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Credit Where It's Due

2011 ended on a high note for me.

An investment I had made a long time ago took a sudden positive turn and I had an opportunity to cash it out and pay down some small-time debt: Christmas bills, a small cap credit card, the last three payments on my used Volkswagen, a department store credit card where I owed on some appliance purchases. Stuff like that.

I got them all cleaned up. It was a good feeling.

Housing interest rates have been falling, and even though I already have a pretty good rate, these current rates are incredible. So I have been thinking about refinancing.

To get the ball rolling, I thought I would investigate how much impact the recent payoffs had on my credit score. I had heard you are allowed one “freebie” per year, so I thought I would check on “my number” before I applied to the bank.

As you know, there are three agencies responsible for such scores and I found I got the same answer at all three.

“Yes indeed,” they told me, I am entitled to a free credit report--but not a free credit “score.” That would cost an additional $7.95.

So the report is free, but the score will cost you.

Now I happen to know that when you call to assemble a refinance package, typically the bank can tell you your score right there and now, so there was no need to provide the credit card number and dish out the $7.95.

But come on people (use Tom Hanks’ yelling voice here)! Come o-o-o-o-onnnnn! This is getting ridiculous!

It isn’t the money. It’s the fact that it shouldn’t have to cost money to see how you are doing.

This measuring stick the world uses to decide who gets what should not only be free, but completely accessible and available.

It’s just another stark reminder of how far things are from where they should be. And where things are is not such a good place these days. So many things come with strings attached and burdens.

If we’re all in this together, can’t we make the path less cumbersome for ourselves?

I don’t want to be asked if I want to donate to a charity every time I get a bag of groceries or an iced tea at the drive-through window. I don’t believe even half the money those people collect winds up where they say it does.

I don’t want any news on Kardashian wardrobe malfunctions.

I don’t care what athlete is happy or unhappy. Just play the game you are getting millions to play. And play hard and try--you cost your boss a fortune.

And I don’t want products that are new and improved and bolder and fresher; just improve the stuff as part of being honest and devoted. Quit repackaging stuff and renaming stuff just to keep it interesting.

And why do you think anyone wouldn’t use only “extra strength” anything? If I have a headache, I want to take the stuff that makes me not have a headache the fastest. Why

ask, “Regular or Extra Strength, Ron?”

“Oh just regular please, I’d like at least another hour of full pain before it starts to leave.”

“Fresh ground pepper, Ron?”

“Uh, no--I’ll just use the stale old stuff in the shaker on the table.”

I mean really. Must we fill our heads with all this nonsense?

If we strived to make things easier for each other and mutual benefits made the whole country operate like a well-oiled machine, we could eliminate much of the “noise” that blocks out the ability to simply enjoy life.

I almost find myself expecting the rip-off, always looking for the “catch.” Like this thing they do on the TV ads now where they say in small letters, “ask us about…” and in large letters it says, “FREE SHIPPING.”

So people glance at the screen and see “FREE SHIPPING” and when they call in their order they are asked if they WANT free shipping. If they say they do, the operator explains they need to double their order, then it’s free.

Well you’ve already given the credit card number and such, so you unwittingly hide your ignorance and say, “…OK.”

This is the same bait and switch that’s marred this country since snake oil salesman came through and started marketing things that really could not be. The excuse back then was our uneducated ignorance and innocence.

But there is no such excuse now. Fact is, people shouldn’t have to dodge and parry just to get the better value of a simple purchase.

No. It’s a darn shame how we treat each other, but a new day is dawning, folks, and it is all about gaining for yourself. If your gains can come without others’ losses, well bully for you, but if it does cost the brethren, the thinking is “better him than me.”

So sad, this.

I was at a benefit spaghetti dinner one night to work up funds for a family who had a 10-year-old boy dying of cancer. When the event had originally been arranged, the family was in need of donations to pay the incidental expenses the parents were encountering, such as gasoline, hotel stays and related costs for the boy’s treatment.

Sadly, by the time the event rolled around, the boy was terminal and all hope had been lost. The evening was thereby more somber with all hopes of recovery dashed.

There was a drawing for a big screen television and two accompanying easy chairs to make a home theater. When the name of the winner was announced, no one stepped forward. So the hosts of the event said they would hold the merchandise for 24 hours until someone came forward.

The party ensued and about a half-hour later I noticed the television and chairs had been removed from the stage without any fanfare of announcing a winner. I later learned that the fellow who won had been standing right in front but didn’t want to be recognized as the winner.

When he was able to go completely unnoticed, he claimed the prize and then, with the help of three other men and the brother of the boy’s father, the stuff was taken to the boy’s house and set up in their living room.

The man simply donated the whole prize to the family. When they got home that night, they had two new easy chairs set up on either side of the hospital bed the boy occupied. The chairs faced the new television, which was all hooked up with the satellite connection and DVD player.

The boy lasted perhaps another month or so, but during those final days he had his parents at either side of his bed, able to nap when he did, watch videos, home movies and shows together with him and, with the help of hospice, they were right there until his final breath.

The gift this drawing winner gave to that family was so sincere, so thoughtful, so thorough that they begged the uncle, who had helped the guy set all this up, to tell them who he was. But he never did.

The man had made him swear a vow of silence the night he won. We all later heard the story, but none of us ever did find out who made all that happen. It struck an unending chord with me.

Man, if we just put others first as a simple, lifetime habit, can you imagine how enjoyable it would be to get caught in a long line at the grocery store and find it to be an opportunity to meet people and make new friends?

Ron Ciancutti is the Purchasing Manager for Cleveland Metroparks. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at rdc@clevelandmetroparks.com.

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