When a light bulb burns out in our house, I change it. When we run out of light bulbs, I go out and buy more.
That’s (not my only but my primary) my job in this family, and like my previous assignment from which I am currently retired –generating adequate income so we could eat and buy things and visit interesting places – I take it equally seriously.
An indoor flood light bulb burns out in our kitchen, there are none of them in reserve. So I immediately head off to Light Bulbs Unlimited to restock. As a reflection of my existential condition, I consider this an adventure.
I arrive at Light Bulbs Unlimited, my burnt-out indoor flood bulb in hand, so I can show them exactly what I need replaced –avoiding possible errors concerning wattage and bulb size – I am nothing if not a conscientious Steward of my Station. Plus, I do not want to have to come back.
I am immediately informed that, in the name of eco-friendly sympaticality, the gub’mint had legislatively banished this species of indoor flood light bulb from the planet.
I am offered, instead, its unilateral replacement – a light bulb costing in the vicinity of fifty-nine dollars.
THOMAS EDISON: “No foolin’? Holy Smokes!”
You got it, Tommy. Fifty-nine dollars for one light bulb.
It is immediately touted, however, that this eco-friendlier upgrade will burn for 25,000 hours. My initial thought is, “Who wants a bulb that will live longer than I do?” My subsequent thought is, “Do you have any of the old ones in the back?”
“I have two cases left.” How many bulbs in each case? “Forty-eight.” And how much are they apiece? “Fourteen dollars.”
So there was my choice. I could buy a case of the old light bulbs for… let’s see, fifty light bulbs at fifteen dollars would be… seven hundred and fifty dollars, so it’s a case of old light bulbs for just under seven hundred and fifty dollars, or one new light bulb for fifty-nine. (For some reason, I blanked entirely on buying the old light bulbs individually. Which would have been more reasonable but have made a less interesting story.)
I decide to buy three of the new light bulbs (one for now, and two exorbitantly priced backups), and I hand over my credit card.
Unaware that I was initiating a second round of aggravation.
My credit card, I am alerted store’s sales representative, has been summarily rejected. (I can almost read the word “deadbeat” in his eyes.)
This has happened to me before. The Mastercard “Fraud Division” finds “suspicious activity” on my card, and they automatically render it inoperable.
Which means that I have to call them up and arrange for a new credit card, a minor annoyance compared with having to notify every vendor who has my old credit card number on record and alert them of the change. Aggravating, because there are a substantial number of them, and exponentially more aggravating, because I do not know who all of them are.
Meaning that I will inevitably charge a purchase on a card that is no longer in service, the result being that that purchase will never arrive.
I pay for my egregiously overpriced light bulbs with another credit card, and tote them – gingerly – back to the car.
At home, I am informed that Mastercard has already called, and I am handed a “Call Back” number. It is indeed the ever-alert Mastercard “Fraud Division’s.”
Responding to my return phone call, I am greeted not by a person but by an automated machine. Tapping in the appropriate identificational information and pressing “One” when instructed, I am finally delivered to the matter in hand – the “suspicious activity” that has triggered the cancellation of my card.
To verify the situation, the machine asks me this question:
“Did you charge $198.67 on your Mastercard at a hardware store on July 26th?”
Oh, Man! I hate this! I mean, “July 26th.” How am I going to remember what I did on July 26th?
And then I remembered.
“Wait a minute! ‘July 26th’. That’s today!”
(The day of this particular adventure.)
And that “suspicious” Mastercard charge was for the light bulbs!
(Fifty-nine dollars times three, plus tax.)
I had bought expensive light bulbs at a store less than three miles from my house, and for that they had rejected my credit card? That wasn’t “suspicious activity.” That was Earl Pomerantz, using his credit card!
This was an absolute first. I’ve had my credit card cancelled as a result of questionable purchases made in places I have never visited, like Delaware. But this is the first time I encountered “Fraud Division” scrutiny for something I was doing myself…
At the precise moment I was doing it!
Talk about an itchy trigger finger! Their reaction was incredibly fast. Also, inexplicably inappropriate. What is going on with those Mastercard people? Are they suspicious of everything?
Perhaps they were trying to stop me from buying three light bulbs for a hundred and ninety-eight dollars. I mean, they are Mastercard’s crime prevention division.
And if that isn’t a crime,