I was going to send an actual check to FEMA with my letter, you know, to just be done with it all, but several people pointed out that maybe I should just send a letter asking for instructions, first. To avoid having them take my money and then later arrest me for not paying them. (You wouldn’t think such a thing could happen, would you? Sounds ridiculous? Have you read this? Scary times, folks.)
So I wrote my letter and sent it off and now I await my instructions. I also mailed off my vehicle excise tax, today, chuckling to myself about how it’s sort of an expensive month. In the meantime, I just knew that somehow, somewhere, a less-than- benevolent force would spot that extra money in my bank account. And I was right.
Truthfully, I expected the roof to cave in or something equally spectacular. That’s how these things usually go. Extra money on hand? Oops, a wall fell off the house! So I was unprepared for the familiar-looking envelope that arrived in my mailbox today.
I opened it to find a bill from daycare. The daycare/preschool/kindergarten my children attended for years. The daycare I made my last payment to months ago.
Let me tell you a little bit about this daycare. I love(d) this place. The teachers are wonderful, the setting is perfect, and on the whole I rate the center as being top-notch. The ONLY thing they did wrong was the billing, and if there has to be something wrong with the place that takes care of your kids, I guess the billing is the place to screw up. I mean, a place that has impeccable bookkeeping but teachers who swear like sailors or whatever would be bad. In the grand scheme, a few billing errors is not a big deal.
Throughout the years, I’ve had billing issues with this place. They don’t bill; payment is expected weekly and it’s the parents’ responsibility to keep track. Every now and then—with no rhyme or reason I’ve been able to discern—you receive a statement which I believe is generated in some sort of sophisticated base-7 Aramaic number system, because there are words and columns and such but NOTHING MAKES ANY SENSE. I have never been able to understand a single statement this place has sent to me, and neither has anyone else I know.
(As one friend was often quick to point out: “This is a wonderful place they have here, but I have a Masters degree in Finance from HARVARD and I can’t figure out their billing, which seems… troubling.”)
In the six or so years that I’ve had one or both children attending there, I have dealt with the business office on wayward billing several times. I’d get a note in one of the kids cubbies saying something like “Outstanding balance: $20.” Then I would dutifully trudge over to the billing lady’s desk and ask where this amount had come from, and she would print out one of those Aramaic statements and we would look at it together for a while and then eventually I would just give her the money to make her stop talking.
For the record? I still believe that—save for one time when both kids were attending different programs and I kind of spaced out one month and probably miscalculated—every one of those instances was an error on the part of the school. But for $10 or $20 or $30, I wasn’t going to keep arguing.
The bill I received today is for $185. Guess what? For $185, I’m going to keep arguing. I’m ESPECIALLY going to keep arguing for $185 when this is the first I heard of it and my kid doesn’t even go to school there anymore. Come. ON.
I called my old nemesis, the billing lady, and she spoke brightly about how these things happen and it’s all right there in my bill (Me: Um, really? Where?) and I could just come on in and make the payment whenever was convenient. We went round and round a couple of times and finally I found myself saying:
“Yeah, um, no. I’ve caved and paid money you claimed I owed, before, and this time the bill is too large for me to roll over and play dead. I’m afraid that I’m going to need some actual decipherable documentation. I don’t think I owe you anything. I’ve been very precise with payments this year. If you can send me something that proves I missed a payment, I’d be happy to rectify that. But in the absense of anything other than this sheet of paper that says ‘You have an outstanding balance’ I’m afraid I’m going to have to say no.”
Stunned silence ensued. I don’t think anyone has ever told her no, before. She stammered a bit about how she was on her way out and she’s off tomorrow and Monday but she’ll get back to me next week. “Great, you do that,” I agreed. I cannot wait to see if I ever hear from her again.
If she calls back, insisting I really do owe that money, I may just suggest she take it up with FEMA. Hey, they want to give out money randomly, and daycare wants to TAKE money randomly… it could be a match made in heaven!