much. About what it looks like, in other worlds than mine. This country boy ventured out, not only to the big cities, but to the big cities in Germany and Switzerland. I look back and remember all the people I met along that road. People I now treasure as good friends. I remember how they all stepped out and made me welcome. Took the time to show me around. And seemed honored that I was there. It was all pretty astonishing.

I remember, too, what it was to go see my Dad and tell him all about it. What it was to be invited home. What it was to sit and eat with him. That trip was probably the one that stands out above all the rest.

And the angel emerged, too, this past summer. That little event was a huge deal, looking back now. Things haven’t been quite the same since. It seems strange, how such a thing can be. But it’s true. I can measure a lot of things inside my heart in a different way, ever since that happened. I am grateful that it did.

Mom’s still with us, still clinging to life in the dark fog of a world we cannot ever know, unless we enter it. At which point we won’t be able to tell about it. And our prayer remains the same as it was last year at this time. Lord, call her home in the coming year. She is loved and cared for here, and she will always be, for as long as she remains. But You can love and care for her so much better than any of us ever can here. We accept what comes or doesn’t. But please call her home to You.

And this is where I am, in my own heart. Whatever 2014 brings, I think I’ll be fine. Even guardedly happy. I don’t think I’ve ever conceded to just being happy in my daily slog through life. And it’s not like I’ll ever quit grumbling about the small annoying things. I’ll keep doing that. Always have. And if the vile slime that is ObamaCare slithers in and cancels my health insurance, I’ll be more than grumpy, trust me. I’ll be livid. But way down deep, I can tell you that I’m good to go, whatever comes. And I’m looking forward to whatever it is that life may bring.

Happy New Year to all my readers.

December 13, 2013

The Road to Perdition…

Category: News — Ira @ 6:56 pm


The other voice he had never heard. But as he listened to that voice
he began to tremble and grow white about the lips. For its very tone
was a foul insult to human life, an ugly sneer whipped across the face
of decent humanity…

—Thomas Wolfe

I’ve never had that many run-ins with corporations. And I’ve never thought ill of them, either, generally speaking. They bring me a lot of good useful products I like. Food, all kinds of goods, finance, and, well, pretty much anything out there. A corporation is involved somewhere, producing whatever it is, and getting it to the market. And sure, I got issues with a corporation teaming up with the state. Never had any use for that. But a lot of them are teamed up like that, these days, to one degree or the other. Because that’s the playing field they find. And if they don’t team up with the state to fight competition in a free market, someone else will, and they’ll be out. It’s a pretty vicious game, all around.

But I’ve never had a real beef with any of them, except maybe Monsanto and a few others like that. If I need their service or product, I’ll buy it. If I don’t, I won’t. Live and let live. And that was all well and good, right up until last week. Last week, I had a pretty serious run-in with the vast, vile, and absolutely corrupt corporate monster that calls itself Dish Network.

I thought I’d probably have too much rage in me to write it out this soon. So I tried to push it back. But nothing else came. So I think I’m good. A little over a week away. That was enough time to process some things. We’ll see, I guess, as it all comes out.

A quick sketch of my history with Dish Network. When Ellen and I bought the house back in March of 2000, that was the TV provider I chose. And they were real helpful and real friendly. Sent out a service guy to install a small dish on the southwest corner of the house. And he drilled holes through walls and pulled cables here and there. Brought the main one up in the corner of the living room, the best place for a TV, we figured. The guy showed me how things worked, and I was pretty impressed. A lot of channels, way more than I’d ever had before. And that’s the way it was, when we settled together in the house that August.

And Dish Network was a part of my life, from that day until just a little over a year ago. I was always pretty happy with their service, except the prices kept creeping up, for the package I had. I think that’s pretty much a universal rule, for all TV service providers. So I don’t hold that against them. And I always, always paid my bill on time. Always. Years back, I got tired of mailing the check in every month, so I called them and put my bill on my credit card. Autopay. It still showed up, and I still paid it with a check. Just with a whole lot of other things I’d bought that month.

Moving forward, then, to last year, when I decided to switch. It wasn’t Dish that made me want to. It was Frontier, with their pretty much useless internet service. And late one night, I’d had enough. I googled for Comcast’s number. Called. Some guy from India answered, from what I could tell. But he was quite well spoken. Oh, yes. They had a complete package. Phone, internet, and cable. He gave me the special two-year price. And it was way much less than what I was paying for those services from two other companies. So I bit. Yes. How soon can you come out and install it? And will you notify my other providers? So I don’t have to bother with it. “Yes, yes, we will do that,” he assured me. “It will all be no problem.”

And so it happened. I remember well the day the installer came out. I came home from work, and let him in. Nice guy. From the city, he said. I don’t like cities, I told him. And we just chatted right along as he worked, and set stuff up, pulled cables here and there, just like the Dish Network man had done more than twelve years before. I remember that I tipped him with a signed copy of my book. He seemed a little startled, and not all that interested. He took it, though, and thanked me. He figured his mom and sister would like it. And I asked him, as he was talking on his phone to his supervisor at the office. You guys will take care of shutting down my other suppliers, right? “Yes, they will take care of it all,” he told me.

And I was all too happy to let them do it, because I don’t like detailed stuff like that. It just wearied me, the thought of having to make those calls. Because they’ll try to keep you from switching, you just know they will. I didn’t want the hassle of any of it.

And it all went like it seemed it should. I look back now and realize how extremely naïve I was. The bills quit coming from Frontier. And the mailings of notice of a credit card withdrawal payment quit coming from Dish Network. I thought nothing of it at all. Several months later, a letter came from Dish, though. I think I remember seeing it. Probably trying to get me back, I thought. I threw it in the trash without even opening it.

And I know they have the trail all recorded, how they tried to contact me. I didn’t get access to the Comcast voicemail for a year, because I didn’t bother to find out it was even there. And when I finally accessed it, there were messages from Dish Network. Call us. They didn’t say why, though. They just wanted me back, I figured. So I didn’t.

And it’s all so maddening, because it was all just so small. Had I paid any attention, I never would be writing any of this. But I didn’t. And about three weeks ago, here comes another letter. Dish Network on the return address, but this envelope looked different. Kind of ominous. Like it wasn’t making any offers if I came back. Still, I kicked it around for a week before even bothering to open it. And I just read it and gaped. It was a collection letter, from an agency. For a Dish Network bill. This is insane, I thought. How in the world did such a thing ever get to collections?

And I called the number, right then, right there. When you call a collection agency, there’s not a whole lot of getting put on hold. Someone grabs the phone. Because some victim somewhere is calling in about what he owes them. And a real nice guy answered. I told him what was going on. I have no idea what this bill is for. “Let me check,” he told me. He put me on hold for a moment. “It’s for nonpayment,” he came back. Nonpayment of a bill. That’s impossible, I told him. I was a customer for twelve years. I never missed any payment to them. And he checked it out some more. Dish Network had billed me for an extra month after Comcast came in. This is just flat out wrong, I said.

And I just talked to the guy, and we got along real well. I don’t know if he believed me, but he made me believe he did. “Tell you what,” he said. “I’m authorized to deduct 25% from the total. That’s our fee. That’ll bring it down to just at $165.00.” It still ain’t right, I told him. Can’t you just make it go away? He chuckled. “You’ll have to talk to Dish Network about that,” he said. “I just work for a collection agency.” And his voice came through. He was telling the truth.

And we agreed, before we hung up. He’d send me a new bill. He hedged around about a credit card. And I told him. This whole claim is bogus. I’m not giving my credit card to anyone involved. Mail me that invoice, and just back that due date back to the 16th like you just promised. And thanks for what you did for me. This was about as good an experience you could have with any bill collector. He laughed. And his laugh was real. I wondered how often he laughed like that on his job.

A few weeks passed. I fretted a bit and looked for that bill. I figured I’d just pay it. It’s not the money I cared that much about, not that it’s peanuts or anything. I could spend that much in a very nice restaurant for a meal with a date, once in a while. Not that I’ve done such a thing for a long time. And I could spend that much in a bar in any given month, if I wanted to. (Just yankin’ your chain, if you’re all horrified about that.) It was the collection agency that made it all so crazy in my head. That’ll be on my record, that it went all that way. There’s never been such a thing on my record before, not that I can recall. And someone suggested that I should call the corporate office. That’s where the real power is. I’d wait until the bill came in, though. And I waited and waited. It just didn’t come. The guy was a liar, who promised me it would, I thought. I sure pegged him wrong. I thought his voice was real.

And I called again, as December closed in and came. The first week. The collections guy I had trusted told me he’d move the due date back. I didn’t trust anything in that world, right at that moment. So I called again, one evening. A pleasant lady answered. And I told her what was going on, asked for the guy who’d made all those promises. He told me he’d mail it right away, the new revised bill. And it never came. I went off on her, told her how frustrated I was. This is a jungle, this is a thicket. I have impeccable credit. I just want to make sure it stays that way. I’m not mad at you. I’m just frustrated. She punched around on her computer. “The letter was mailed out to you almost two weeks ago,” she told me. It never got here, I said. And I’m real frustrated. This is all a bunch of BS. I said the real word. And she was professional, just like the guy before her was. And she told me. “I can hear the frustration in your voice. I can take your credit card.”

Nothing against you personally, but I don’t trust you to give it to you, I said. Can’t you just email me the bill? And she agreed that she would, telling me pretty much what the first guy had told me. They’re limited, from where they’re coming from. Lots of restrictions. Just email me the bill, I said. Get it here, so I don’t pass the deadline. One to two days, that’s what she told me. That’s when the email would come in.

It never arrived as she had promised, but the letter finally did. Got here, just this week. And during that lull, I decided it couldn’t hurt. So one day last week I did it. Googled the number and called the corporate office. I don’t like details like that. But still, I figured, it couldn’t hurt to try. The bill they claimed I owed was a complete fraud. I’ll try to tell them in a nice way.

I had to call twice, because the first time I was placed into the purgatory of holding for the next level. And I got along real well, with the regular people I was directed to. But they had no power, to change anything. So I talked to them. Get me to someone who can make a decision. I know you can’t. Just get me to someone who can. And their voices hushed a bit, from all the clamor. “I’ll have to transfer you up to the presidential level.” That’s what they both said. And the second time I tried, the nice lady stayed right on with me, until someone picked up on the other end, at that level. It’s a thicket, to get through, I told her. And she laughed. Stayed on with me. And then the line was transferred over. I was at the presidential level. A woman answered and told me her name. She sounded young, and she seemed a bit uptight.

And I just told her what I’d told all the others. Told her what had happened. You got me in collections. I have impeccable credit. What could be done to make this all go away? I never even knew you were asking for anything, until you put me in collections. And it’s pointless, to describe this conversation in any detail, as to who said exactly what. Because it never was meant to go anywhere. And it never did.

It’s called a closer, that position, I found out later. A person who makes problems like me go away. And if you’re a closer like the one I talked to that day, if you’re a closer like that for any corporation or collection agency, I don’t want to know you. I want to stay far away from you. I don’t care if you don’t buy my book, I don’t care if you don’t read my blog. Just stay away from me and leave me alone. Because you’ve got some real serious crossed wires inside you. I don’t want to be anywhere close to the orbit of your personal or professional life. I don’t want you to even know my name. Not saying being a closer couldn’t be done right, or that the job itself is wrong. I’m talking about being a closer like the one I met right then on the phone.

She was confrontational and pretty rude from the first second. No pleasantries at all. She never swore. But you can get real savage without swearing. And she did. And she went way out there, into absolutely vicious and dark places I rarely see. I’ve pretty much wiped her specific words from my mind. And she never heard a word I said, because she never listened. It turned out that what the collection guy had said was true. She kept demanding the original full amount. And I told her. It’s one hundred and sixty five bucks. That’s what they’ll settle for. “That’s because they took their own fee off,” she snapped back. And right there it was. The people at the collection agency had set me free, to the extent they could. Dish Network would not. That’s a pretty brutal thing, right there.

She raged on and on at me. And I raged back at her, too, you bet I did. It was impossible not to. But she was just too much. She had worked her way up, I figure. Up the corporate grind, all the way to the president’s section of the place. And she followed the script her masters had taught her quite well. In that process, she destroyed any remnant of good feeling I’ve ever had about Dish Network as a relatively content twelve-year customer who always paid on time. Most importantly, though, she destroyed any chance of ever getting me back for another twelve years. All for one hundred and sixty five bucks, and a record on my name that it went to collections. They were totally ruthless and destructive, in what they did to get it. It’s just insane, that any corporation would do such a thing. And they won’t, unless they’re too corrupt to even grasp what I just said. Only if you’re that corrupt, only then could you not hear it and not see it. (And yeah, yeah, I know. A whole lot of you got your own horror tales about Comcast or Direct TV or any other major supplier out there. Your stories are just as valid as mine. My experience was with Dish, so that’s the only place I can write from.)

And I got real quiet, at the end. And I asked her one more time. Is there no way to work this out with you or anyone above you? There was no way. She’d told me that before. And she said it again, with a lot of venom. And then I told her, very quietly. I am going to lose your company a lot of business. I’ll tell you that. And then I thanked her. And hung up.

And it all was kind of strange, the mixture of feelings inside me. There was a whole lot of turmoil going on. I was enraged at the corporation that is Dish Network. Rightfully so. It’s an absolutely corrupt cesspool. It didn’t take long, though, before I was confronted with all that other stuff I claim to believe. And I thought, good grief. Does that apply even here? What about the mean, vicious woman? And what about how she treated you like you were less than nothing? Are you going to rage at her, too? Judge her? And I saw it, the path that I believe. I can judge what she did. It was wrong. It takes a real hard person to do such a thing. I can judge a whole lot of things like that about her.

But I can never judge her heart. Never. It’s not my job. And it’s not my business. I’ll keep repeating that, I hope, pretty much from wherever I am, whatever happens. Whether I get that done all the time or not, I’m saying it here.

I don’t know much about the corporate world, never been around it much. And I’m definitely not saying everyone in that world is like this woman was. But wherever you might be in that world, there is a really dark side to it, if it can make people act like that. And it’s kind of ironic, I think. Her name was the only one I didn’t write down as I went up the chain to get to where she was in the presidential section of the place. And now I’m glad I don’t remember it. I don’t have any idea of who she is, where she’s been, or what she’s seen. Or what she thinks she has to do, to survive in the world she’s in. I know she spoke to me as she was told and trained to speak. Maybe she was naturally inclined that way, anyway. I don’t know. But I do know this. Wherever she was coming from, it’s not a good place. It’s a road to perdition, to a place of inner torment, when you let any of the circumstances of your life do that to you. Or any corporation. She might not even recognize or accept that she’s in torment, but she is. I wish she weren’t where she is. And yeah, I still got some hard feelings at her, from how she treated me.

But I will not judge her heart. I will not do it. We judge ourselves by our best intentions. But we judge others by their worst actions. When it comes right down to it, my own heart is just as dark as hers could ever be, before the Lord. It is, if He judged me like I deserve. My heart is every bit as dark as hers could ever dream of being, or darker. Just in different ways. We all got our own idols out there that we manage to hide pretty well. And judging the hearts of others is one of those big hidden idols I try not to worship.

And I have repented from that little threat I made to her there at the end, about seeing to it that Dish will lose all the business I could make it lose. Not enough repentance to try to contact the mean, vicious woman and tell her that. But just in my heart. There’s not a whole lot I can do to damage any corporation like that, however much I might want to. Because they’re just too big. They’ll never notice a word I say. On top of that, I don’t call for boycotts and vendettas. It takes too much energy, such a thing. Creates too much dark tension in your heart. So I’m not calling for a boycott of any company. The market is what it is out there. Deal with who you want to. Just like I figure I’ll sure make my own choices as to who I’ll deal with, too.

And I will say this, with whatever voice I have, to however many people I can reach. If you’re connected to Dish Network in any way, just make real sure you cross all the t’s and dot all the i’s on your way out. A lot of poor (and I mean economically poor) people don’t have any idea how to do that. And the evil corporate blob that is Dish Network won’t hesitate for one second to ring up those two hundred bucks they’ve somehow conjured up with an incessant interest-bearing demand for payment. All the way to the public records, all the way to collections and judgments. There is no shred of integrity at the corporate presidential level of that company. None. The drones enslaved there are predators, and they will destroy a life for a few hundred dollars if they can. And never think twice about it. That’s a place of true perdition, for any corporation to be. A place of utter destruction and ruin.

And there you have it. I don’t know if it all came out right. But this much is true. Had I written it the day after it all happened, you would have read something far more harsh. But still, I got one final thing to say about how deeply I detest Dish Network. If they’re ever my only option for the services they provide, I figure I’ll finally heed my father’s voice from long ago and just get rid of my TV.

All right. That was the rage, in this holiday season. And I’ll get to that season, maybe, at the end. But I have to say a few words about the last blog. I know it’s bubbling around, out there, amongst the Plain People. Look at that. Look at how far he’s drifted. He’s hanging out in bars, now. And it hit a lot more than just the Plain People, too. Real quick, right after it was posted, the first comment asked to unsubscribe. And I got a few emails, too. They just swooshed right in. Unsubscribe me, please. I’ve never seen such a thing before.

It never was my idea, to make a subscription link. That came from readers. All I ever wanted was a place to post my stuff. But I thought it sounded pretty cool. If people wanted to read what I wrote, they could, right soon after I posted it. So I asked my very capable webmaster to set it up. He did. I’ve never asked him for the numbers. I have no idea of how many subscribers are out there. I like to think there’s a lot, but I figure it’s not that many, in the big scheme of things. All that said, maybe I’m just too scared to check the numbers, because they’ll be so low. Whatever the reason, I haven’t done it.

But if you want to unsubscribe, you have to do it yourself. Why are you asking me to do it for you? You chose to sign up. Unsubscribe yourself. It’s real simple. Click on the link way up there on the top right of this blog. There’s a box there you can click on. Type in your email. And hit the unsubscribe button. You’ll get an email with a final link to click on, to unsubscribe. (The reason I know all this is that I went and unsubscribed myself.) And then you’ll never hear from me again, at least not by email. I want you to hear from me that way. But you can choose not to, if that’s what you’re wanting. It’s pretty simple, really. So I’d appreciate if you’d spare me the drama of asking me to do what you can do for yourself.

And that brings us to the season. Christmas. It’ll be over, when the next blog comes. It just seems unreal that it’s here already. On the worst possible day of the week, this year. Wednesday. From any other day, you can make a long weekend work. But not from Wednesday.

I’ve called myself a grinch, before. I guess I’ll take that back. I’m not. I just don’t get all that hyped up about Christmas. It stays pretty simple for me, when it comes to gifts. Give few and expect none. A few always come trickling in. And I give out a few. It stays about even, I think. And I’m pretty satisfied with that.

I don’t have a whole lot of special plans. On Christmas Eve afternoon, I’ll make my traditional loop through the mall. It’s the only time I go to the mall during Christmas shopping season. It’s usually about half empty, and almost eerily quiet. It’s fun, to just drift through and pick up a few things. Then early that evening I’ll probably head on over to the home of my friends Paul and Rhoda Zook. And Cody and Adrianna. If it’s anything like other years, we’ll eat from the many plates of “snack food” set out on the counter. Then we’ll exchange small gifts with great fanfare. And lots of laughing and hollering. And then, when it’s time for them to open their own gifts as a family, I’ll slip out and head home to a quiet evening of catching a few of my favorite scenes on the 24 hour loop of A Christmas Story on TBS. It’s all pretty comfortable and laid back. I’m looking forward to it.

Merry Christmas to all my readers.