The Phone Call

The invention of the telephone has turned on us. Use to be, we used the phone to call a friend down the road, or to make an appointment with the doctor, or to order a new winter coat from Sears and Roebuck. It was a simple means of communication. Nothing more.

It was a rare thing to get a phone call from someone I didn’t know. Strangers didn’t have my number. I didn’t worry about caller ID because, when the phone rang, I could be pretty confident it was someone I knew or someone who had a good reason to be calling me.

When the phone rang, I never had to worry about the potential for that call becoming a whopping-pile-of-horse-hocky-head-shaking waste of my time.

But when the phone rings now, I automatically think, “this could be a capital waste of my time.” That’s my first thought. I’m sorry. I didn’t used to be this way. I finally gave up my home phone a couple of years ago just for this reason. Every call was a solicitation call. I hated to do that, but enough is enough.

Cell phones were once fairly exempt from this atrocity. Most of the calls I got were real people with some bonified connection to me. And, of course, my cell is my business lifeline, so I answer unknown numbers all the time. Most of them used to turn into a new customer which led to a sale of some kind. Unknown numbers are the norm for me.

But now, even the cell phones are overrun with spam calls. One call after another wanting to talk to the person in charge of shipping, wanting to tell me that I’ve qualified for federal grant money, wanting to save me money on my phone bill.

How ‘bout I save myself a bunch of money and just throw the phone away! Some days I’d like to try that.

Today’s phone call was none of what I just described.

Two rings. “Diversified Trees. This is Paul.” My standard business-friendly voice.

“Hey Mr. Chappell, this is Dexter from JJ Kane.”

Two things are in my favor. He knows my last name and did not give it a French twist in pronunciation. And he’s from a company I know. JJ Kane is a national equipment auction company. The Georgia auction site is located in Villa Rica. We’ve never sold anything through them, but we have certainly bought a lot of trucks at their auction.

“I’ve got a check for you that I want to send out from the last sale, and I just wanted to verify whether I should send it to your attention or to Cory.”

At this point, I’m guessing this is not a spam call. He could have our names from some unsolicited source, but the fact that he knows both our names makes this sound legit.

Except for one thing. We didn’t sell anything at auction last month.

“Dexter, I’m a little confused. Why would you have a check for us?”

“This is for the equipment you sold with us at auction on January 10th.”

“Diversified Trees? You sure you got the right company?”

“Yes sir, the check I’m holding in my hand has your name on it. I just want to verify how you want me to send it to you.”

By this time I’ve taken my cap off and laid it on the desk. I think better with my cap off so I can scratch my head. I’m desperately trying to coax up a memory I don’t have.

“So, how much is the check?”

“Five thousand four hundred dollars.”

Having been in business and self-employed for the last 21 years, when someone is offering to send me a check for $5K, he has my attention.

“Well, Dexter, although I would consider myself fortunate to come upon such a windfall, I can’t take your money. To my knowledge, we have never sold anything through JJ Kane, and certainly not this past January. I have a short memory but not that short.”

Dexter is a dedicated account manager. “I understand, but I still have a check here that belongs to you.”

“Tell me something. What piece of equipment did “we” sell?”

I hear tapping sounds on a computer keyboard. “Give me just a second.” More tapping. Looks like it was Kubota Chipper.”

“We’ve never owned a Kubota chipper. Didn’t know Kubota even made a chipper.”

More tapping punctuated with guttural noises.

“Let me see here. It was actually an Altec chipper, model DC1317, VIN# 189747KA with a Kubota engine. You brought it to us on January 9th and it sold at auction on the 10th.”

“How do you want me to get this check to you?”

Again, Dexter is thorough. He has all the details right at his fingertips. I admire his dedication to customer service. It’s just that he’s wrong on one very important detail. It’s not our chipper.

“Do you mind if I get your last name and phone number. I don’t think there’s any way that my partner would have sold something at auction without me having some knowledge of it. But let me check with him and I’ll call you back.”

I talked with Cory and we both had a chuckle over the whole episode. Sure as the world, if they send us this check they will eventually realize their mistake and they’ll be expecting us to write them a check. This is a mess. A funny mess, but a mess.

I called the corporate office of JJ Kane. The guy was super nice as I clumsily tried to explain why I was calling. He verified that Dexter was, in fact, their account manager for Georgia. I wasn’t being scammed.

He asked me, “Do you have the Lot # for the item sold?”

“No sir, I don’t because I didn’t sell anything.”

“What did Dexter tell you? Did he identify the equipment?”

“He did.” I gave him the description and numbers that Dexter had read off to me.”

“And this was not your chipper?”

“That is correct.”

“Okay. We obviously have an internal hiccup on our end. I’ll call Dexter and we’ll get this straightened out. Thanks for being honest about all this and I apologize for the inconvenience.”

In the meantime, Dexter emailed me a couple of photos of “our” equipment that we sold at auction. I guess he thought the poor guy is so old and out of touch he can’t remember what his own chipper looks like.

I wish you could see this fine piece of machinery. For a commercial tree chipper, it’s small. The jack stand is bent in half. Hydraulic hoses are disconnected and dangling everywhere. And if you look past all the rust, you can tell that once upon a time it was painted white. That’s the Altec color.

I never called Dexter back. I figured he’d get the word from corporate. He probably thought the whole thing was as weird as I did.

I know this. Not all calls are a waste of time. Some are just a goofy way of giving me something to smile about.

No waste there.

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