Monday, August 3, 2015

No Longer a Child of Privilege

A lifetime ago, or perhaps just so long ago that it feels that way, I got an American Express Card.  I was twenty-two years old.  A senior at CU.  I did not have any money so I did not use my Amex Card for anything.  It was a green one, which meant that I had to pay off the balance in its entirety every month.  Besides, the Denny's across the street from the Dark Horse Tavern was open twenty-four hours a day and it took Discover, a card that I also possessed - in large part because when I signed up for it outside of the J.C. Penney's store at Crossroads Mall in Boulder, I was given a set of four glasses.  Free stuff is free stuff. 

American Express and I began a relationship in 1989 that I thought might last for the rest of my life.  In the first couple of years that I had my Amex Card, I used it with sufficient regularity that they "invited" me to apply for the Gold Card.  I did.  For years thereafter it was the only credit card I carried in my wallet.  As a young man, in an era before Margaret and I were married, I often carried it in my wallet in lieu of money.  The job that I had when I met my wife, where I worked as a bill collector, permitted me to work noon to nine pm four days a week  (and then 9 am to 3 pm on Friday).  I took dinner at 5:00 pm.  I would drive the five minutes or so up the road to Pizzeria Uno, where I would sit at the bar, slap my Gold Card down upon it, and have the bartender feed me as many screwdrivers as I could consume in 50 minutes.  I would settle up and then hop back into the car to return to the office and the final three hours of my shift.   While it is now lost to the vestiges of time, I do remember laughing out loud when I received the year-end breakdown of my charges for 1990 and 1991.  The overwhelming percentage was under the category of "Food and Beverage".  They were half right I reckon.  

I used my Gold Card enough back in the day that American Express spent quite a few years bombarding me with offers to move up from the Gold Card, first to the Platinum Card and finally to the Black Card.  I never did.  Things change over time.  Among them was my habit of using my Amex Card.  I simply stopped using it.  It was not the result of any conscious decision-making on my part.  It was simply something that happened.  

The other evening, as the Boss sat on the floor in the living room performing the monthly ritual of matching up incoming dollars with outgoing obligations, she happened upon the American Express statement.  It was in the amount of $160.00.  The statement was not for charges incurred but rather for the privilege of carrying it for the next twelve months.  It was at that point that I realized that not only did I no longer carry it in my wallet, I could not recall when the last time was that I had used it for anything.  

It turns out that other than the annual renewal fee, neither Margaret nor I had accrued a single charge on the card since 2007.  2007.  Margaret asked me whether I had her permission to pull the plug and to end my quarter-century relationship with Amex.  For a moment I considered asking her to just write them a check and keep the dream alive for twelve more months.  Upon further reflection however, I realized that all I was doing was telling a lie to myself.  I thought of the great Pete Hamill and his observation that, "Nobody truly mourns a lie".   He is right.  

Margaret eschewed paying the renewal fee.  Instead, she called an 800 number provided in the statement and cancelled our account.  I never even had to talk to the representative.  When the deal was done and we were no longer "Members", she returned to the living room and told me that during her conversation with the woman who assisted her, the woman noted that I had been with Amex since 1989.  Margaret also told me that other than that one brief mention of the length of my relationship with them, the representative made no effort to try to talk her - and me - into not cancelling the card.  I suppose that at day's end, they valued my non-patronage as little as did I.  

Whether T.S. Eliot is proven true remains to be seen.  What he said did apply however to American Express and me.  Mr. Eliot summed up the final act of our relationship quite nicely...

...but perhaps not quite as well as Mel Blanc. 




-AK 

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