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Jul-21-2011 21:42printcomments

My Collection Agency Career

The first day the boss upbraided me for sitting at my desk too much. You have to get up and walk around he said. And you have to yell and be louder.

Collection agency

(CALGARY, Alberta) - Once upon a time, a long time ago, I worked at a collection agency. I lasted three days. By the end of the third day I realized I couldn’t do it anymore.

It was the Acme Collection Agency (real name) here in Calgary and here’s what happened:

There were four or five of us at desks in an open area, each with a pile of 8x11 cards with the names of the “deadbeats”, the amount they owed, to whom at the top and a running register of calls made and their results. It was there I learned a few telephone abbreviations like—lmtc (left message to call). This was in the 1970s, a couple of decades before computers became ubiquitous in offices.

The manager’s name was Brian Soare, and he lived down to his name (Sore, not soar)

The first day he upbraided me for sitting at my desk too much. You have to get up and walk around he said. And you have to yell and be louder.

We were also given a list of threats to use: court papers are being prepared as we speak but I can stop them if you pay something; the sheriff will be at your door tomorrow to seize your TV/stereo/first born but I can stop it, yadda yadda.

No one thought very far ahead because if such a threat was voiced and the person didn’t pay some or all of the debt and nothing happened, they knew the threat was just that and they could and did ignore it.

It was an Enuresis Clinic that did me in.

Enuresis? Wha?? That’s bed wetting and I was supposed to collect a debt from an adult man who had this problem and couldn’t pay part or all of the bill. I don’t recall his name, but he lived in Midnapore, a village on the edge of Calgary (long since absorbed and overrun) where my wife had grown up and lived all her life until I arrived to take her away from all that.

When I got home after that first day I asked her if she knew the man. Yes, she did, and he was a sad case. Not overly bright, he lived by himself and made his way by doing odd jobs around the village.

The next day or two when, I got to his name again, I didn’t even bother to call but wrote the date and time on the card and lmtc. I started doing that more and more.

But I did earn at least part, if not all, of my salary. I remember a man at the front counter who, responding to my threats, had come in to pay.

All this reminds me of a scene from the classic cult movie Repo Man starring Emilio Estevez (Otto) and Harry Dean Stanton (Bud) as repo men. The two are driving down the street in a poor section of downtown. There are men lying on sidewalks and benches, others leaning in doorways and others just shuffling aimlessly along the sidewalk.

Bud, a bitter repo man, says: “If there was only some way of finding out how much they owe and making ‘em pay.”

Otto replies: They don’t have any money. That’s why they’re bums.

So, after three days I realized that my future did not lie in the direction of abusing people for a living. I am a human being.

There’s a quote by Hal Holbrook from the first Wall Street movie. He’s speaking to Charlie Sheen (Bud) and says: “Remember, Bud, the thing about money is it makes you do things you don’t want to do.” I’ve resisted that pressure my whole life, which explains why I’ve often been poor. But I’ve more often been happy.

Daniel Johnson was born near the midpoint of the twentieth century in Calgary, Alberta. In his teens he knew he was going to be a writer, which is why he was one of only a handful of boys in his high school typing class — a skill he knew was going to be necessary. He defines himself as a social reformer, not a left winger, the latter being an ideological label which, he says, is why he is not an ideologue. From 1975 to 1981 he was reporter, photographer, then editor of the weekly Airdrie Echo. For more than ten years after that he worked with Peter C. Newman, Canada’s top business writer (notably on a series of books, The Canadian Establishment). Through this period Daniel also did some national radio and TV broadcasting. He gave up journalism in the early 1980s because he had no interest in being a hack writer for the mainstream media and became a software developer and programmer. He retired from computers last year and is now back to doing what he loves — writing and trying to make the world a better place

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Mike July 24, 2011 12:21 pm (Pacific time)

Your arrogant chauvinism is offensive to any thoughtful person. I'm sure you can find a right-wing site where your opinions will be uncritically accepted.

Mike July 23, 2011 6:23 pm (Pacific time)

Reality and truth are always a shock to liberals. Liberals don't think, they feel. Liberals can dish it out, but like children are unable to take it. "America would be a global laughing stock, were it not so tragic for so many tens of millions of citizen victims." Just name one thousand of these "millions" and I'll arrange interviews.

 And the thing about conservatives is they believe there is only one reality--and they know what it is. I suggest you read a bit of Einstein, then you can come back and tell us how  your statement has any universal truth to it. 

Mike July 23, 2011 7:34 am (Pacific time)

It's obvious Daniel that you are not familiar with American laws (each state also has their own supplemental laws)  regarding collection company procedures. We do have many deadbeats where these outfits fill a needed purpose, as do we have very strict laws that protect our citizens. Evidently Canadian laws have not kept pace with American jurisprudence, which just confirms what I already know...Canada has a delay period before they catch up to us in  most everything. Being a role model is something we Americans are quite exceptional at providing, it is not a burdensome role, but one of joy. Like the gratification a teacher feels when their students finally "get it." I believe that because of our advanced capabilities, it has caused some people to hold this against us, I guess it's jealosy, thus they dislike us because we make them feel inadequate, which is not our intention. We simply are very good at what we do...

"Advanced capabilities...", "very good at what we do..." 

America would be a global laughing stock, were it not so tragic for so many tens of millions of citizen victims. 

Natalie July 22, 2011 8:59 pm (Pacific time)

Legal racketeering... must be the second worst job in the world after being a president.

I should have given it more of a chance. I'd probably be office manager by now. LOL

Ralph E. Stone July 22, 2011 2:27 pm (Pacific time)

In the U.S., debt collection agencies are regulated by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), which is enforced by the Federal Trade Commission. Information about the FDCPA can be found at: You can dispute a debt and you can also demand in writing that the debt collector cease further communications with you, again citing the FDCPA. All communication with a debt collector should be in writing.

Sounds good in principle, but many agencies have their own practises. The most egregious is when a parent dies with unsecured debts like credit cards. The agencies go after the children, telling them they are obligated to pay the debts when they are not. Many, however, believe they have to and pay. There are lots of other over the line practises.

Karl July 22, 2011 10:48 am (Pacific time)

That sounds like a good idea. Though maybe having an educational system that begins counseling students at an early age to be pragmatic and realistic as to their innate capabilities. It begins to show at an early age just what an individual's potential is, so why steer them into believing that they have a shot at becoming the next great author, crfitic, sculptor, or whatever. It's time that as a global community that we start looking at genetic breeding, as we do with other mammals that we need for food or beasts of burden. Paying people to have themselves sterilized would be of extreme benefit to world society. I just think how great it would be to screen out personalities/characters like the Olbermanns, Mathews,Madows, and those of similar confused and hazy thinking (if you could call it "thinking"). Reserving the advanced studies in the Social Sciences and Humanities for truly qualified intellects would be a boon for society as well as the students. Otherwise the beat goes on and people get those meaningless degrees and end up working deadend jobs, stay unhappy, and have essentially unfullfilled lives, most likely blaming some external forces for their unhappiness, rather than themselves. The latter is the correct answer as to why they are unhappy.

America, the Fourth Reich. 

Karl July 22, 2011 7:37 am (Pacific time)

I have been without much money early in my life (salad days in college), but never was unhappy, just concerned. It was a time of struggle, but my life quality continued to improve as my income and assets increased. I socialize with people of similar socio-economic and educational levels. We often discuss how grateful we are to live in America, and how happy we are that we do not live elsewhere, where the opportunity to improve one's life is very difficult, or even non-existent in the majority of the world. We are much happier with our hard earned economic status than when we were struggling. All people have their individual drives as to what they want, many simply face the reality that they do not have the requisite skills to compete on higher levels, thus they accomodate that reality and find personal happiness, or fool themselves that they are happy. Good for them, whatever floats their boat. Planning is key, and those who do not prepare for the marketplace, usually end up doing work that is not very rewarding on any level. Degrees in the social sciences and humanities often produce people who have no real marketable skills right out of college. They are usually the most unhappy from my observation over the years.

Perhaps the best solution is to abolish the social sciences and humanities altogether at the post-secondary level. That would save a lot of money that  could be more efficiently used in other places in the education system. People would then be free to take something they didn't like or had no inclination towards but at least they could be unhappy making money. 

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