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A man of letters delivered sharp jabs

Published May 14, 2007


Since my dad died a few months ago, the smallest things bring him back to me.

A red-shouldered hawk overhead - the man would stop anywhere, any time, to put binoculars on an interesting bird. A good Jon Stewart jab. A game involving the Miami Heat, his team, though he liked to call them the Tepid. And lately, his cell phone bill.

Even for someone as meticulous as my father, a man who mistrusted encumbrances in general and credit cards in particular, there were accounts to close, contracts to cancel. If you've ever had to do this, you know it's tedious and necessary and sad.

He wasn't even a cell phone guy, had it only for emergencies when he was in the woods or on the water or in the middle of nowhere, his favorite place to be.

On my first call to cancel Sprint, a cheery voice told me about a deal I could get if I kept dad's phone service myself, which sounded suspiciously like a sales pitch. Instead, I faxed them the death certificate as requested and crossed "cell phone" off my list.

Until the next month, when I got a bill. Had I misunderstood? Again I called, waited on hold, re-faxed and was reassured all was taken care of. And got another bill.

When I was a kid, my father was a letter writer. He enjoyed taking his literary razor to the idiocy of daily life, longhand on legal paper, sardonic and sharp. Later he signed his daily e-mails to me "Codger, " as in "Intrepid Codger, " "Impatient Codger" or "Satisfied Codger, " depending on his day.

After I wrote a column about two trees that grew entwined in what looked like a passionate embrace, he sent an e-mail in bad-grammar disguise: Lady, Are you sure that there tree wrapped around the palm is a Camphor and not a Strangler Fig? I don't know much about them Camphors, but I do know a bit about Strangler Figs, which have the quirky habit of embracing palm trees and even elderly folk that have lost their agility. Got to be real careful around the damn things. It was signed, Concerned Citizen. I wrote back that my father raised me right in at least one aspect: I could tell a tree from a tree.

But he was better known for missives to businesses and government agencies, an enemy of bureaucracy, bloated prices, shoddy work, indifferent service, unkept promises and, God help you, rules for rules' sake. When you read these, you could almost see some corporate boss broken by the words, renouncing his greedy ways. My father almost always got results.

In my note to the cell phone people, I refrained from beginning, "Dear Insensitive Jerks." He would have expected better.

Two months later came the bill from the collection agency.

This time I was tethered to Sprint via phone for 44 minutes and 5 seconds, enduring multiple transfers to people of dubious authority, including a misnamed "Customer Solution Specialist." One person actually asked me: "Your father did not use (the phone) after your father died, correct?" Uh, no. He would have liked that one.

Finally, I was promised it was over. No more bills. Nothing owed. They would even put A Note In The File. And hey, maybe they learned something; maybe the next person dealing with death and phone calls would not have to deal with this, too.

Do I believe this?

I am my father's daughter. All I need now is a stamp.

[Last modified May 14, 2007, 01:02:12]

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