When you grow up with immigrant parents, you often do things you don’t want to. Not because they’re hard but because you think they’re embarrassing or annoying and involve dealing with strangers, especially people whose job it is to assist you in some way. Of course, the same parents spend their days racking up moral capital by providing for you in a foreign country, which tends to force the issue.
“You can’t pick up the phone to call our telephone company to remove those charges they mistakenly added?”
“But the charges are correct.”
“They’re crooks. They steal every bit they can.”
“But it shows here that you had roaming charges and also you went over the minute limit.”
They exchange glance as if to say, Is this really our son? Maybe we picked up the wrong bundle in the hospital that day.
Then you sigh and pick up the bill in total resignation. You won’t get an A now; the best you can hope for is a C-, if all goes well. Then you call, hating every minute of it. And so on.
When my uncle, who spoke substantially less English than either of my parents, asked me to call his credit card company to clarify a few matters, it seemed an easy task compared to the irritating negotiations I’d carry on for my dad…a mere impersonation job. He gave me his credit card number. I took his Social as well, for identification purposes, proud of my own foresight.
I swallowed and picked up the phone. After some initial wait the customer service rep picked up the phone and introduced himself.
“Good afternoon, my name is Craig. Mr. T… how may I assist you today?”
“I need to make inquiries on some charges I see posted to my account,” I replied, using my best 20-year-old voice.
“Of course, Sir, I’d be happy to help you with that. Let’s just pull up your information here. What is the name on the account?”
I spelled out my uncle’s first name deliberately, having spotted the Russian spelling on one of the envelopes at his office. Check and mate.
“And what is your address?”
“Your address, Sir. We just need it for confirmation.”
“Ah, yes…err.” It was an apartment I’d been to many times for countless family parties, though it was less familiar than my granparents’ place. Getting driven to your uncle’s house by others when you’re younger, there’s little need to remember addresses and apartment numbers. Not to mention floors.
Desperate for a lifeline, I told him to hold on. I race into my dad’s room to ask him how to use the hold button. Then I raced back and got back on the line with the CSR. His voice was slightly less patient this time, though still polite.
“Can you please hold for a moment? I just need to make a quick phone call.”
“Of course, Sir, but if you could just give me your address, it shouldn’t take more than a second, I can look up your info while you’re making your call.”
“I understand, but I…just need to confirm something.”
“Sir, do you know the address where you are living.”
“Yes, of course,” I tried to put on my most indignant voice. “Please hold.”
I dialed my uncle with feverish speed. He was perplexed at the situation, while I was now pretty pissed off at sounding the fool. I switched back to Craig.
“Hello, Sir, we do need that address now.”
I read the street and numbers to Craig in a way an amnesiac might recall his home address at a hospital, clearing out one fugue cloud at a time. The CSR was clearly skeptical but the information checked out. He read off and explained the charges I was inquiring about and I thanked him. He didn’t even bother asking if there was anything else he could help me with today. He probably realized that each further question would dig him further into the quicksand of a potential stolen identity investigation, or, at best, leave him on hold while I researched my Grandmother’s maiden name.