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The Clearing House
by Doug Dawson

I ‘m a guy who likes his privacy, OK? Don’t like people coming to the front door, knocking loudly and telling me I’ve got to have a new roof, new siding or that I’ve got to change my gas and electric service. The ubiquitous telemarketers are even worse because there are more of them and I protect myself with my answering machine, except for this one time, when I forgot my usual caution and reached for the phone when it rang.

“Hello,” said I, naively.

A pleasant, yet subtly aggressive voice asked “Is this Mr. Anderson.”

“Yes, it is.”

“How are you today, Mr. Anderson?”

I didn’t say anything, as I knew that the second somebody asks “How are you?” on the phone you know it’s a telemarketer. This was my opportunity to hang up, and confound me, I didn’t take that opportunity.

“Mr. Anderson? Are you still there? (pause) How are you today?”

Once again, I didn’t answer, knowing I should have hung up to spare myself what was coming, only this time I really didn’t see what was coming.

“Mr. Anderson, this is the Social Security Administration.” Now she was arousing my curiosity.

“Yes, is there a problem?” I asked.

“You are in danger of losing your benefits, sir.”

“What? They don’t tell you that over the phone, they notify you in writing. Say, who is this?”

“It’s special operator 672, sir, and I assure you your benefits may be cut off, that’s why I’m calling you today.”

“And how do I keep from losing my benefits?”

“We have a special program …”

“Wait a minute, is this another scam? Not so long ago, people called me and told me they were from the I.R.S. and that I was in trouble with them, but for a very reasonable fee I could take care of …”

“This is not a scam, sir, and I really am from the Social Security Administration.”

“And another time they called me and said I was in trouble with the law – locally, that is. And once again, for a very reasonable fee I could …”

“Sir, I’m looking up your records as we speak and I do see that you’ve been contacted by various agencies and you haven’t responded to them in a timely fashion. That means there could be outstanding warrants against you, plus the fact that the Social Security Administration is adjudicating your case as we speak. Sir, you are in real danger of …”

“What the hell is this? Are you threatening me? I’ve got half a notion to call my lawyer then call the police and then the F.B.I. and whomever else you call to get threatening pests like you off my back. I’ll get the law after you … I’ll … I’ll …”

“No, sir, we are the law, in a manner of speaking. You see, we represent all these agencies and a few more, I’ll have you know.”

“What do you mean? Who the hell are you people?”

“You might think of us as a sort of clearing house, sir. We help people when they are in trouble, that is, we intermediate between customers like yourself and government agencies. For a fee we broker for you, we handle your case and alleviate the problems. Just let us work for you and …”

“Clearing house, eh? I’m speaking to you on my house phone, my land-line that is, but I have my cell phone in my other hand and I’m calling my lawyer while I still have you on the phone. I’m going to get to the bottom of this … just give me a second, will you?”

“Sir, that’s not going to do you any good. All the government agencies we just mentioned and the local law establishment have a problem with you and you are going to be in big trouble if you don’t cooperate, … as we like to say, ‘let our family help your family.’”

“Ok, his phone is ringing now. We’ll figure out just who you people are, report you to the proper authorities and let them deal with you. Calling people at home, pestering them, scaring them … I’ll fix your little red wagon!”

“Fix my little red what, sir? Why don’t you just let us help you? We don’t cost that much and we will handle all these problems for you.”

“Hello Fred? I’ve got these creeps on the line. They’re threating to cut off my Social Security, get me in Dutch with the I.R.S. ….’

“What’s that? Just hang up on them? I never thought of that!” Before I could do that, she beat me to the punch – the next thing I heard on the land line was … “CLICK!”