I believe I’m a human being that values the full meaning of the words honour, integrity and dignity and I strive everyday to live to the ideal as it makes me and people around me, I hope, a better person. I’m not human being and not a commodity to be sold to, marketed to or to be disregarded on the basis of my humanity.
After extensive search for laws that protects indiscriminate barrage of telemarketing that almost every North American household came to be accustomed to, I stumbled across a Telephone Consumer Protection Act enacted by the U.S. Congress in 1991, that despite many loopholes and faults, gives people a rudimentary right to confront the menace in the court of law. Armed with a basic premise of justice and anger, the crusade began. 6 years and over 30 lawsuits later, ranging against a variety of vice from petty consumer fraud, deceptive advertising, to outright lying and conniving to defraud the public in my own personal experience, I have came across to realization that unprincipled salesmanship without borders and fraud is as American as apple pie and it’s here to stay, no matter what.
In about quarter of the cases I was approached to settle for money and when I refused, I was often re-approached again with a higher figure to make the offer more palatable to settle. As matter of principle and my own modus operandi, I have made a standard pre-settlement and trial request for an official apology, preferably from the upper echelons of the corporate hierarchy before the monetary settlement in form of return of court costs could proceed. In some cases, I got the 19th century style of satisfaction without spilling any innocent blood and with a promise to amend the corporate policies to accommodate my wishes of being left alone in case of telemarketing and refund in case of consumer fraud. In other quarter of the cases, the corporate adversaries chose to ignore my summons and considered my “nuisance” claim as cost of doing business. However, in more than half of the cases, as soon as the person representing the company found out it was not about money, they lawyer-ed up and the battle begun. Some corporations I encountered have a very interesting style of reacting to me. Reading from the annals of history that mention peasant uprisings from time to time, the corporations are turning into a de-facto Corporate Principalities with their own Pretorian Guard (in-house lawyers), hired mercenaries (outside legal firms), their own employees (foot soldiers and indentured servants) and testimonials from their peasants (the consumers) to battle the vicious and hungry dragon of ethical awakening. One would think that this greatly amassed army of profit would win regardless of the merit of the case but the end often finds a surprising outcome. The most challenging case up to date was in December of 2006 when I went against Albertson’s Inc. a subsidiary of the US second largest food retailer, Supervalu Inc. After purchasing the product 4 years expired in one of Jewel-Osco stores, I brought it back for refund with a valid receipt and the question, why is the store selling expired stuff. I was promptly shown the door without any explanation and being stuck with a $34 purchase I would risk my life to use, I sued. During the course of action, the law firm hired by Supervalu wanted to settle with me for the amount of purchase with apologies granted by their Illinois subsidiary, Jewel-Osco but with a new twist. It was to effectively ban me from all of their properties for eternity which for the company the size of Supervalu is not an easy thing to comply with. Although, one could ask: “what did I do wrong?”, I agreed to the ban under the condition that Supervalu leaves me and my family alone , keeping us off their marketing lists, advertising etc. The deal would not go through, however, since their attorneys complained that this type of limitation on their activities is unreasonable and impractical to comply with. Therefore, the battle axes were out. As the case progressed, the attorneys moved to have the $34 case tried at the front of a 12 persons jury, making me feel like a consumerized O.J. Simpson without any gloves laying around. Eventually, the case wound up in arbitration court where despite the enormous costs incurred by the other side I wound up winning it, anyway. What is interesting, the nature of the argument the other side posed. It called for dominance of the “buyer beware” factor as lowest common denominator of legal reference when the customer comes shopping in Jewel-Osco stores. When I suggested that this would make an excellent marketing slogan just below their corporate logo instead of the hilarious and folksy “Welcome to your family at Jewel”, I got a very nasty look paused by a resounding silence.
In the MCI/Worldcom case the company that settled the matter with an apology, sent me a check that bounced despite assurances from Bank of America’s commercial division that the check and the account drafter on it is “as good as gold”. As it turned, MCI/Worldcom just filed for chapter 11 but instead of getting angry, I got inspired. Putting the evidence on display, I have had the check laminated and versions of it scanned into a computer program as part of the multimedia installation “To Bank and to Worldcon.” The check was then suspended from 4 pillars with chains over the live model wrapped in the cocoon of magnetic tape and kept immobile for few hours at the time, until the model could not hold it, any longer. The project was shown in Chicago and during arts festival in Europe. The copies of the installation’s tape with the comments of the admiring public were sent to the respective CEOs of MCI and Bank of America, however, I received no thank you cards afterwards. Shucks, it must have been the mail, again.
I think Americans are experiencing hunger for integrity and authenticity after the go-go years of 1990s and Homeland Security color coded era of 2000s. I was even asked if I could run for the local office in Lake County in the upcoming 2008 municipal elections. “Not a chance” I responded, since my Euro-Asian accent would deem me “foreign” therefore unelectable, not to mention my rather scary and fading looks. After all, I do not think there is any municipality in the nation that would want to be run by terrorist such as myself.
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