Lileks: How to lie your way out of recurring bills

If you want the best Valentine’s Day ever, try this line: “I think we should see other people, perhaps in Brazil.”

Here’s my reasoning. In the past week, I’ve been cutting cords, sundering long-standing relationships and cleaning the deadwood out of my life. The first to go: daughter’s health club membership.

If you’ve ever tried to cancel a membership at a health club, you know it’s like trying to get out of East Germany by chewing a hole in the Berlin Wall. So, I steeled myself for some pushback, and called the gym.

“Hello, I have to cancel a membership.”

“Oh, no! I’m sorry to hear that. Why?”

You want to say, “Because I’m done! I’m perfect. My shirts don’t fit over my bulging pecs, my thighs look a boa ate a sack of kumquats and I can’t open a door without ripping it off its hinges. I have to take a break and detumesce or I’ll be so developed I can shuffle a deck of cards with my abs.”

This is none of their business, of course. It doesn’t matter why I’m quitting, but they have to find a hole in your argument so they prove you can’t cancel.

I had a good one, though: The person with the membership has moved to Brazil. That’s an absolute stumper. It shuts down any attempt to keep you on, because there’s nothing they can say.

That was easy. Next: canceling a streaming service. I made the mistake of going to the phone store, where they had set it up. Humans can start your service, but the power to end it has been removed from their hands. You can’t call the company, because like most modern big services, there’s no phone number.

“So this service,” I said, “which is owned by a phone company, has no phone number?”

They nodded. They were all millennials, so this made perfect sense to them. Who wants to talk to someone on the phone anyway? It’s much easier to chat with an avatar in a box on your screen. They helped me set up the connection. The conversation, such as it was, went like this:

“Hello. This is Brad I am happy to help you today. How may I help you today? I am Brad.”

“I’d like to cancel my service.”

“I am sorry to hear that, but I can certainly help you today as I am Brad.”

“Are you a computer program?”

“Ha ha; laughter that would totally sound convincing if you could hear me now. I am Brad. Why would you cancel?”

“The price went up and I don’t watch it and I am going to Brazil.”

“It can be seen in Brazil by means of a VPN, I could assist you to set that up. I am very Brad.”

“Are you sure you’re not a computer program?”

“I can adjust your price to our promotional rate.”

Dang; he had me. He was offering a deal. I’d forgotten the power that a cancellation threat gives the consumer: All of a sudden, the company rep turns into a used-car salesman, asking what it’ll take to get you into this gently driven Geo Metro.

For a moment, I teetered. It was an impressive offer: half off the thing I never use, but might, probably won’t, but could. No! Grow a spine. “I am going to the Amazon — the jungle, not the online market site,” I typed. “A jungle village. They only have dial-up.”

It worked! I was two for two. While I was on a hot streak, I decided to cancel our home’s landline. I called the phone company and told them I wanted out.

“Oh, no. May I ask why?”

“The phone doesn’t ring much anymore. Everyone has been trained to call cellphones. The answering machine occasionally blinks red, a forlorn beacon on a distant shore, telling us that someone thinks we still exist and would like us to prove we do by making a donation to their cause.

“OK. Before we cancel, let me look at your account and see what I can do.” Whereupon she ticked off all the services I could shed, and bring the bill down to $17 a month. For a moment, that actually sounded reasonable. Then she added:

“In addition to the base charge, there is a $4 charge for Caller ID, $3.95 for the Federal Access Fee, $2.66 for the Telecommunications Act of 1993 Temporary Fairness Surcharge, $6.23 for the Ancillary Voice-Assessment Adjunct Revenue Fund, $1.19 for the National Fax Machine Empowerment Act for Distressed Communities, and $2.19 for the Hazardous Waste Fax-Machine Disposal Superfund codicil amended to the National Fax Empowerment Act. Your total would be … “

“Cancel my phone.”

She made another offer that sliced the bill by 75 percent for four months, and I said I’d try it. I would lose some features, but who cared? I was going to Brazil.

Oh, right; that was a ruse.

Anyway, back to my original point: If threatening to cancel services and go to Brazil can get your bills reduced, saying, “I think we should see other people, perhaps in Brazil” might compel your romantic partner to go all out for Valentine’s Day!

Annnnd that’s probably the worst advice you’ll get this week, so forget I said it.

P.S: The day I decided not to cancel the phone, I got a call. It was from the phone company, telling me that I’d made changes to my service.

All of this left me exhausted. Maybe I should join a gym.

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