Service without a smile (service fee, that is)

Although there are lots of conspiracy buffs, I’m not one of them.

Not that I doubt conspiracies exist. Of course they do, but not in the numbers and degree the buffs believe.

And when conspiracies do exist, they inevitably get revealed, for the simple reason that most people can’t keep their mouths shut. I’m sure that long before the invention of the whistle there were whistle-blowers.

According to conspiracy theorists, JFK was killed by a vast network. At various times it involved (either singly or in combination with) the CIA, the FBI, the mafia, Lyndon Johnson, the Campfire Girls, the Hardy Boys, and the Bobbsey Twins.

According to me, Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone assassin, since all actual evidence points to him and him alone. It’s nowhere near as complicated or colorful as a conspiracy, but sadly, and usually, the truth is far less interesting than fiction.

As might be expected, conspiracy aficionados don’t need huge cataclysmic events like 9/11 to see endless threads of subtle and serpentine collusion. To them, some local-yokel blip like the village getting a grant to repair the sidewalks is a sign of a Cuomo kickback scheme. And if the Adirondack Donut Hut is opened by a couple from Malaysia, for sure it’s an Al Qaeda front.

As far as I’m concerned, most woes we suffer from the powers-that-be are driven not by convoluted, coordinated cabals, but by two basic components of human nature – greed and stupidity. In 99 percent of Things Gone Bad, you need look nor farther than that. As for the other 1 percent, you shouldn’t look at all.

And what, you might ask, inspired this latest diatribe about Humanity’s Woes? My homeowner’s insurance bill, that’s what.

Actually, it wasn’t the insurance bill itself. It was a combination of the insurance bill and its notification – two very distinct things.

Noticing the notification

I got the notification two weeks ago, and the bill last week. Normally, I don’t check such things out in detail. Yeah, it’s a bill. Big deal. They arrive, I pay ’em, life goes on. Not a lot of options – especially when such things as fire, wind and water damage are waiting in the wings, all too ready for a policy cancelation so they can do their thing. I see how much it is and write out a check. Period.

But last week I actually checked what was written on the bill and notification. And when I did, I saw a discrepancy: The bill was $4 more than the notification.

Let’s get real: What’s four bucks these days? Nothing, that’s what. When I was in high school it was something, namely a half-day’s pay. Today it’s not even a cup of coffee and a cinnamon roll.

So why’d I notice it? I’ve no idea. But once I noticed the difference, I was determined to find out why it existed. Did I suspect skullduggery on my insurance company’s behalf? Not at all – I was just curious.

I’ve always been driven by my curiosity, and while (unlike the cat) it never killed me, it has gotten me in all kinds of hot water. Repeatedly, I’ve found that asking people questions embarrasses them if they don’t know the answers. Or if they’re trying to hide something, it embarrasses them when they do know the answer.

The waive of the future

No matter. I had a question and I wanted it answered. And in this case I knew exactly where to go – to the IB Hunt agency, where my family and I’ve been doing our business for 60 years or so.

I went right to The Brains of the Outfit herself – Carolyn Salls.

After handing her the bill and the notification, I asked the inevitable question.

“OK,” I said, “why is the bill four bucks more than the notification?”

“Probably a service charge,” she said.

“A service charge?” I repeated moronically.

She nodded, looked at the bill, and then held it to me.

“See,” she said. “There it is, a $4 service charge.”

I saw it, and that raised another question.

“But what’s the service they’re charging me for?” I asked.

“Sending the bill,” she said, and shrugged.

I tried to process this, aloud.

“Lemme see if I’ve got this right,” I said. “I’m being charged $4 for them to send me a few sheets of paper and a return envelope?”

She nodded.

Something was very much awry.

If that bill had been typed up and addressed on an ancient manual Remington by a prim old gal in starched white blouse and long pleated wool skirt, her hair piled high in a bun, rimless glasses perched on the end of her nose, I’d gladly pay four bucks for the honor.

But this bill wasn’t typed by any human at all, let alone a prim old one. It wasn’t even typed. Instead, deep in the bowels of the insurance leviathan, some computer had spit it out, just as it had (and would continue to do) with millions of others.

And there was the key point – millions!

Sure, my four bucks don’t amount to bupkes, especially when it comes to the gross profits of a giant insurance company. But multiply my four measly shekels by two or four or who-knows-how-many millions and, and as attributed to ole Ev Dirksen, pretty soon you’re talking real money.

But what could I do about this outrage? As it turned out, Carolyn provided the answer.

“You know,” she said, “if you send in a check for the amount on the notification, they’ll waive the service fee.”

Well, I thought, Ain’t that a fine howdy-do?

And after that, I thought if the company would be so generous as to waive my service fee, the least I could do was accept their generosity, which is exactly what I did.

So do I think the service fee shtuss is part of an insurance company conspiracy? Not at all.

As I said at the start, I believe most what we consider conspiracies are just acts of greed and/or stupidity.

And I think that’s the case here. First, there’s the company’s greed, trying to nick everyone for a service fee. And second, there’s their stupidity if a Dope can get out of paying it.