Thursday, May 4, 2017

Black Bags

There was a knock on my door this afternoon. I peered out the second-story window and saw a strange man with a clipboard. He had parked an unmarked white van in my parking space: no logo or name on the van, just a nondescript off-white van. I came downstairs. The man had returned to his van but instead of pulling out of our complex he merely pulled into the guest space opposite my front door. He opened one of the two rear doors of the van and removed a small tool satchel. I thought how convenient it would be for a would-be burglar to load up the van only a few feet from my front door.

The stranger then walked around to the back of my building and stopped beside my screened patio and crouched. Now usually, if someone knocks on the front door and no one answers they assume the homeowner isn’t home and they leave. They don’t move their car a few feet away, go back for some tools, walk around the building where they’re less likely to be seen, and crouch behind a screened enclosure a foot away from a sliding glass door. So I came up behind him and asked him what he thought he was doing.

The man claimed to be with the electric company. I pointed out he wasn’t driving an electric company van; he didn’t follow the electric company’s standard procedure of placing an orange plastic traffic cone in front of and behind the parked van; and he wasn’t wearing an electric company uniform. I told him to try again. He showed me a keychain with the letters of the electric company -- not the corporate logo, just the letters of its acronym. I told him I hoped he hadn’t wasted too many quarters in the gumball machine to get it. Try harder.

He revised his story. He said he was a subcontractor for the electric company working for a local firm. Of course, his nondescript van didn’t have that company’s name or logo on it either. I pointed to the cable junction box and told him for all I knew he could be stealing my cable or, and I gestured to the metal box attached to my wall he had pried open, planting a bug for the NSA. He replied he wasn’t smart enough to work for the NSA. I agreed. “Maybe you’re just an inept burglar,” I suggested.

He showed me his clipboard with a paper that included the date and time, and the words “customer gave consent” below them. His new explanation was that he was here for a scheduled appointment to replace the electric company’s “on call” box that has been there for 30 years. I pointed out I hadn’t scheduled any appointments with the electric company; I didn’t know about any scheduled appointment; and therefore I certainly had not given my consent, despite what the sheet of paper said. I told him I would call the electric company and if they legitimately needed to replace the device then I would schedule an appointment to do so. I sent him packing.

I phoned the electric company and explained the situation. I asked the woman on the other end of the line one question: Did you send this man to my home? She said no, the electric company would not send someone unless the customer had requested a repair. I followed up by asking if there was any department at the electric company that might have sent him. She said she could transfer me to the "on call" department, which she did. I spoke to a gentleman named Manny, who actually admitted they had sent the man but that he must have had an appointment because they never send anyone without first calling the customer. I reiterated he did not have an appointment and no one from the electric company had called me. I told Manny the entire situation was suspicious and I wanted upper management to look into it and call me back. Manny asked for my phone number. I told him since I had given him my account number and he had my information on his computer screen he should simply copy it from there. He replied there was no phone number listed on my account. “How then,” I asked, “could you or your subcontractor have called me to make an appointment if you don’t have my phone number in your records?”

The answer of course is they couldn’t. No one from the electric company ever phoned me; they never had my phone number. There was no appointment. I told Manny the entire incident, from start to finish, had been filled with lies and misrepresentations. I added the man was lucky I hadn’t simply shot him when I caught him trespassing on my property, crouched inches from my rear entrance with what appeared to be burglary tools in his hands. I said he was lucky he didn’t leave in a body bag. Okay, that last line may have been hyperbole; I don’t have body bags. The closest thing I have are large black Hefty trash bags and he probably wouldn’t have fit.

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