Thursday, December 31, 2009

Got debt?

I received a strange phone call yesterday. I'm home this week on annual leave.

Ms. Chisum called, and using my first name, asked how I was doing. Since I don't know any Ms. Chisum, I was immediately suspicious.

She wanted to know if had a neighbor by the name of, let's say, Juan Gonzalez. I asked why.

Instead of answering my question, she drew out the conversation. She correctly said that I lived on [street name and number], and continued, "And Mr. Gonzalez lives at, I want to say... I want to say... [street name and number], right?" That is the correct address for the house next door.

I said, "You must be a bill collector."

She said,"No." I'm pretty sure she was lying at this point, but perhaps she was denying that she "must" be a bill collector.

I said I didn't know the name of who lived next door. She asked if I would go post a note on their door.

At that house, there has been a succession of yearly tenants, usually several unrelated adults with children sometimes present. There have been a few police visits to the house over the years, with at least one being in response to an alleged shooting there.

Last year I had my garage spray painted with a gang sign, the numeric designation of an urban semi-automatic gun. I have my suspicions who did it since there was a large party going on next door on that weekend day when I drove away at noon, and the party was over and the obscene symbol was on my garage wall a few hours later when I returned.

I asked Ms. Chisum what the note would say. You like to be helpful. Perhaps the occupant's wife was in labor in Bolivia or something and he needed to call home.

Ms. Chisum said, "It would just contain my name and number, with a note asking Mr. Gonzalez to call."

I asked her if she was a bill collector. There was a long silence and then Ms. Chisum said, "I already said no to your earlier question."

I declined to undertake the requested action and the call terminated.

In my profession, I deal with the Fair Debt Collections Practice Act ("FDCPA"), a statute written by Congress which prohibits debt collectors from engaging in a laundry list of abusive practices like smearing an individual's name by calling up his or her neighbors (or employers--sometimes repeatedly) and alerting them to the supposed presence of a deadbeat in their midst. I referred to the wording of the statute and found that Ms. Chisum either did, or did not, violate the statute if she was a debt collector, which I'm pretty sure she was.

She was entitled to call me up if she was genuinely trying to locate the actual address of the deadbeat. She cannot state to an unrelated party that the purpose of the call involves an attempt to collect a debt. She has to give her name. So far Ms. Chisum complied.

If directly asked, she has to disclose the name of her employer. I asked how she was employed, not who her employer was. It would do me little good if she said to me, "I work for the ABC Company."

I consulted with a fellow lawyer who said that theoretically my question whether she was a debt collector triggered Ms. Chisum's duty under that part of the statute to truthfully respond, putting her in violation of the FDCPA. I'm not sure I agree with that, but this attorney agreed with me that neither of us would go to court to try to cite this set of facts as being clearly violative of the FDCPA.

This attorney also said that Ms. Chisum was very professional and acted correctly by not disclosing to me that Mr. Gonzalez was a deadbeat. Which would have been apparent if she had confirmed that she was a debt collector.

See how vague this statute, like many statutes, is? Ms. Chisum was lying to me, but fulfilling the spirit of the law. Where does that leave me, the innocent recipient of this legally allowable call?

I know this much. If I was naive and eager to help without first ascertaining all the facts (the "wife giving birth in Bolivia" scenario), I could go post the requested note next door and step right into the middle of an acrimonious financial dispute. This would be a great thing to unleash in a neighborhood.

Imagine this scenario. I post the supposedly innocuous note on my neighbor's door. Mr. Gonzalez comes home at midnight, having put in a hard day's work followed by a full evening of relaxation at a tavern. He's handed a note which he sees as a demand by a debt collection company to call them, which has been taped onto his door by his next-door neighbor.

I'd sure like to hear pounding on my door at midnight, forcing me to arise from bed so I could go discuss on my porch the note I'd posted hours earlier on my enraged neighbor's door in an attempt to be helpful.

Did I already say it's a vague (in parts) statute?

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

No Bloody Good

I tried to give blood this morning. I'm on a quest to give 100 units in my lifetime, and I'm currently at 80. But my odyssey has slowed down recently because I get turned away sometimes now, deferred, as they politely say.

Not because I've done anything fun with my life like live in Europe or visit Africa or have wild sex or get body piercings. No, it's just because of my mundane elevated blood pressure.

Today my temperature was good, the blood droplet from my finger sank in the solution indicating I have good iron, but my upper BP reading was 190. Too high. They told me to relax (yeah, right), waited ten minutes and sure enough the upper reading was down. But now the lower reading was too high, having risen to above 110. They told me I could have another reading in 10 minutes but by rule, I had to leave the office first and come back. I just left.

I'm on medication for hypertension, which I attribute wholly to my exposure to Western divorce litigation, but I must have lost a bottle of pills because earlier this month, I was suddenly down to one or two pills. I went to Kaiser for a refill but I was turned away (deferred?) because I was too early--meaning I couldn't refill my 90-day supply because the pills I had already received should have lasted through January. The earliest I could receive a refill was on January 18th. I told the Kaiser pharmacist I'd lost those pills, apparently. She shrugged, offered me two pills (which would come out of the next order), and told me to come back on the 18th or else make an appointment with my doctor. It was the rule.

I asked her if she thought I was selling blood pressure pills on the black market. She just stared at me. Next time I guess I'll claim they were stolen, but they'll probably require a police report before issuing a refill. Of blood pressure pills. There's a lot of demand for those babies, you know.

All these "rules" are leaving me feeling so helpless and disgusted that I treated myself to a meal at McDonalds. I had two double cheeseburgers off of their dollar menu. That ought to help my b/p.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Where is the one following W?

Number two has dropped off the board. I used to think, because of his folly in getting us into the quagmire in Vietnam, that LBJ was the worst US President ever. Nixon, who was also a war-mongerer, was a close number two. (He didn't create the mess.)

Somehow, Nixon has achieved stature as a strong president. I always thought he achieved his foreign policy "advances" by the world notion that he was a little crazy. Can you imagine being in a neighborhood where a neighbor is on the street waving around an AK-47? And all you have in your nightstand drawer is a .38 caliber Smith & Wesson? You're not going out there to confront the bully. Unless you're a tough North Vietnamese and you want the bully off of your block.

Then along came the Decider, with his stolen two elections, W (for Worst ever), who is by all measures the worst president ever. Remember Mission Accomplished? How's your IRA? Can you spell Katrina? Did he fix New Orleans like he promised he would? Helluva a job Dubya!

So number one is locked into place. Did you vote for him, ever? If so, you didn't do your homework, and you should be waterboarded. Like to breathe? Not being able to breathe, that's not torture? Darth Vader says it's not.

I was running with some thinking Americans awhile back before Obama's triumph (including a Vietnam era veteran) and we rated the presidents as we ran. The VN era vet said, hands down, the worst president was James Buchanan because he brought us the Civil War. (We disqualified the Decider because he was still president.)

Well, I guess the Civil War was worse than the VN War. Maybe my friend is right. Because after watching all the high drama involved in bringing America into the 21st century by giving all of its citizens access to adequate health care, as is common to the rest of the civilized world, I have to admit that LBJ bringing us Medicare in the sixties was a notable achievement.

Although they'd like to dismantle it, now the GOP defends Medicare as if they had anything to do with bringing it about. They're more than a little hypocritical. It was an accomplishment that LBJ brought us, senior serenity (the Great Society), along with the VN war. So now I insert Buchanan into position number two, as the worst ever after the Decider. Perhaps LBJ has dropped out of the bottom five list even.

Monday, December 28, 2009


I went to a school in the South which has an honor code. No lying, cheating or stealing. It's an honor code violation not to turn in anyone committing an honor violation. The single sanction is discharge from school.

I am against honor codes. They institute great uncertainty into the mores of practical folks, and institute a reign of terror, in my estimation, because they set the bar at the personal standard of the most stringent interpretation of "honor" by its most zealous advocate. Lost in this is the notion of "prosecutorial discretion."

In the realm of ordinary affairs, offenses pass a number of preliminary barriers before they appear before the ultimate arbiter, a court of law, where they become fully vetted. First, though, a policeman, or injured consumer, decide if the "offense" (jaywalking, or a dinged car door) is worth pursuing. Only then is it passed up the food chain. We all have a sliding scale of values for this--a tiny pock on the bumper earns the culprit a glare, a dent in the quarter panel elicits an exchange of insurance information (the "referral"). But no one lives in fear that their de minimis standard in ignoring a "violation" will earn them a trip before the tribunal and ultimate ejection from the system.

In honor code environments, cheaters go on cheating but take greater care not to get caught. They can actually thrive in the atmosphere of elevated, but not necessarily warrantedly so, sense of trust. Practical folks maintain a low level of anxiety that their common sense attitudes in how they go about their business, either through omissions or commissions, could come to the attention of zealots with stringent, rigid or tortured idealism, who would feel duty-bound to turn them in to the honor board for potential application of the ultimate (and only) sanction.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

My team is losing.

Christmas was white. (Yes, I shoveled my sidewalk again which the snowplow driver buried under snow chunks of ice after I'd scraped it bone dry.) It rained, so now the whiteness has been washed away.

My siblings hate it that I always mail all my Christmas packages to them on the day after Thanksgiving. They tried to get me to join their cabal a few years back where some cockamamie round-robin of gift giving would allow us to take five years off of gift-giving ( I am one of six children). I refused, and this became another secret message I'm always trying to send to them, blah blah.

I garnered a bountiful haul. My WW2 uncle sent a gift card for Home Depot. My two older siblings sent me flannel PJ bottoms; and a "Maria's Pot" Navajo pottery. My friend in DC gave me a non V-neck or mock turtle-neck sweater because I had been complaining that when I recently shopped for "crew neck" sweaters, no one knew what I was talking about. Under my tree were running shoes, and a book which amazingly I was already reading, as virtual gifts from my two youngest children. (Thanks Johnny & Danny!) A running club companion (which club I will be done with when my annual membership runs out later this week) gave me a bottle of Beaujolais.

My NFL team is losing, so I guess I'll open the Beaujolais. My house is 50 degrees so I guess I'll put on my sweater. Jimmy, there was nothing under my tree for you this year because you're way over 21. To my three younger siblings, who received from me a book, DVD and $300 representing final repayment of my legal indebtness from my divorce which was finalized seven years ago; books, cards & garment; and books, I hope you had a Merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

You Gotta Love Cable

My first cable bill arrived--$167. (That includes Internet and phone service everywhere in NA.) That's up from around $67 when I didn't have cable (only a local landline and Internet).

So what have I watched now that I'm a couch potato? Well, I get HBO "free" for 90 days but I have only found it/watched it once, when I stumbled across a riveting documentary on the Mumbai massacre, using intercepted recorded cell phone calls of the the Muslim terrorists being urged on by their handlers to go find some Jews to especially kill, because that would be even "fifty times better" than the run-of-the-mill mayhem they were perpetrating by just gunning down Indians and tourists. It just made me mad and feel like "those folks" are out to kill me. (No, I'm not Jewish.) My friends chide me to be more tolerant but I dunno.

I think I have 1999 choices (many are radio channels that play over TV). At least you have to go past "1999" to surf the listings and get back to "1." I watch football on weekends at channels 2, 4, 5 or 7. I go to ESPN on Monday nights. Other than that, when I'm up I go to the Comedy Channel at 11 pm to watch Jon Stewart, and I watch the history channel. Over and over. That's it. Nothing else is worth sitting there for an hour for.

I have learned about the two thousand year history of beer. I know a lot of things about Jesus Christ now, and several other early biblical figures like Noah. Boy, was he old. I can't wait til they get the Ark down off that mountain in Turkey where it's at. The RAF is always battling the Luftwaffe, and the Nazis are always overreaching in Europe and sealing their fate. And the Allies are always surmounting the incredible difficulties of landing in Normandy. And the battles in Korea raged back and forth with little change in the lines ultimately. Except for the beer part, and the biblical figures part, I already knew a lot of this stuff from reading books.

Is this $100 well spent?

Friday, December 25, 2009

A Holiday Greeting

Merry Christmas Johnny & Danny Lamberton, and to you too Jimmy Rogers. Sorry I'm going to miss lunch with you today, Dan (you never called, I'm in the book). I'll be at the Lost Dog Cafe in Westover at noon on New Year's Day, hoping to have lunch with you there then, my treat. Bring a friend or two, or your brothers, we have seven years worth to catch up on! Love Dad.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A year-end wish.

Peace on earth. Happy holidays, and health and well care to all. (Thanks you 60 progressives. Boo on you 40 lockstep obstructionist naysayer hypocrites.)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Let it snow.

Over the weekend the DC area had a record breaking snowfall. It cancelled the government on Monday. You know it's getting near the end when a friend calls you up more than once and worriedly asks if you're taking it easy while shoveling snow. Your ancient heart and all, you know.

I told my friend that if throwing a little snow around was going to do me in, I shouldn't be in the gene pool anymore. She assured me that my days of being in the gene pool anymore were long gone.

And where were my three strapping boys who I put through college (full tuition & fees--no student loans, yay!) while I was clearing twenty inches of snow off 90 feet of driveway, 90 feet of sidewalk and 24 feet of walkway? MIA as usual. I hope they were at least at their Mother's house helping shovel the driveway and walk. Her new husband is over 60, after all.

Although I doubt it, the young generation being what it is. I helped shovel out the driveway of a neighbor who is pretty incapacitated by physical ailments. A house guest of his, in her forties, had already done most of it. His twenty year-old son showed up, felt obliged to pitch in since I was there laboring away, threw about four half-shovelfuls of snow to the curb, and then brushed snow off his buried car for the last half hour I was there finishing the job. Motion without much momentum.

When I got home from that neighborliness a city snowplow had come down our street. Its driver barreled along my curb line at about 30 MPH and pushed the snow over the snowbank onto my bone dry sidewalk, covering a long stretch of it with two two feet of snow and ice chunks from the street. I had expected to shovel the end of my driveway again after it passed, but not my sidewalk all over again. Nobody else's sidewalk was similarly treated.

This annoyed me greatly. It is still unshoveled, forcing pedestrians to detour into the street to get past my house, and it's going to remain that way til it melts.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A sighting.

I am a father, you know. Of three sons in their twenties, all childhood victims of Parental Alienation Syndrome. None of them has communicated with me or any relative of mine for years.

I occasionally pick up snatches of information about them from chance run-ins with local nodding acquaintances. For years I coached my sons' house soccer teams, so sometimes I run into the parents of former players of mine. I always ask about their son, and occasionally get a tidbit of information back, gleaned from a chance encounter they had with one of my children. I call these sightings.

I had a sighting last night. At the grocery store, a parent related a recent brief encounter with my oldest child. As I politely listened I was screaming inside, He's alive!

You see, unlike most parents, I don't live in dread of receiving a call that always seems to come in the middle of the night. Rather, I live in fear of never receiving such a call, that someday I'll be speaking with a casual acquaintance and hear the words, I'm so sorry!

Their Mother, a local elementary school teacher busy imparting values to impressionable young children, refuses to provide me with any information about our children, including their addresses. I send their holiday cards back to my house and toss them in a box.

It's hell not knowing whether your children are even alive, knowing you'll never know about any occurrence affecting them until far after the event and then only by chance. Only in America.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Grasshopper and Po

The phone rang yesterday and I picked it up. "Hello, this is Peter."

"You’re responsible for this, you know."

"Excuse me?"

"It’s your responsibility that this happened. I just wanted you to know."

I didn’t recognize her voice right away. In this age of emailing instead of calling, a person’s phone voice is not always immediately recognizable. I stalled for time. "What am I responsible for?"

"My BQ."

Ahh. Running. "You BQ’d? Congratulations!" I was still stalling.

"Yes, and I owe it in large part to you for getting me started down this path, coach."

A running pupil. I ran through my trainees at the recent ATM Program I completed, just before my association with my running club blew up in a generational conflict over respect, fealty, honesty (ethics) and dedication to others, or lack thereof, and I resigned. "No, I didn’t do anything. You did it all." Still stalling.

"You don’t know who this is, do you?"

"Give me a hint."

"Long runs, track training, my first coach."


"You paced me in the Marine Corps Marathon..."


"Yes! And I BQ’d yesterday in only my second marathon, with a 3:40:56."

"That’s right, you were going to run a marathon in California."

"Yes, the California International Marathon in Sacramento."

"Wow, how did it feel to make it by four seconds? Were you crazy that last mile?"

"Uh, actually, Peter, I needed a 3:45, not a 3:40."

"Wow, you crushed it!" (Right: Me and my former pupil before the 2008 9/11 5K at the Pentagon.)

I thought back to coaching she in 2006, when she first showed up midway through the program in a small group I was leading. I had the fast group and she could keep up from the start. I ran with her in track that year, too. She was dedicated.

I subsequently asked her to coach in programs I directed, and she became a valued member of my coaching staff who I came to depend on. She progressed to where in 2008, she became the first, and so far only, student of mine who has bettered me in a race. This has happened more than once.

The first time it happened, I hoped it was an anomaly. Due to the staggered start (the women started after the men), she never actually passed me during the race. But then she started showing an annoying tendency to catch up with me in the last mile of long races, and crushing me the last mile.

At last year’s MCM, her first marathon, I "helped" her out by jumping in with her at MP 11 and pacing her the last 15 miles. Me, the veteran of seventeen marathons, showing the rookie how to do it.

Shortly after we passed MP 25, she kicked up the pace by several notches during her twenty-sixth mile and my fifteenth. She left me in the dust, far behind as she burned about a seven-minute last mile to finish in 3:51. I couldn’t keep up with her. (Left: Me and my former pupil after the 2008 9/11 5K at the Pentagon. This marked the last time I finished ahead of her.)

Now she has surpassed my marathon PR by almost ten minutes. It is a poor teacher whose pupils do not surpass him.

Congratulations Sasha, my good friend.