Author’s program note
by Dr. Jeffrey Lant
If you’re one of the handful of folks who believes customer service is
better today than at any time you care to name, read this article carefully,
because you’re deluded; thinking no doubt that “say representative”
isn’t the beginning of the cruel and usual punishment that it is.
As for the rest of you, you’re gonna be mighty glad I wrote this, since you’ve
taken it long enough and should distribute these sentiments to anyone
everywhere who has been insulted by these fighting words, “We’re reaching out
For the music I have chosen for this article a little ditty by protest songster Malvina
Reynolds (1900-1978). I must confess from the eminence of my penthouse across
the street from Harvard Law School and a lifetime of preppified clothes whose style
never changes, never mind I am now a bit long in the tooth for my undeniable
chic; I must confess, I say, that Malvina has never been and will likely never be
one of my favorite chanteuses. Her visage (and please understand that am merely
stating the obvious, passing no judgement whatsoever) resembles something
adorning Notre Dame de Paris. Her voice is like a frog aspiring to greatness….
la toute ensemble distresses me who grew up with a stylish mother for whom the
strict code of Chanel answered every fashion question.
But then there are Malvina’s words and they overawe every reservation… I have
often said and insisted my students understand (particularly those who aspire to
gain points by proclaiming they intend to become writers, “like you Dr. Lant” ) that
a good writer must have rage, for only the forge of rage produces truth, the rarest
commodity on Earth, and the real reason our civilization is on death watch.
Malvina hath rage… and that is why I have returned to her frequently over these
fifty years, although I often wish she would iron her clothes before each
performance and put just a dollop of Coty behind each ear.
I was going to select as the official song for this article, Malvina’s catchy thrust
“Boraxo”. It’s got just the peppy tune we need to get up and at ’em. But the chorus,
while apropos, goes just a hair farther than this incident warrants. We’re talking
after all about stupidity, insensitivity, and cluelessness after all, not murder. See
for yourself by finding the song in any search engine. “It’s all right, it’s all right/ Tho
you’ve had your hands in blood up to the elbow/ You can always wash them clean
with Boraxo… And your conscience is washed clean with Boraxo”.
Instead I have chosen her grim ballad “The Money Crop” with its sharp,
unrelenting message for sharp, unrelenting capitalists all suave insincerity,
helpful only by accident, reaching out in phrase only.
“Well, money has its own way/ And money has to grow/ It grows on human blood
and bones/ As any child would know… And those who take the money crop/
Are avid without end.”
You should know I am no troublemaker, never have been. I am of the live-and-let-
live temperament. But I can and do rail against people who are put in positions
of authority and either can not or will not do jobs for which they’re being paid,
complaining the while that pay is insultingly inadequate, a joke, when it’s they
who are insultingly inadequate, a joke.
You should know I have been a customer of Guardian Life Insurance Company
of America for a long, long time; think decades, not just years. I am, if I do say
so myself, an ideal customer. Conservative, no axes to grind, contacting them
only when I have timely and appropriate business at hand.
Being that I have no children, no wife, no former wives, no ball and chain or
other obstacles to consider, I use GIAC as a slush fund for acquisitions for my
art collection where J.P. Morgan’s celebrated quotation applies, “If you
have to ask, you can’t afford it.”
On that basis I have created a celebrated collection where I scatter my money
with joy, exaltation and often breathless audacity and sang froid. My policy at
Guardian has been a help in achieving my lifetime objective…until just the other
day when a passel of “customer service” representatives destroyed a
relationship that had been good for all.
Here are the facts, the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, Your Honor.
I hope every employee at Guardian reads this and feels ashamed to know the good
work of many is destroyed by the ineptitude of a few, still a few too many.
If you have never borrowed money from an insurance company, you may not
know that doing so is easy. You simply complete a short form which you can
these days download from the net, or call customer service to have the form
mailed by post, faxed, or emailed. Completion of the form should take twenty
minutes, not more… This, I say, is the theory of the matter. But Guardian has
manned its portals with people who have turned something straightforward
and smooth into an exercise in bumble and muddle. Let’s see how they did it.
“No, you don’t need a medallion.”
I called GIAC, was on hold for the regulation 15-20 minutes; so common an
irritation it scarcely bears mentioning. In due course a representative responded
and emailed me the necessary form. Everything was clear… maybe. I particularly
noted the section that dealt with the medallion signature guarantee.
Simply called “the medallion”, it is a special signature guarantee for the transfer
of securities. It is a guarantee by the transferring financial institution that
the signature is genuine and the financial institution accepts liability for any
forgery. The form was clear that the sum to be transferred was not sufficient
to require a medallion. Now, I am an old fox wary and battle scarred. Thus I
made a point of confirming, not just once either, that I did NOT require a
medallion for this transaction. I was assured, not just once either, that I did
NOT require a medallion.
And so I popped the finished form in the mail. This should have concluded the
matter but of course it didn’t.
I received a call from GIAC (later confirmed in writing) that the form I submitted
had inadequate information; it needed a… medallion; the reason given that my
signature didn’t match the signature of my last transaction. I would have to
trek up to my bank and start all over again. Yes, I was beginning to smoulder.
Of course things only got more and more disorganized, more and more
provoking. They told me I’d filled out the wrong form altogether; never mind
THEY supplied the form in the first place. They said at my plea for some, any
knowledgeable authority to intervene and expedite that the matter had been
forwarded to “management”; you may imagine why I thought that would be
just another level of incompetence. And then the coup de grace…
“We are reaching out to you, Dr. Lant.”
Clearly the low-level moppets handling what was no longer a simple matter
of issuing a check had lost control of the situation, looked like fools and
acted like the Bank of Dogpatch. They needed help and didn’t know how to
What’s more the more they bumbled, the more certain my next move had to be.
I wanted a solution and cancelling my long-term account was now the rising
option. Predictably GIAC’s elite team could offer nothing better than “reaching
out”, infuriating because they, not I, needed the help… and needed it at once.
I needed the certainty that working with a significant financial institution should
provide. I got the Keystone Kops. Not good enough… not merely good enough
at all. And so I cancelled my account.
It should never have come to this. But because it did and because
incompetence in one department at least suggests the possibility of
incompetence in another, I am not only sending this report to “management”,
starting with the president of this gang that can’t shoot straight, Deanna
M. Mulligan. More important I am asking every reader to pass this report on,
remembering that forewarned is forearmed.
Finally, most important of all, I herewith invoke the indominable Malvina Reynolds.
The song is “The Little Mouse”, and it should constitute must listening amongst
the high muketty-mucks at 7 Hanover Square, Manhattan.
“A little mouse got into the wires/ At the central clearing house in Buenas Aires/
One little mouse short circuited the computers….”
“So much for the electronic brains/ That run the world of banks and aeroplanes/
And if one little mouse can set them all awry/ Why not you and I?… Yes, you can
sue, or chew the wires through,” thereby truly becoming the formidable mouse
that roars. We need you!
About the Author
2016 is fast approaching and with it Dr. Jeffrey Lant’s 69th birthday. He is, he likes to
say, in the prime of his prime. Thus does the “scribbling” life he commenced at age
5 continue. Twenty books. Thousands of articles. Untold radio and television programs;
worldwide recognition and enthusiasm, all of which culminated in the publication of
his autobiography, “A Connoisseur’s Journey, being the artful memoirs of a man of wit, discernment, pluck and joy”. It was a book that screamed “classic!”, and he has
delighted in the several awards that followed.
To get your copy go to www.writerssecrets.com. You will also want to join his writing
course and learn from this master communicator just how you can improve everything you ever write.
Listen in to a special reading by the award winning author Dr. Jeffrey Lant: