Bill Collector Blues

I was reading a column in FloridaThinks about bill collectors and I’m not an angry person; I don’t get all in a rage when I read stuff. But I was actually getting a little hot under the collar from reading about debt collectors who harass people about unpaid bills.

I myself am fortunate in that I pay my bills. Not because I’m better than anyone else, but because I am able. But being from Youngstown, Ohio, I know lots of people who have been laid off from their jobs and were unable to pay their bills. My friend Arlene is a legend in my own mind for personally chasing off a repo man who tried to take her car in the middle of the night. I think she may have been wielding a hockey stick or a broom.

I would hate to be a repo man in Youngstown. And I would hate to be a bill collector of any kind anywhere. “I don’t know how those people can get out of bed every morning and go to do that job,” my sister said. She had her identity stolen, which means she had another identity attached to her, that of an extremely tall black woman who stole, wrote bad checks, and fled to Montana. It was a nightmare for my sister; a nightmare that ends with a lifetime of straggling calls from bill collectors.

My own experience with bill collectors is the story of Tanya Watts. When I lived in Lexington, Ky., Tanya Watts was my other identity. I knew more about her than I know about my best friend, except the one thing I needed to know: her real phone number. She didn’t steal my identity, but she stole my phone number, which, in the Annoying Day-to-Day Department, is almost worse.

Tanya discovered that when you’re applying for a Sears credit card or opening a checking account or even getting a library card, you can put any seven digits down for a phone number and people will just hand you money and things. Why not? They have your phone number don’t they? If you abscond with all the money, they can just call that phone number every day for two years and somehow it’ll all work out.

That’s what happened. Tanya used my phone number to open store charges, open checking accounts, take out loans, and God knows what else. She also gave that number to her daughter’s preschool and her husband’s employer, which was the police department. So we would get Tanya’s reminders about where to line up for the July Fourth parade and all of her husband’s emergency drill calls. She even gave the number to her mother-in-law. (That’s when I realized we were dealing with evil incarnate.) When the mother-in-law called, I didn’t have the heart to tell her what Tanya had done. But like the bill collectors, she kept calling. My husband was less sympathetic.

“This isn’t their number,” my husband blurted out to this poor, elderly lady, who was calling from Chicago. “And when you do finally find them, could you please tell them to pay their bills?”

No matter what I said to the bill collectors, the banks and the lawyers who called, no matter how many times I told them that Tanya did not live in my house, I never knew her, I don’t know what her number is now or ever, they still kept calling back.

“Don’t you watch Law & Order?” I asked the one debt collection rep who called every few days. “Don’t you have any investigative know-how at all? If you really want to find her, you’ll track her down through her husband’s employer or by her address, which is in the phone book, by the way. But you can’t expect to find her if you just keep calling the same wrong number over and over again.”

“Have you made the little note on your list like I told you to do last week?” I said to her another time. “Write down ‘wrong number’ or ‘This is not Tanya’s phone number’ next to her name. Do it. Do it right now.”

These debt collectors thought I was her. Or thought that I was hiding her in my house. Nothing I said could convince them that the current phone call was not going to produce Tanya or any money toward her bills. So I started to change things up a little.

May I speak to Tanya Watts?

“No, she’s dead.”


May I speak to Tanya Watts?


[Pause.] Is this her?

“This is she. Yes.”

[Surprised bill collector goes into a spiel about how she owes $2,100 on a bill. He is stuttering. Clearly, he’s not prepared to ever actually reach her.]

“Oh, yeah, I’m not paying that.”


“Yeah, I’m not paying it. Not gonna happen. So stop calling me.”


May I speak to Tanya Watts?

“No, she doesn’t live here, but let me give you the whole story. It’ll take about 15 minutes out of your day, but it’ll help get this off my chest and prevent you from making about six or seven calls to other victims. OK, so we moved here two years ago and got this phone number . . .”


After two years, we had our phone number changed and left no forwarding number. Which made me look like I was the one that was trying to avoid paying my bills.

My son says I missed a great opportunity to have some real fun with the bill collectors of the world, get revenge for many poor people who are struggling. And also to use my Katherine Hepburn voice and blast some deserving eardrums with our lifeguard whistle.

I just wanted to be done with Tanya and her bills. I do sometimes wonder how the July Fourth parade went, and if she liked all that stuff she bought at JCPenney.

Labels: , , , ,